KEN WILLIS: Some goodwill might not have saved Urban Meyer, but it couldn't have hurt
“Nice guys finish last.”
It’s been an oft-quoted line since it was first attributed to baseballer Leo Durocher some 75 years ago.
Urban Meyer isn’t the first to disprove the notion and remind us that even hard-asses can finish last. But he’s certainly the most recent and among the most dramatic. Or traumatic, depending on your possible allegiance to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Back in his wheelhouse — the college game — Meyer was laser-focused, pedal-down. Never a back-slapper or good-time Charley, he was a tried and true symbol of Leo the Lip’s famous adage. If wins versus losses is the barometer, Meyer was one of a few who qualified as the gold standard.
But boy oh boy did it ever unravel over the past 11 months, to the point it’s hard to imagine any top-flight college program giving him a chance to return to his favored depth. Not for a while, anyway. Our collective attention span has withered, but we’ll need time to cleanse the palate of this sourness.
There’s another old saying that goes something like this: Be nice to folks on your way up, because they’re the same people you’ll see again on your way down. Occasionally we get a prime example, and I think we might’ve just saw one play out.
It seems quite obvious, if you’re going to perform badly, maybe even behave badly, or oversee a proverbial train wreck, your chances of survival (job security, specifically) increases greatly if you've built up some equity in the Bank of Goodwill.
Urban Meyer’s 11 months of missteps in Jacksonville (and, Lord knows, one night in Columbus, Ohio) are now ticked off like a rap sheet. While some were obvious mistakes, others might’ve been overblown, mere blips easily discarded and forgotten if, for instance, he was winning football games or at least showing signs of getting there.
Or if he wasn't severely lacking in goodwill equity.
When you win and win big, including championships, you’re a target, as Urban Meyer was at Florida and Ohio State. Opponents want to take you down, opposing fans want to see you taken down.
But also, when you’re seen, over time, as a “win at all costs” type of leader, one who overlooks off-field issues (some big issues, at that) in order to preserve dominance, you eventually wear a Nixonian label and many folks are forever turned away.
Post-Watergate and resignation, Richard Nixon said of his political enemies and the media, “I gave ’em a sword, and they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish.” Meyer’s biggest sword was “2-11” and an ever-sickening Sunday product. But the other bayonets, affixed to the various rap-sheet items, clinched his fate.
A generation ago, Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes won championships but were hardly embraced by the masses. Jimmy then left for the Dallas Cowboys, who, outside of Texas, were Public Enemy #1 among most NFL fans. He won there, famously shouting “How ’bout them Cowboys,” which further infuriated all others.
Yet, people liked, and still like, Jimmy Johnson. He smiled a lot, laughed a lot, and generally came off as a guy you’d enjoy spending time with.
People criticized and ridiculed Bobby Bowden for running a loose ship during his glory days at Florida State. But nobody — with the possible exception of a coach two hours east — disliked Bobby Bowden. His large bank of goodwill also bought him a few extra seasons after things went adrift in Tallahassee.
Ed Orgeron leaves behind some questionable actions in Baton Rouge, but he’ll coach again and will remain embraceable everywhere he goes. People like him. Go Tigahs.
Maybe the biggest example of goodwill’s magic is former U.S. head coach Bill Clinton, for whom the term “loveable rogue” was practically invented.
Problem is, you can’t fake it. If Urban Meyer had tried to be Bobby Bowden, he might’ve never gotten out of Bowling Green. He had to coach in a manner befitting his personality, as all coaches should.
It served him very well for a very long time. Right up until it didn’t.
Bowl season started Friday. Maybe there’s a Mulligan Pool for those of you who forgot to get your picks in on time. You know who you are.
Here’s a look at a handful of the bowl games over the next week, beginning with the obvious headliner — UCF versus Florida in Tampa’s Gasparilla Bowl next Thursday.
Gasparilla? It springs from Gaspar, as in Jose Gaspar, known in folklore as the “Last of the Buccaneers.” Some accounts suggest Gaspar hunkered down in southwest Florida and terrorized the Gulf of Mexico beginning in the late 1700s. Most scholars, however, say he’s purely a work of fiction and never existed.
We may someday look back on the Gators’ Emory Jones Era in similar fashion. From “big star-in-waiting” to the bench and, now, to the transfer portal, where he hopes to land a good gig and hopefully fulfill all that promise. Given the fate of former Gator quarterbacks over the years, don’t bet against him.
But first, he plans to play the Gasparilla Bowl. And with how this season has gone, don’t be surprised if Jones, on his way out the door, turns in the best performance of his UF career. In fact, you can see it coming, can’t you?
Gators by 8.
• Elsewhere: Army over Missouri (Armed Forces Bowl); Tulsa beats Old Dominion (Myrtle Beach); Memphis big over Hawaii (Hawaii); Louisiana over Marshall (New Orleans); Liberty by 12 over E. Michigan (LendingTree); BYU beats UAB (Independence); Jackson State over S.C. State (Celebration) and App State by 9 over W. Kentucky (del Boca Vista).
— Reach Ken Willis at firstname.lastname@example.org