Urban Meyer is off to Ohio State to coach the Buckeyes, fulfilling a lifelong dream and continuing his storied career just 10 months after choosing to leave Florida because it was “time to put my focus on my family and life away from the field.”
Gator Nation was rocked when the more-solid-than-ever rumors began a week ago and continued its uproar Monday when it was confirmed and later officially announced that Meyer would indeed be heading to Ohio State.
Plenty is being said in regards to whether or not Gators fans have a right to be upset at Meyer for taking a job just months after declaring that he needed to reevaluate his health and relationship with his family but there is not one correct answer as to how Florida fans should feel about Meyer’s decision and the way in which this situation unfolded.
Whether the perception is that Meyer was dishonest when communicating his intentions for leaving Florida, a culprit of circumstance with his dream job suddenly becoming available years sooner than expected, or a college football addict unable to satisfy his fix while sitting behind a desk working for a major network, each observation has its own legitimate merits to be considered for evaluation.
Let’s take a more complete look at the situation by examining each angle of the story.
The first of two reasons he noted as reasons for choosing to step down from his position with the Gators, Meyer said in 2009 that he had been ignoring his health for years, but a recent scare prompted him to “reevaluate my priorities of faith and family.” He wound up returning to Florida for 2010 but stepped away after the season for the same reasons he mentioned a year earlier.
In this day of harsh criticism for coaches, leaving a job to concentrate on your health is one of two ways in which a person will receive a pass (the other is family, which will be covered next), and rightfully so.
Meyer’s announcement was met with immense disappointment but a wealth understanding and well wishes from Gators fans, which appreciated his hard work and hoped that their future hall of fame coach would be around long enough to share in the glory they would impart upon him.
Though Meyer has said previously that his health issues are under control, one of the main reasons they were brought forth in the first place was the high level of stress he was under from managing one of the greatest college football programs in the country.
Ten months removed from his decision to leave Florida, Meyer has explained that his health is no longer a day-to-day issue but instead something he must monitor and control by doing the right things on a daily basis.
Meyer’s health issues originated from his inability to take care of himself. He ate at infrequent intervals, did not exercise regularly and had other poor habits that led to his health deteriorating. He made great strides in the area of self-improvement in 2010 and has done even better with a year off in 2011.
That is not to say Meyer can revert back to his old ways. He cannot. But the time he spent learning to take care of himself over the last two years has improved his health beyond his family’s expectations and provided him with the ability to take a new job.
The second part the statement Meyer made when deciding to resign focused on his inability to spend time with his family and watch his children grow up because of the time commitment forced on him by being a head football coach.
Florida fans, which embraced the entire Meyer clan from day one, equally understood this desire and supported Meyer to this end, even after he decided to spend a portion of his week working as an analyst for ESPN rather than at home with his family or on the road to watch his two daughters play volleyball.
The argument from the Gators faithful was that Meyer spending a few hours around college football each week was nowhere near the time commitment or stress level he was experiencing as a head coach at Florida.
Fans supported him with the same empathy they gave him in regards to his health. Despite others saying he was disingenuous, Meyer had the support of the Gators, something he may not have necessarily always felt in his final two seasons at the helm.
From his family’s perspective, Meyer spent more time with them than he ever had to his children’s memory. In fact, according to those who can speak to it, it was undeniably the best year the Meyer family had ever experienced together.
FLORIDA FAN BASE
Fans can be your greatest asset or your worst nightmare. The same ones that cheer and laud you one day can be fickle and petty the next…even if they don’t realize how much their nature might bother a person.
Following Meyer’s second national championship in three seasons (with the year in between resulting in the school’s third Heisman Trophy), he was questioned to no end about the decision to install Steve Addazio as offensive coordinator over Billy Gonzales (or anyone else for that matter).
Florida’s offense had become less electric and awe inspiring, leading fans to take for granted the fact that the Gators finished the regular season undefeated and had an opportunity to compete for their third national title in four years. Instead they focused on why UF was not more perfect heading into its tilt with Alabama for the SEC title.
When Florida lost that game by a margin wider than anyone could have imagined, the spoiled fan base exploded with criticism. Addazio may have been the target but Meyer felt each shot and took them personally. Losing hurts him deep down in his core, as he’s explained, but persistent attacks against his coaches and friends pain him just as much.
Things got even worse the following year when he put Addazio in charge of the entire program while he took a leave of absence. The offensive coordinator rounded up a bit of goodwill in the offseason due to his ability to keep the recruiting class together and win over fans in public speeches. However, he again became the brunt of criticism soon after the season got off to a slow start.
Meyer would never have fired Addazio despite cries from the Gators pleading with him to do so. He did not fault him for Florida’s woes and refused to place blame for the team’s struggles on his friend’s shoulders.
Yet Meyer felt the fans’ displeasure deep down inside. He knew they appreciated the victories and the championships but was also slightly perturbed at how vicious they could be after a 13-1 season (2009) and during a rebuilding year (2010).
He did not in any way leave the Gators because of the fans but there should be no question that he was frustrated with the fact that he had not garnered more trust and goodwill during his previous five years.
After Florida found success again in a second BCS title, Meyer’s legacy with the Gators slowly started becoming less about victories and more about how often his players were getting in trouble with the law.
The count was on and it was just a matter of time before Florida’s “30 arrests” became a national punch line to some but both a burden and sign of disrespect to the coach.
Every arrest brought new accusations and assumptions about Meyer, that he had no control over his players, did not care what they did in their personal lives as long as they produced on the football field, and held winning as a priority above everything else.
There is no question that Florida is one of the most scrutinized programs in the country. In addition to the pressure from the fans, Meyer felt that he always had to answer for things he had less control over than people chose to believe.
The state in which Meyer left the Gators may lead one to believe that he would be a landlord’s worst nightmare.
At the crux of Gator Nation’s frustrations over Meyer agreeing to become the next head coach of the Buckeyes is one simple fact: He left Florida’s roster worse off than he found it following Ron Zook‘s tenure.
UF looked weak and inept for the second-straight season, finishing 6-6 (their worst record since 1979) one year after Meyer took a similar unit to an 8-4 record and bowl victory against Penn State.
He may have been the best coach in school history between the days he dropped off his security deposit and moved out for good, but Meyer left the cupboard bare, the carpet dirty and the walls in need of a new paint job.
The Gators were a fractured team when Meyer took over. Ron Zook was a great recruiter and filled the team with talent but was unable to coach the players up and failed when it came to leadership and forcing the student-athletes to take responsibility.
Meyer did great things both on and off the field while wearing orange and blue. In addition to the victories and championships, he rebuilt the program from the inside-out, began and continued a number of traditions, and made fans once again proud to be a part of the Gator Nation.
But Meyer lost a lot over the last two years. The vast majority of his coaching staff (truly beginning with Dan Mullen leaving for Mississippi State at the end of the 2008 season) was gone by the time 2010 rolled around.
He had handfuls of players being selected early in the NFL Draft and was even forced to dismiss the heir apparent to Tim Tebow in Cam Newton (who only went on to win a Heisman Trophy and national title for Auburn).
Recruits did not pan out the way he expected, losses began mounting and the excellent team chemistry Florida had been building for years suddenly disappeared.
Meyer even admitted it himself, telling new head coach Will Muschamp on several occasions that “this program is broken,” according to a recent column by The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley.
He expressed a similar sentiment after losing to Florida State in 2010, but his resolve was different at that time.
“I can assure you we’re going to rebuild this thing and build it up the right way and do it right,” he said. “Obviously we’re down a little bit. I didn’t believe we’d be that far down, but we are. So how do you build up a program? I’ve done it a few times and you build it up with tough players and tough coaches.”
The truth is that Meyer faced issues heading into 2010 and may have been confronted with even bigger ones if he had stuck around in 2011. Whether his decision to leave had anything to do with a potential lack of desire to rebuild a broken Gators team will remain an unknown but is no doubt a valid point for those landlords out there who do not appreciate the condition he left the home in.
BACK SO SOON?
Florida’s recent struggles are certainly on the minds of fans when they question why Meyer has decided to return to coaching, but his choice to do so less than a year after stepping down from the Gators is equally as disturbing to them.
When Meyer resigned, the expectation was that he would be out of the game for at least a few years. Some expected three or four, others believed he would need two years away from the action, but everyone (including his family) knew he would eventually return to coaching sooner than later.
No one could have legitimately predicted it would happen this quickly.
If this occurred on Nov. 28, 2012, the uproar would be minor. Meyer would have been off the sideline for nearly two years, watched one daughter graduate, seen another into her junior year of college, and been there while his son matured into a young man.
Instead it appears as if Meyer took a break rather than a sabbatical and just wanted a bit of space to regroup. That is not the case because, as you will soon read, the unique opportunity he was presented with was the primary reason for his return.
THIS IS FLORIDA
Many have been comparing Meyer’s departure from Florida and rebirth at Ohio State to a romantic relationship and truth be told the situation is not that far off. However, there is an important difference.
Usually when one partner leaves another it is to move on to a younger, more attractive and more appealing partner, one that provides benefits (whether mental, emotional or physical) or displays characteristics the other cannot and enables them to be a better person in the long run.
Gators fans refuse to believe (and rightly so) that they are the older, less attractive and less appealing partner. Florida is one of the premier football programs in the country, a fact that was true before Meyer arrived and has remained such since his departure.
Meyer himself said that he could not think of a better program – in terms of academic support, recruiting base, funding, etc. – to lead as a head football coach and was sure to say all the sweet nothings to make the Gators swoon at the sound of his voice.
“This is the premiere coaching position in the country,” he said at his introductory press conference.
He also indicated that his coaching mindset was “UF or nowhere” just one year earlier when he decided to return rather than ride off into the sunset.
“What I didn’t want to have happen, and I made this clear to Jeremy [Foley], if I am able to go coach, I want to coach at one place, the University of Florida,” Meyer said. “It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my shirt and go coach. I don’t want to do that. I have too much love for this university and these players and for what we’ve built.”
Florida fell hard for Meyer and was rewarded with victories and national titles. The Gator Nation stood by him in his darkest hour, praying for his health and a happy home life even after a rough season.
And he rewards them by moving in with someone new less than a year after being apart?
DREAM JOB II
There have been some inane conspiracy theories floated recently, but the truth is that Meyer did not have had any idea that there would be two premiere coaching vacancies just months after he resigned from Florida.
Even while with the Gators, there were murmurs that Meyer might leave the team at some point should the Notre Dame gig became available. It did, and he stuck around.
When announcing his decision to leave, Meyer probably took a long look at the coaching landscape and realized that he would eventually have an opportunity to step into a top job a few years down the line.
Jim Tressel was winning at Ohio State but not coming through in the big game, Joe Paterno was holding steady at Penn State but nearing retirement, and no coach at Notre Dame had seen true success since Lou Holtz (1986-96).
Meyer’s lone promise was that no matter where his career took him or how long he remained a head coach, he could never imagine himself coaching another SEC school.
So when the Ohio State scandal broke and Tressel stepped down, Meyer realized that he was faced with a legitimate once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Despite Florida being Florida, Ohio State was and still is home for Meyer.
He may not have planned to be coaching OSU in 2012, but how could he turn down such an opportunity when it presents itself? A football nut like him? He couldn’t.
With the Penn State job toxic and Notre Dame under new management with Brian Kelly at the helm, Ohio State was likely the only school that could sway Meyer back to the circus that is college football.
And it just so happened that the job became open while he was unemployed and has a president so desperate to put his school’s rash of NCAA violations behind him that he will do anything in his power to make sure Meyer’s return to OSU is as perfect as can be.
The fact is that he is not Nick Saban going from LSU to Alabama or even Steve Spurrier heading to South Carolina following respective stints in the NFL. Meyer will not be competing against the Gators on an annual basis or trying to beat them and knock them out of the SEC race.
He would have been crazy to pass on this opportunity and walk away. Meyer declining the job he has always wanted would have eaten at him for the remainder of his career. The regret he would have felt would’ve been significantly worse and lasted much longer than any backlash he was prepared to incur and brush off his shoulders.
IN THE FACE OF SCANDAL
Meyer wanted to coach Ohio State so bad that he is willing to overlook the fact that the Buckeyes are about to be hit with penalties from the NCAA likely reinforcing the loss of scholarships and potentially adding bowl bans.
He has wanted to don the scarlet and grey so long that he has chosen to ignore the fact that his two current bosses possess neither integrity nor trustworthiness – two things he often praised about Jeremy Foley and Bernie Machen.
Meyer’s desire to coach Ohio State is so strong that, despite being disgusted with the “state of college football” just one year ago, he will be returning to the game at the helm of a school that could have been on the cover of his manifesto if he released one.
Some might label this has hypocrisy. The truth is that Meyer is simply looking out for his best interests. He has worked every day of his life to become a coach capable of running a top-ranked national program and was not going to let his opportunity to return home go by the wayside because of timing or penalties.
There is no worse time to deliver bad news than immediately following other bad news.
If Muschamp had immediately reinvigorated the program and brought home another SEC East title (or at least a winning record against Florida’s rivals), some Gators fans would still be upset at Meyer but many others would take the mentality of, “Well, at least we’re all set with his replacement.”
Instead, Florida has just finished its worst regular season since 1979, did not defeat a single ranked opponent, lost to both Georgia and Florida State, and barely became bowl eligible after struggling to defeat Furman two weeks ago.
The two-time national champion coach that left just 10 months ago accepting a new job at Ohio State and…wait for it…a likely bowl game against his new employer.
Gators fans feel like they’re being kicked while their down, whether or not they want to admit it. It is tough to blame a fan base used to immense success for feeling that way or to criticize them for having that reaction.
Meyer proved one thing about himself in leaving the Gators and signing with the Buckeyes 10 months later.
No, he is not a “liar” – though some believe he may have lied.
No, he is not a “hypocrite” – though some of his actions may give one legitimate reasons to question his rationale even if he is being forthright and honest.
From what I have been told directly from people who would know better than anyone, Meyer’s motives were pure and his reasoning sound.
Despite what Meyer said upon stepping down, his actions compounded over the last year prove he just can’t quit college football. And in many respects, if you paid attention to the coverage yesterday, you would know that college football can’t quit him either.
Therefore, only one relevant and obvious conclusion stands above the rest.
Urban Meyer, like the rest of us, is imperfect.
And like the rest of us, that just makes him human.
The purpose of the above column was not to tell you how to feel but rather provide you with the necessary perspective to formulate your own opinion. Feel free to sound off with your thoughts in the comment section below.