Columnist: Don’t dwell on Meyer
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 2:48 p.m.
There are only two people who have qualified for Florida's Ring of Honor who are not yet in it — Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer. When Meyer is inducted, I can't help but wonder what the reaction will be.
I know what it would be if it happened today.
The Gator Nation feels angry and betrayed, as if it has happened all over again. You think you have a special relationship with a guy, he walks away and tells you marriage isn't for him and then ends up marrying a girl you think is nowhere near as hot as you are.
I mean, it's not like he took a job at, oh, I don't know, South Carolina where he planned on trying to beat you every year.
Instead, he went to that school up north after less than a year away from the pressure cooker that is Florida football.
When I talked to Meyer last week he told me there were only two jobs he would consider — Notre Dame and Ohio State. Conspiracy theorists will tell you he left Florida because he planned on taking the job in Columbus. That's nonsense, of course, because Jim Tressel wasn't canned until late May.
"I certainly didn't see that coming," Meyer told me.
But when it did happen, his ears perked up.
Even though he said after the 2008 season for a story I wrote for The Sun that Florida had become his dream job, he always dreamed about returning home.
What he leaves behind is part of the dichotomy of Urban Meyer.
He brought so much pleasure to Gator fans. He introduced features to the program such as the Gator Walk and the singing of the fight song and alma mater after wins that brought fans closer to the program. Yet, there was always this disconnect between the fans and Meyer because he closed practices and walked away from the program twice and exhibited a closed-off personality.
He won like no coach before him won, including Steve Spurrier. He thumped Florida's rivals with amazing regularity. He took Ron Zook's players and won a title, then rebuilt the program with stunning recruiting coups to win another title.
Yet, some of the players he brought in embarrassed the program with dozens of arrests. He inherited a mess and the perception is certainly going to be that he left another one in his wake.
More than anything, Florida fans want to know why Meyer wasn't healthy enough to stay at Florida, but he is healthy enough now to take over a scandal-ridden program.
"A year ago I thought I was done coaching," Meyer said at his new conference Monday. "Now that I look back, I know that I've been to a place I don't want to go again. I feel fantastic now. My health is in good shape."
What Meyer should have said when he left Florida was, "Hey guys, I'm burned out. I've been doing this a long time and I just don't have the energy to fix this program again. I need some down time."
Instead, he said it was about his family and health. That's why the Gator Nation is angry enough today to download the Michigan fight song as a ring tone.
Before he took the Ohio State job, Meyer expressed concerns over his legacy at Florida. He told me he was amazed at the anger expressed toward him as Florida struggled to a 6-6 season.
"All I did for six years is go into that office every day and work my tail off," he said. "And then I go out to get a sandwich and somebody is yelling at me because they had a bunch of false start penalties."
Meyer truly believes he left a good team behind for Muschamp. He told me he believes there are four offensive linemen on the current team who will play in the NFL. I mentioned that to someone in the football office who responded, "Has he watched us play?"
There are a lot of people who work in the stadium who feel the same way the rest of the Gator Nation does, that Meyer was disingenuous when he left.
Still, you know who benefits the most from his move to Ohio State?
Any anger expressed toward a miserable 2011 season is now directed more at Meyer than at Muschamp. Gator fans see this as a captain abandoning a sinking ship and jumping on the next one as he watches the old one slip into the sea. Whether that's fair or not is debatable but it certainly is the perception.
When Muschamp took the job at Florida, he was told on several occasions by Meyer, "This program is broken."
On Monday, he said, "I don't think Ohio State is broke."
Some of that is because Ohio State is fresh and a new start. Florida had become a burden, especially the way Meyer approached the job with relentless, 24/7 intensity.
Refreshed after a year away from coaching, his energy is there again to rebuild a different program. You could see that during his news conference.
Meyer said in the interview I did with him last Monday that he has researched how to spend more time with his family as a coach and achieve a balance.
But the questions will remain. Most of Gator Nation is ticked off.
In the end, maybe Meyer should have leaked it that he wanted his old job back. Florida, obviously, has a coach. Oh well, he could have said, I guess I'll go to Ohio State.
It worked for Spurrier. There would have been a lot less vitriol.
The best advice I can give to Gator fans everywhere is simple — move on. Get over it.
An Ohio native who started his coaching career at Ohio State took a job that will pay him millions of dollars and put him back in the spotlight. It's his life.
Appreciate what Meyer did for the program — the national titles and four years of Tim Tebow and three 13-1 seasons — instead of stewing over how he left it. It will cause you a lot less angst.
Your coach was out recruiting Monday, trying to fix a broken program.
Pat Dooley is a Gainesville Sun sports columnist.
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