I have a history with Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer. No, he never coached me. I don’t know what it was like to play under him, have his performance demands insisted upon me or feel like his approval is the most important thing in the world.
My grades were never judged by him, the type of young man I grew up to be in college was not due to his influence, he never praised me for being a positive member of the community and he didn’t have to punish me for stepping out of line.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t know how he affected others – guys like Vernell Brown, Tim Tebow, Ahmad Black and Chris Rainey (just to name a few). And that doesn’t mean he had no affect on my life – because he did.
While I run this website impartially and with as little positive bias toward Florida as possible, I do have a handful of my own stories and opinions about Meyer – ones I almost shared just over a year ago when he retired the first time.
RECOGNITION AND A PAT ON THE BACK
Meyer’s tenure at Florida began as my time working in the Sports Information Department at the University Athletic Association was coming to an end. His first season (2005) was my last, and the press conference for his second National Signing Day (2006) was one of the final events I covered for the University of Florida.
The football offices were crazy the week leading up that signing day. Everyone knew the names of the players who had already provided their verbal commitments; everyone had heard how big of a deal it was to reel in Tebow and Percy Harvin. But no one knew more than Meyer – not by a long shot.
Standing, listening, watching and later transcribing Meyer’s words as he officially announced the 2006 signing class, you could tell he was excited. It was my impression that Meyer knew this class had “it,” though it was never in my wildest dreams that they could win a National Championship the following season.
Well, that’s how I felt until I bumped into Meyer at a softball game.
Days after the Gators recruiting class was signed, sealed and delivered, I was working the softball press box. A friend called to tell me she was there, and we met outside to talk for a few moments so I could take a break. Knowing my love for football, she asked me a few questions about this Tebow guy everyone was talking about, and I went on-and-on telling her that he was a special player and the way Meyer spoke about him, he’s the type of player that could win this team a title.
Whether I was speaking at a high volume or he was around me at an opportune time, Meyer saw me walking back to the press box and sidled up next to me. Smiling wide, he said he always saw me running around the offices, asked for my name and said he appreciated how passionately I spoke about the team. He added that with hard work anything was possible, including a national title. A few pleasantries and a pat on the back later, he was off to watch the rest of the game – with his family.
I saw Meyer on-and-off after that at Florida functions or even randomly around town. He remembered my name every time – and always made it a point to say hello.
2009 BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
The 2007 BCS National Championship win was great, but as someone who spent his life growing up in South Florida, having the opportunity to see the Gators play for the title at then-Dolphins Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL, was something special.
The game was exciting, it was emotional and the celebration when the clock stopped was seemingly endless. There are sporting events (good and bad) in my life that have made me teary-eyed, very few that have made me cry. I cried tears of joy that night. Not when the players celebrated on the field, not when the trophy was being presented to the team but instead when Meyer stepped down from the podium clutching the crystal football like it was a baby, looked up at the adoring crowd and finally headed off into the tunnel.
Only a day later did I found out that Steve, a close friend of mine, was on the field that night working for FOX Sports. Snapping pictures of everything he could, he happened to be back in the tunnel when Meyer walked through alone. “All right, coach! High five, coach!” Steve exclaimed. Meyer stopped, looked at him, cradled the trophy and gave him a passionate high five as his smile grew even wider.
TREATING FLORIDA LIKE IT WAS HIS FAMILY
Fans, his players, his opponents, his staff and the media respect and have a deep appreciation for what Meyer has achieved on the field. His accomplishments are many but regardless of what he did, Meyer was unable to escape condemnation.
From arrested players to altercations with the media to accusations of being disingenuous, Meyer was harshly criticized whenever the opportunity presented itself. I suppose the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” can be put into play here, but that is not a reason or excuse for how he was treated on a consistent basis.
Looking back on the criticisms tossed his way, all of them appear to stem from the very reason Meyer has decided to leave the Gators – family. Meyer treated every staff member and every player like a member of his extended family. The program he built at Florida preached family values in recruiting, in coaching and in life. He wanted to teach his players to be responsible and accountable – whether that meant posting good grades and donating time to charity or rebounding from unfortunate life mistakes.
When players were arrested under Meyer, his No. 1 priority was not getting the pressure off his back by cutting them lose, it was trying to rehabilitate them and giving them an opportunity bounce back – using football as a reward. When he felt a player of his was unfairly portrayed by a media member, he (over)reacted harshly because in his eyes it was like a family member was being attacked. And when he chose not to throw his coaches under the bus this season when many of them share in the blame for a lackluster finale to his career at Florida, he was protecting the family he built.
From close and from afar, I have always felt like a part of that family. Meyer was not just the reason the football team has been successful over the last few years, he was and remains integral in the growth and enduring strength of the Gator Nation.
Family is not something that is recently becoming important to Meyer – it always has been. The difference is that he is finally comfortable realizing which family needs his attention the most right now – and it’s not the one wearing orange and blue.