Throughout the years, a whole lot of people have been kind enough to offer me all sorts of advice and while I can probably say at least 99 percent of it was extremely well-intentioned, I have to admit that a good portion of it was what I would call the in one ear and out the other variety. While I do sincerely appreciate any advice that comes my way via good intentions, I’ve learned too many lessons the hard way and that even the finest of intentions doesn’t always equal the best of advice.
So, here is some of the good advice I’ve received and a little advice for our Gator seniors who get their day Saturday.
My grandmother’s advice — actually it was a warning not to embarrass her — was to make sure I wore clean underwear every day that didn’t have any holes or skidmarks. She would have died, she told me, if I had gotten in a car wreck, been taken by ambulance to the hospital and upon undressing me to treat my wounds, discover that I (a) had holes in my underwear and (b) a skidmark or two.
There was that time when my uncle told me to beg, borrow and steal however much money I could and invest in this little company that was about to go national. I let that go in one ear and out the other. Turns out the little company was called Home Depot. They’ve done pretty well, don’t you think?
My dad’s piece of advice, something he preached to me from the time I was a little kid until the day he died in 1986, was to remember that there would always be someone smarter or with a better idea — I couldn’t control those things — but I could work hard, work efficiently and do it in such a way that people trusted me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t remember that and try to put it into practice.
I used to get post cards from my friend, the late, great Al McGuire. Al took a 30-day vacation every year to some new place all by himself. He wrote me after going to Australia and riding a motorcycle completely around the island-continent that this was the key to a happy marriage. Give her her space for 30 days and take 30 days for yourself to see and try something new. I might try that out if I ever marry again.
Jack Hairston hired me to work for the Jacksonville Journal with a 30-second phone call — I’ve found the shorter the interview the more likely I am to get the job — and that began a friendship that is more than 40 years old. Jack gave me the best advice anyone ever gave me in the media business — that it was my job to get the story. No excuses. Get the story and report it factually. If there is one thing that dismays me about so many in today’s media is that they seem more intent on manufacturing a story or bending the facts to suit their point of view that they obscure the truth.
My mom’s good advice to me — advice that I’ve always tried to remember — was don’t go to bed mad at someone, especially someone you love. If you have to, stay up all night to resolve the issue or at least find a measure of peace so you don’t carry that anger over into the next day.
My stepfather, who has been a never-ending source of inspiration and friendship, has always advised choose friends carefully, that it’s not important to have more friends than anyone else, just friends I can trust and count on.
The late Bill Humphrey, with whom I worked at the Savannah Morning News, once told me never marry anyone until you’ve met their grandparents. I asked him if he didn’t mean the parents and he told me the grandparents are a better measure for a future spouse because the kids spend their lives trying to be everything the parents weren’t and usually screw things up.
Sitting at the head of the table at the Pirate’s House Restaurant in Savannah one night, the young basketball coach at Bucknell University told me that crying is a good thing and that I should never be ashamed of my tears because of their healing power. His name was Jimmy Valvano. I remembered his words when Big Sid and I cried together that day in 2007 when the Oh-Fours announced they were leaving the University of Florida for the NBA. Sidney Green is 6-10 and a biscuit or two under 280. He didn’t mind crying for the whole world to see and I figured if he could, so could I.
Cecil Sherman, who was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Asheville, North Carolina when I knew him, told me to pray about tough decisions until I had peace in my heart, that if I didn’t have peace in my heart, then God wasn’t ready for me to make the next move. I’ve found that when I’ve heeded that advice, I’ve made good decisions and most of the bad decisions I made in life were made when I didn’t have real peace.
My grandfather is one I always turned to for advice. He was a Federated Insurance agent whose territory was north Florida and parts of south Georgia. He would drive by our home at 6:15 and honk his horn. I’d run out the door and go with him to such exotic places as Folkston and Live Oak and Jasper, where there were farmers and business owners who trusted him and the company he represented. We’d eat breakfast somewhere along the way but he always tried to make sure we ate lunch at Howard Johnson’s in Lake City on the way back. They had 29 flavors of ice cream and he always talked about all the different flavors but he always ordered butter pecan. His advice to me was to go through life with the fewest number of if onlies as possible. He thought the worst thing in life was to look back and say, if only I had done that or if only I hadn’t done that. He was right. Most of the unhappy people I’ve met in my 58 years are the ones who spend their lives talking about all the things they could have done if only they had made a different choice. Now, I can’t say I’ve always made the best choice, but even the bad ones seemed like a good idea at the moment. I really don’t have any regrets. I’ve learned just as much or more from the bad things that have happened in life as I have the good things.
Saturday afternoon, it’s Senior Day at The Swamp, a day for us to remember the contributions of a marvelous group of seniors before they play their final home game against the Tallahassee Trade School. I doubt there will be too many dry eyes in the joint when the last of the seniors runs out of the tunnel. Both on and off the field, these guys will leave behind a legacy that will serve as the standard for senior classes to come.
I’m sure all of these guys have been or are in the process of being flooded with the advice of so many well-intentioned people. About the only piece of advice I could give them would be to continue seeking Urban Meyer’s advice in the future and if you can’t talk to him when you need wise counsel, at least remember the advice he’s given in the past.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life hanging around with coaches but I don’t think I’ve ever met a coach who cares more about his players than Urban. In chronicling him for the past five years and trying to figure out why his teams win at such a remarkable pace, I think I’ve learned his secret — win the battle for their hearts and minds and then the football is the easy part. He teaches them live life the right way, to keep their priorities right and to love and respect teammates. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to figure out that his way of doing things has a profound effect on the lives of the kids and on winning.
That’s all my advice for you, so thanks seniors. Thanks for all the memories. Thanks for four brilliant years. Thanks for the contributions you’ve made to Florida football and both on and off the University of Florida campus. Thanks for being Gators.