This article is certainly a little late, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to share, and with the impending Gator Bowl matchup on the way I’m sure this will once again be an ongoing news story as January 2nd approaches.
A lot of Gators feel betrayed by Urban, and feel that they were lied to. This quote gets brought up often…
“But what I didn’t want to have happen, and I made this clear to Jeremy [Foley], if I am able to go coach, I want to coach at one place, the University of Florida. It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my shirt and go coach. I don’t want to do that. I have too much love for this University and these players and for what we’ve built.”
-Urban Meyer, upon retiring from Florida.
How often? In order to find the exact quote, I simply googled “Urban Meyer quote gators” and it was the first two results to come up.
It is a pretty damning quote, I will readily admit that. From an outside perspective (which is all any of us have), we basically have a guy who says “uh, yeah I’m sick and want to spend some time with my family, but I’m a Gator and I always want to be a Gator and never want to wear any other colors” who then comes back a year later donning those ugly ass silver and red colors.
Both Urban and his wife Shelley claim that when he left he really had the intention to stay away for good, but the itch was just too much. She recollects the walk they had together where he told her that he was thinking about coming back, and how much being away from the game was tearing him up. Most Gator fans don’t believe them. I do, and here’s why…
To explain this, I’m going to use an anecdotal experience from my own life. Most of you are going to scoff at the idea of me comparing something so little to something as grand as the billion dollar college football industry, but I’m going to do it anyway so get your jokes in now.
Throughout my time at UF I was able to partake in eight glorious years of intramural football (4 years as an undergrad and 4 years as a spouse during my wife’s grad-school run). We had a pretty good run, with five final four appearances and two championships. Yes, I’m about to compare something that happened in intramural football to something that happened in real football, but bare with me. Besides, those of you that went to UF recently know how seriously and competitively that inner circle takes it.
After we won our first championship and continued doing well in the years that followed I began to feel that pressure to do well, both within that inner crowd that followed intramural football and with new teammates that I’d convinced to join the team. I wanted to show them that we weren’t a fluke, weren’t lucky, and really knew what we were doing. Like both Spurrier and Meyer alluded to in their roles, a win became nothing more than a relief and a loss was a disaster. Again, keep in mind that this was intramural football. There weren’t millions of dollars on the line. My livelihood and ability to provide for my family wasn’t on the line. There wasn’t gobs of media attention watching everything we did (ok, so *shameless plug*, maybe there was some media attention). If I felt that weight in a simple intramural game which had no consequences outside of pride, then I can’t even imagine the amount of pressure that college coaches feel when all of that real stuff is on the line.
Nonetheless, I did feel a weight, and it led me to walk away with one semester of eligibility left. After we won the championship in the fall of my last year, I was looking at an almost completely new group of guys in the spring. I didn’t want to go through the headaches of proving to everyone that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t want that weight of feeling like a loss would leave them of the opinion that “maybe this guy just lucked into it before”. So I passed up my last spring of eligibility and walked away with my last game being a championship blowout in the Swamp.
When next spring rolled around I could not possibly have regretted it more. All I wanted to do was be back out there, “weight” and work be damned. I thought watching some games would quench my thirst, but it only made it 10 times worse. The corner is squatting on everything, a corner route out of the slot will each them up you idiots, just run that play! I could do this so much better, just let me back out there!
When Urban left the Gators he did the worst thing he could possibly have done. He joined ESPN. I have no doubt that he got the thirst as soon as the 2011 season rolled around, but then to make matters worse the job he took had him analyzing those same games that he could no longer be a part of. I can’t imagine that Urban ever watched a game without thinking about how he would have done things differently, or what he could have done with those players. Every time a coach punted on 4th and short from midfield it must have eaten him up. Every time a coach kept his cool and didn’t go on tilt and fake a punt from inside his own 20 when the offense was struggling he must have reminisced. Every time a coach hoisted a trophy and hugged his players he must have teared up.
In Urban’s final two seasons at UF he felt nothing but stress and the weight of expectations that he couldn’t wait to get rid of. Once he left, he realized how small of a price those things were to get back what he had. Urban’s ties to UF were always weak, but if the opportunity to come back a Gator were there, I think he’d take it, and I think he regrets leaving in the first place. But right now, when the itch is too much to bear, the UF job isn’t available.