The demonizing of Urban Meyer hit perhaps an all-time high this week, when Matt Hayes of Sporting News dropped this bombshell of an article detailing “How Urban Meyer broke Florida football.”
The basic points are that Meyer fostered a poisonous environment at UF by letting his most prized players — dubbed the “Circle of Trust” — run wild by covering up their drug use and allowing prima-donna behavior. By the end of his time in Gainesville, he had completely lost control of the team, which led to a sense of entitlement and lack of discipline that has left the Gators a shadow of the program that dominated college football a few years ago.
(I like to imagine that the “Circle of Trust” involved an elaborate induction ceremony, where strength coach Mickey Marotti dead-lifted the player in front of the rest of the group while junior member Wondy Pierre-Louis beat a drum and sang “In the Ciiiiiircle, the Circle of Trust”).
The whole thing is summed up perfectly in this quote from former UF safety Bryan Thomas: “As far as coaching, there’s no one else like (Meyer). He’s a great coach. He gets players to do things you never thought you could do. But he’s a bad person. He’ll win at Ohio State. But if he doesn’t change, they’re going to have the same problems.”
Let’s start with that.
Yes, Meyer showed those three preferential treatment by not saying that they were being disciplined, but I don’t ever recall him outing a player for flunking a drug test. It was always a vague statement like, “He’s not doing what we need him to do. We’re handling that behind closed doors.” The injury excuse kept suspicion away from those three (kind of), but if you want NFL-caliber athletes to come play for you, you can’t do anything to damage their reputations.
Unsurprisingly, the story points to Harvin as the most prima of all donnas, alleging that he attacked then-receivers coach Billy Gonzales and single-handedly put a stop to a team conditioning drill by saying, “This shit ends now” — all without repercussion.
To all of this, I say, you’re damned right he did. Put yourself in the place of a UF fan during that period. Wipe the condescending smirk off your face, and then think about what you would have wanted Meyer to do in these situations.
Tell the world Harvin smokes weed, a harmless drug? Suspend him for hitting Gonzales? Not let him take nap breaks during practice (something I’ve also heard he did)?
The dude is the best player in UF history (sorry Steve, Danny and Tim), and he came through time after time after time. He never pitched a fit (publicly, at least), and never threw a teammate under the bus. He played hurt often and played extremely well always, including huge roles in the 2006 and 2008 national title games, then went on to a successful pro career. It’s also worth noting that Gonzales called the situation “overblown.” That’s what I would expect, but still, he said it.
In Harvin’s case, Meyer did exactly what he should have done. Same with Spikes and Hernandez. All three of those guys were incredible at UF and are doing well in the NFL. Other than minor drug issues and Spikes’ regrettable and terrifying “acting” work on Ustream, they’ve been solid. So how bad is Meyer really at character development?
The best players get treated a little differently. That’s just the way it is, and it’s nothing new. You’ve seen it your whole life.
And it especially shouldn’t be a surprise coming from a guy like Meyer. He’s a CEO-style coach. Recruit talent, get them on the field, and let them do their thing. It’s not like he’s running a well-oiled machine where he can just swap random white people in and out. He needs his stars, and he has to keep them happy.
The problem is, this can cause resentment for the rest of the team — let’s call them the 99 Percenters. The man leading the charge in this story, Bryan Thomas, deserves tons of credit for being the only one with the courage to speak out and be named, but let’s also keep him in perspective.
Thomas was essentially forced out before the 2009 season under the guise of a “medical hardship.” I know someone who went through a similar situation at another school, and it’s completely unfair bullshit. It’s not OK, but coaches do it all the time, which is why the NCAA’s recent rule change allowing for multi-year scholarships is a major step in the right direction.
But the point is that Thomas got screwed. He has an axe to grind, and while this alone doesn’t make his comments invalid, the fact that he left when UF was at its peak (coming off the 2008 title and favored to repeat) doesn’t really qualify him to speak about the decline of Florida football.
And that’s my biggest problem with this article. It pins Will Muschamp‘s early struggles almost entirely on Meyer poisoning the locker room, but there are zero examples of how it affected players who were on the team in 2010.
The reason why the Gators suck is not a sense of entitlement or because Harvin went Sprewell on a coach. It’s because for a system like Meyer’s to work, “It comes down to players,” as he said in the story.
Meyer ran out of those players. He thought he had waves and waves of studs lined up from his highly touted recruiting classes, but those four- and five-star recruits just didn’t pan out as expected, and his all-world coaching staff moved up and out.
John Brantley MBJB‘d all over the place. Cam Newton slipped away from UF and still hasn’t been touched by anyone since. Prized wideouts like Deonte Thompson, Andre Debose and a host of others didn’t live up to the hype. Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong left, and Steve Addazio happened.
Meyer’s biggest sin isn’t that he had a “Circle of Trust,” it’s that he couldn’t find enough people to fill it with. His “toxic” environment can live on forever, but it needs a constant supply of good players.
He started losing, and Florida has continued to lose. Suddenly, all those arrests and character issues matter, and since he’s at a new school, it’s open season for hating on Meyer.
Muschamp is in a right pickle — as I imagine he would say with a piece of hay protruding from his lips — and Meyer is certainly partly to blame for that (all this Meyer-blaming is buying Muschamp more time). And maybe Coach Boom will turn it around with a locker room to rival a monastery, but I doubt it.
If Muschamp wins, it’ll be with really talented players. Some will be entitled, some will be assholes, and some will smoke weed. If they’re winners, he’ll be a hero. If they’re not, or if he leaves the program in shambles, he’ll be blamed.
That’s just the way college football works, and the Meyer story isn’t a special one. He’s no different from countless others who came before or will come after, except that he’s had more success.
It was just his turn to get knocked down a few pegs, and once he starts rolling in the wins that everyone expects at Ohio State, he’ll be hailed as a masterful coach once again.