“Winner”, “Traitor”, “Workaholic”, “Family Man.” These are just a few words that come to mind when people think about Urban Meyer. In the wake of the recent CBS Q&A with the Buckeyes head coach, I decided to think long and hard about how I really feel about Urban Meyer. After a reflection of his five years at the University of Florida, it came down to this: Just stop talking about us.
I felt the same way I’m sure all of you did when you heard the news that Meyer was leaving UF (The first time. I know, it’s easy to confuse the two): “What? You’re kidding. Why?” I stopped playing a game of Monopoly to get the scoop, and when I realized there was no real news to be found that late at night, continued playing. I lost miserably. And then I got angry.
The health concern was an issue I knew was on the table, but I never thought a brief trip to Shands after the 2009 SEC Championship game would cause a two-time national champion coach to just up and leave a program in the middle of the night. (Who did he think he was? Lane Kiffin?) There had to be something more. He quickly realized the mistake he made and came back. Most fans were relieved as if they woke up from a bad dream and realized everything was going to be okay again. Not me. I was skeptical and left wondering, “For how long?” His health concerns didn’t just disappear. If anything, he was probably more stressed at that moment than he had been over the last four years. I assumed Foley wasn’t just going to hire whoever Urban wanted as his successor, so he came back with an apologetic phone call, thinking he could coach with the same passion he had been for the past five years.
He was wrong. And that’s how 2010 happened. I had never not wanted to be inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium until that season. What a disaster. Florida endured home losses to LSU, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Florida fans had to watch two former Florida coaches (Mullen and Spurrier) beat the Gators in the Swamp, where only Gators are supposed to get out alive. Florida then suffered through an embarrassing loss to FSU on Ron Zook Field that left our least favorite “friends” asking, “So, if it’s 6:29 in Gainesville, what time is it in Tallahassee? 31 to 7.” (Man, they are clever.) I felt pure rage, and not at the team. I wasn’t mad at Brantley, who broke so many of Tebow’s high school records in the state of Florida and laid a giant egg in the face of adversity. I wasn’t mad at the players for all of the rumors that were circulating about a divided team. I wasn’t even mad at the “Meyer’s back? Alachua County Jail better get ready!” quips.
I was mad at Meyer for letting it come to this. If it was his health that affected his ability to coach, why come back at all? If he cared about this program, how could he coach with half a heart? I was left dumbfounded. I had no answers. Until he gave us one on December 8, 2010. I remember getting ready to leave work when twitter blew up with the rumors. I knew there was a press conference, but I didn’t expect the unspeakable to be news again so soon – it hadn’t even been a year yet. It quickly became evident that Florida just wasted a season on a coach whose heart wasn’t in it anymore. I was furious. Why leave us with this team and the memory of 2010? Why not try to redeem yourself? Or was the 2010 season a pathetic attempt to do so? I get the family reasons. I get the health reasons. The man brought Florida two national titles, a Heisman winner, and some of my favorite Gator teams; I wanted him to be okay because I wanted him to keep coaching at Florida. I also didn’t want Florida to be the reason why he couldn’t take a break to tend to his health and family before this breaking point. But this time was different – I knew he wasn’t coming back and I was angry, but I tried to bury that because I felt he didn’t deserve my feelings anymore. Like a bad break up, I put him out of my mind and just hoped he would be a stand-up guy afterwards. (Boy, was I not prepared for the roller coaster he would send me on.)
My attention focused to who our next head coach would be. I wanted a familiar face, one that would restore glory to the Florida name. (I cannot tell you how badly I wanted Charlie Strong back.) But as I was watching Cam Newton accept his Heisman, I saw the news break on ESPN’s Bottom Line – Will Muschamp, DC (and HCIW) at Texas, was to be Florida’s new head coach. “Who?” A quick Google searched linked me to a YouTube video of the fiery Auburn DC on OUR sidelines. It hurt to relive that memory, but he was pretty awesome. Wait, he played at Georgia? What? Why? Oh, he grew up in Gainesville? Sold. Then Muschamp had his welcome presser and I was instantly in love with where the program was going. Things were going to be done the “Florida Way.” What did that mean? I wasn’t sure at the moment, but I knew it was good thing. Hopefully it was along the lines of better academics, a different attitude, a different breed of football, and less trouble.
But this article isn’t about how wonderful Florida’s current head coach is (which is very wonderful); it’s about the one who is missing out on such an honor. Foley was quick to heal the wound. For that, I am grateful. I didn’t want to talk about Meyer leaving anymore. I wanted to talk about how awesome the new Gator coach was, whom he was bringing in, and how the recruiting class was changing. I was trying to move on. I didn’t care to entertain the SEC trolls who loved to imagine Florida’s demise in front of their eyes. I was happy to see us beat Penn State and happy he went off the way he did – with support and class from Gators fans, who painted the 34th Street wall and put signs in their dorms thanking Urban for his years here, wishing him the best – how honorable he was for putting his family and health first. You never see a coach do that these days.
It was time for Meyer to get healthy and spend time with his fam- ESPN?! Are you kidding me?! Being in Bristol on my television every other day didn’t seem like QT with the fam. Get off of my TV. Get out of my ears. “Urban, you know what it’s like to coach two national championship teams. Tell us what you think about Bama and LSU.” Please make it stop. He gave Florida credit where it was due, saying things along the lines of what he said in the CBS article: “I think that ’08 team is as good or better than any team to ever play college football.” It’s close. But that didn’t exactly make everything all better. I know ESPN is far less time-consuming than being a coach, but COME ON. Give your ex a little time to get over you before you start dating the most popular girl in school in front of her face. Suddenly his health concerns were gone and his little contract with his family was the heart-warming go-to topic of conversation. He wasted no time and showed no sympathy. I was done with him.
Then Tressel was out at OSU and my worst fears were realized. We all tried to stay in delusion, but deep down we all knew Urban Meyer couldn’t possibly pass up Ohio State to remain a broadcaster just to spare our feelings. I spent a sufficient amount of time hoping he would pass on the opportunity, to solidify that these issues couldn’t be fixed in one offseason, but I sobered up quickly. He’d be an idiot to not take the job, no matter the backlash. A perfect storm was brewing – he’d accept the job and then we’d play Ohio State in a bowl game. Because of course. I was the most bitter only because I knew he was dancing around the subject. For what seemed like an eternity, we had to pretend to believe Meyer pretending he hadn’t been in talks with Ohio State. It was all just another web of lies that looked pretty to the public, and I was tired of it. I didn’t want to hear the griping of Gators or celebrations of Buckeyes. I wanted it all to go away. But Ohio State fans wouldn’t let up. Did Meyer really have to go to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville? Did they really need to chant “Ur-ban Mey-er” and clap accordingly during the game? No, they didn’t. But they did. And they lost. Again. Ohio State fans thought they won because they got him. They didn’t.
Florida has a coach with a heart the size of the southeast and a defensive brain that can mentally destroy and wear down Texas A&M, LSU, and South Carolina. Of course, we didn’t know that yet. We wouldn’t know that for another year or so, but I had the appropriate amount of faith. You know what we did know? Florida was still better than Ohio State, even with the team Meyer left in shambles in a haste to get healthy and spend enough time with his kids so he could take a job at ESPN. Hey, good for him. The “Thank you, Urban” painted on the 34th street wall wasn’t there after the Gator Bowl, but that attitude in Gainesville was still surprisingly prevalent. I felt like we took the high road, even with the “Urban Liar” shirts circulating Gainesville.
When the 2012 season started, I was torn between wanting Meyer to lose every game and wanting him to win every game only to not be able to do anything with the team because of the one-year postseason ban. Boy, am I happy I picked the latter because I got to see it unfold before my eyes and have a nice laugh at season’s end. And then I matured. That was the end of my feelings for Meyer. We have a coach who I believe is the future of Florida Football. Florida beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. The Gators went 11-2 and played in the Sugar Bowl. Meyer went 12-0 and wasn’t even allowed to win his conference. The cycle was complete. It was finally time to move on.
And then CBS had to go and ask him questions. Urban Meyer said things like, “Bob Stoops is a guy I’d like to talk to, a guy I watch. I admire the way he handles it because he’s a family guy. He’s created a beast at Oklahoma.” A “beast” that can’t win a BCS game? That’s not the Meyer I know. Meyer also said, “I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret.” Wow. That’s all I’ve wanted to hear for the past few years and I finally got it. What a weird feeling. And then…”Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all.” Can he just stop talking? Can everyone just stop talking about it? That’s what it’s come to now; I just don’t want to hear about him. I went through the five stages of dying over this guy and he won’t leave me alone. I don’t want hear him talk about Florida. I will always have fond memories of 2005-2010, but it’s over.
It’s hard to look back at the way it ended, but it did. It’s hard to think about how quickly he moved on, but he didn’t plan on coaching one season removed from Florida. That makes it a little better. Did it feel good to hear that he regrets how it ended? Yes. Does part of me wish it still haunted him? Kind of. But I just don’t want to hear it anymore. There is nothing more to be said about his time here at Florida or ESPN or how he left. I don’t want to think about how we “lost a year” or how he gave himself a bad name by going back on his word. It was for his family and his health, and those are pretty important reasons to reevaluate your life. I think he meant everything he said, but it’s taken a while to completely understand the context and weight of his comments.
Honestly, it’s nice that he regrets the way it happened. Hopefully that means whenever he leaves OSU that it’s graceful and with dignity. It’s not fun being the guinea pig for such a big life lesson, but we can’t hold that against him. If you’re looking for him to wish he were still our coach, don’t hold your breath. He doesn’t regret where he is. And he shouldn’t. He is happier. His family is happier. The “great” state of Ohio is happy because they got the guy who embarrassed them in Glendale (How that makes anyone happy, I’ll never really know.) But he’s the “hometown hero.” He’s theirs. And they can keep him. Do I want him to win? Not necessarily, but I’m not a monster; I want him and his family to be happy. I just don’t want to hear about him and Florida anymore. It’s time to move on. It’s time to stop asking questions. There’s nothing left to talk about. Stop beating a dead horse.