ESPN/ABC reporter and former Florida Gators dazzler Erin Andrews was kind enough to speak with me Thursday afternoon to discuss head coach Urban Meyer’s decision to step down from his position with the University of Florida. We spoke at length about the impact he had on the football program and the school itself, and how much he meant to her on a personal level since they first met six years ago.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: In a column I wrote today, I discussed how Meyer seemed to have an impact on everyone he interacted with at Florida – even if it was not on a personal basis. How did he come across to you when you became familiar with him?
ERIN ANDREWS: “The one thing that impressed me with Coach Meyer right off the bat was: He wasn’t part of the bloodline with Florida. He wasn’t a former coach, he wasn’t involved with the program until he was hired. That kind of scared me because I was close to [Steve] Spurrier, I was close to [Ron] Zook. I was a member of the media – and as a grad – I want the inside access to my school. Especially when stuff like this happens. I had a great relationship with Zook, and Spurrier has always been wonderful to me.
“The one thing that impressed me about Urban was that he wasted no time in getting the alums involved. He’s just made us feel like we’re part of the university and part of all of it. I didn’t know him at all when he took over. But right off the bat with me it was, ‘E.A., it’s good to be a Gator!’ So I always appreciated how he made former Gators – people that weren’t involved in the program – made us feel like we were a part of everything he was doing when he was the head coach.”
AS: He seems to have made Gator Nation even stronger than it was when he got to UF. Have you noticed the same thing?
EA: “Coach and Tim [Tebow] had a lot to do with that. If you go back and you watch Tim’s Heisman [Trophy] speech, all it was is, ‘I love being a Gator. Go Gators!’ I really do. Every text message Coach would send me over the past couple of years always ended with, ‘It’s great to be a Gator!’ or ‘Go Gators!’ This new burst of energy, this new sense of pride in Gator Nation and what the community is and what the school is all about and what the football program is all about, I think Coach Meyer was perfect for that. He really adjusted and was exactly what the school needed at the time.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Erin Andrews…after the break!
AS: When we spoke to you in July, you recounted for us how much of an impact Meyer and his wife had on you over the last year or so. How do you feel about his decision to step down on a personal level?
EA: “I was actually really emotional yesterday because I remember last year when I got the call that coach was going to step down, and it was about his health, and it was just widespread panic. And then he changed his mind. Were Shelley and the kids OK with it? Was he really OK? Was he able to step away a little bit? So yesterday, the news started coming through that he was going to step down, I certainly got upset. I just thought, ‘Oh no, coach just had another episode. There’s something wrong. He’s not OK.’ I’m worried about the kids, I’m worried about Shelley. I couldn’t help but kind of become overwhelmed a bit with emotion just worrying if he was OK. I sent him a note right away, and I sent Shelley a note. They got word back to me and everything, so I felt a little bit better. Yesterday my fear wasn’t so much, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen to Florida in terms of a coach.’ Mine was more or less: He’s a husband, he’s a father, he’s been a friend to me. I was panicked if he was alright or not.”
AS: Do you feel there was a lot of undue or unjust criticism levied on Meyer throughout his career? It seemed that no matter how much he achieved on the field or helped his players achieve off of it, people took joy in lambasting him.
EA: “I think it was unjust, I really do. Unjustified. Until you walk in someone’s shoes… People may think that coaching at the University of Florida is one of the premiere jobs – which it is – but you’re also a full-time babysitter every single day of the year, every hour that [you’re] on the clock. You’re a babysitter, you’re expected to be a parent, you’re expected to be a counselor, you’re expected to be a spokesman. The job and the duties are endless. You could just see it on his face. Coach is a perfectionist, he’s a go-getter. He wants to be the best day-in and day-out.
“I have to say, as somebody from that university – that graduated from that university, somebody that’s friends with him – not just somebody that covers college football, I appreciate how much he wanted to give himself and the best of himself to this school. I really do. I can’t help but get emotional about it because I know how much he put his heart and soul – and how much Shelley put into – the program. I’m so appreciative in so many ways. Not just as an alum, but also as a broadcaster because it’s all the right things about college football. For someone on the outside to criticize coach, and I can’t even imagine what they would be criticizing him about, I just would love to just challenge them to be in his shoes – be a head coach at one of the premiere universities in college football and try to take it on.
“Even yesterday I was really, really frustrated. I know people do not know the whole story and they’re idiots and you can’t read what everyone has to say, but when the news started coming out they were like, ‘Here’s another Brett Favre. In three hours he’ll change his mind.’ You have no idea what a commitment this is, what a lifestyle this is. People just don’t get it. I was able to see it first-hand. Here he is trying to coach a team last season when they had a bull’s-eye on their back. I would call him up crying about something I read on the Internet about my situation and be like, ‘I can’t handle this. I don’t understand how people are so hateful.’ And he would just be like, ’My girl, you just got to learn this – this – and this.’ And he would kind of give me the same speech he would give Tim with all the haters that were saying things about him and all those people that were saying things about Coach Meyer. I just appreciated how much of a human being he was away from the position because a lot of the time it’s hard to be stretched in 8,000 different places. And that’s another thing I appreciate about him.”
Photo Credit: Patrick Fraser/Vanity Fair