ESPN on Thursday released a deeper dive on the Florida Gators football program under former head coach Urban Meyer. Jeremy Fowler, a senior NFL writer at ESPN who covered the Gators as a beat writer for the Orlando Sentinel (you probably remember him for this), spoke with a number of players and coaches from that Florida team in hopes of revealing some privately-held information from Meyer’s tenure at Florida.
While most of the piece is recounting events and information that is familiar to many who follow the Gators closely, Fowler through his interviews did uncover some nuggets that are worth separating from the pile that is the longer piece. On that note, you should read Fowler’s entire story.
» Defensive line coach Dan McCarney on the competitiveness inside the locker room: “Did players have to be separated on occasion? Hell, yes. Did coaches have to be separated on occasion? Hell, yes. But it never left the locker room, and that was always out of respect.”
» As has long been reported, Meyer played favorites by naming “Ballers” inside the program, who got better food and treatment, including being excused from practices on occasion. While many did not have a problem with it, offensive lineman David Young believed it contributed to the team’s failings. “[Meyer] allowed players to do what they wanted, which is why the program is still getting fixed. He allowed players to run amok.”
» Wide receiver Louis Murphy admitted that some players partied a lot and there were fights outside of the locker room on occasion but noted that the Florida players “got profiled” and “had to watch everything we did” in Gainesville. “Nobody on the team felt we were thugs,” he said.
» Prior to Tebow’s promise speech, Murphy consoled “a sobbing Tebow … assuring him Florida would win out.”
» Cornerback Jeremy Brown told Fowler that players thought linebacker Brandon Spikes led the locker room emotionally and WR Percy Harvin was the Gators’ best player. (Neither of those statements is particularly surprising, though Tebow was most of the “total package” type of player for Florida.)
» The Gators planned to reach out to Harvin about Tebow’s Heisman Trophy campaign, asking if he wanted something similar, but the player and his mother did not attend the scheduled meeting.
» “Spikes once disappeared from the team for nearly two weeks after the 2008 season,” an anonymous player told Fowler.
» Spikes got in Tebow’s face following the team’s win at Mississippi State in 2009, reportedly yelling to him that Florida’s offense, which struggled without Harvin and under offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, “should be blowing these m—–f—— out.” (Not mentioned in the story: Spikes committed to the Gators in part because of Tebow, returned to Florida in 2009 in large part because of Tebow and the two were close friends.)
» WR Riley Cooper “had more black friends than anybody,” per guard Jim Tartt. Fowler also notes that Cooper “once got into a physical altercation” with wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, who was also the subject of an altercation with Harvin (who reportedly choked the coach), as has been known for quite some time.
» Young shared his belief about Meyer’s intentions, which is parallel to what has previously been reported. “He couldn’t take the heat – that’s all that was. He wanted to hand the job off to [offensive coordinator] Steve Addazio and get out of there.”
» As Fowler previously reported, Florida did not get rings following its 2010 Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati with no explanation given, though it was likely a “championship or bust” mentality for the decision-makers in that regard. The Gators did get rings following Meyer’s final bowl at UF, the 2011 Outback Bowl victory over Penn State.
» Responding to comments from teammates that he was tossing, in Fowler’s words, “$100 bills in a New Orleans strip club after the Sugar Bowl,” cornerback Joe Haden dismissed the notion. “I was throwing a lot of ones that equaled up to a lot of hundreds,” he said.
» The 2010 freshman class, as Meyer and other upperclassmen on the team said at the time, was disrespectful to those already in the program, yelling at coaches, skipping training camp, missing meetings and undermining discipline.
Meyer started the flames and left Florida while it was beginning to burn in 2010. Now he’s reveling in success at Ohio State, learning lessons of what not to do from his time with the Gators and applying that to his second golden opportunity with the Buckeyes.
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