This is my take on how the Florida Gators arrived at their current state of affairs. Yes, they have just come off an impressive run, but it’s not without serious questions. Now, it seems the Gremlins are creeping out of the woodwork.
I have some theories on the goings on, and they pertain to a series of events that have transpired over the better part of the past 10 years.
First, I will start with a listing of relevant events. After I list the events, I will connect the dots with opinion and conjecture based on interpretation and extrapolation. That, and knowing a thing or two about how “spin” works.
These are the facts, in chronological order.
These are FACTS and they are INDISPUTABLE. I’ll connect the dots later but, for now, I’ve condensed them here. Reviewing these things that happened over the years paints a pretty clear picture of things and shows the ugly and cutthroat side of what some people still delude themselves into thinking is an amateur “sport” instead of a professional BUSINESS.
• Bernie Machen, having left his post at Utah, begins tenure as president in January 2004
• Ron Zook fired at end of 2004 regular season.
• Steve Spurrier removes his name from consideration
• Urban Meyer leaves post at Utah in 2004 and chooses the Florida job over his dream job.
• Notre Dame hires Charlie Weis as their plan B; Urban Meyer is at Florida now.
• Cam Newton, who is bigger, faster and with better mechanics than Tebow, commits to Florida in Sept 2006
• John Brantley, whose skills are the opposite of what is needed to run the spread and who’d been proactive in his commitment to Texas, decommits in December 2006 then commits to Florida, where his family played. Brantley also, it is said, mentioned not wanting to be away from his girlfriend was a factor.
• Cam Newton wins the primary backup job for 2007, seeing limited action while Tebow was in the midst of his Heisman campaign, but flashed a lot of potential.
• Florida signs no QB in 2008.
• Cam Newton and John Brantley, according to statements from the team, supposedly were fighting for the backup job in Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen’s SPREAD offense with Brantley supposedly winning the #2.
• September, 2008, Meyer’s book “Urban’s Way” comes out and it mentions the three teams his wife has no Veto power over – Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State.
• Cam Newton, supposedly #3 on the depth chart, is the first off the bench and injures ankle in opening game then is redshirted for the season. John Brantley now has no competition.
• Wednesday, December 10 2008, after having just won the SEC championship and en route to a BCS title game, Meyer declares again that Notre Dame is still his dream job.
• Wednesday, December 10 2008, Dan Mullen announced as new HC of MSU, leaving the Florida job, with formal announcement to happen December 11, 2008.
• January 5, 2009, Cam Newton announces his departure from Florida.
• January 8, 2009, Gators Win BCS title game over Oklahoma.
• January 11, 2009, Tebow announces his plan to return for his senior season.
• Florida recruits athletic QB Jordan Reed in 2009.
• August 2009, Meyer offered a 6 year contract extension.
• In 2009, Meyer looks unhealthy, extremely thin and almost zombie-like.
• Nov 23, 2009, with rumors of Charlie Weis’ imminent departure at Notre Dame, Meyer goes out of his way to declare “I’m going to be the coach at Florida as long as they’ll have me. So I want to make that clear”
• December 10, 2009, Notre Dame announces Brian Kelly is the new head coach.
• December 26, 2009, Meyer announces resignation.
• December 27, 2009, Meyer decides not to resign.
• Florida recruits and signs athletic QB Trey Burton in 2010.
• Florida recruits and signs athletic QB Tyler Murphy in 2010.
• Meyer and his staff continue in their trend of recruiting “spread players”
• January 8, 2010, George Edwards announced as DC
• Feb 4, 2010, less than 24 hours after national signing day, Edwards announces he is leaving to be the DC for the Buffalo Bills.
• February 28, 2010, it is revealed that Meyer has not yet signed the extension he was offered in August 2009
• March 24, 2010, Urban Meyer has a dust up with Jeremy Fowler for printing a quote of Deonte Thompson calling John Brantley a “real quarterback” when compared to Tim Tebow. It is believed this outburst shows Urban Meyer has regained his passion.
• Jeremy Fowler, shortly thereafter, receives a nice promotion.
• June 30, 2010 it is reported again that Meyer STILL has not signed the extension. It is also reported that extension was first proposed late in 2008. Late in 2008 was around the same time he reiterated that Notre Dame was still his dream, job. It is also remembered that Billy Donovan, coach of the basketball team, had coached without signing extensions with UF. Billy Donovan also had an interesting flip-flop a few years prior.
• December 8, 2010, Meyer resigns again.
• Dan Mullen, who recruited a lot of those players and did an impressive job at MSU is still at MSU.
• Bob Stoops apparently turned down overtures for a third time.
• December 11, 2011, Will Muschamp named coach of Gators.
• January 2, 2011 it is announced that Charlie Weis will be the Gators’ new offensive coordinator, making this the second school Weis was brought to after Meyer rejected it.
• January 2011, Meyer joins ESPN’s team, allowing him to be available for any openings that may come about.
• May 30, 2011, Jim Tressel resigns from OSU.
• June 23, 2011, it is announced that Meyer will team with former Ohio State player Chris Spielman and be part of the Big Ten team.
In my view, it’s pretty obvious what happened. Florida was reeling in 2004. Their legendary coach, Steve Spurrier, up and left suddenly after the 2001 season. Having missed the main hiring window, Florida scrambled and hired Ron Zook.
Zook was extremely unpopular. Why ? Oh, his incompetence as a coach spoke for itself. He inherited a national powerhouse of a program and his high water mark was an 8-5 record, first place tie in his division and an Outback Bowl loss. Obviously, after almost 3 years of this he was turfed.
However, he was disliked the moment his hiring was announced and websites went up demanding his firing within 24 hours of his hiring. Here is a guy who had been Spurrier’s defensive coordinator and then was demoted to special teams. Read that again. He was demoted to special teams. Demoted. That means he was told he was having duties removed. Rather than tell them to go to hell and look for defensive coordinator job at another school, he accepted it. Sure, towel boy at Florida probably pays better than some coaching positions around the nation, but it spoke volumes about him. Needless to say, when it was announced he was the new head coach at Florida, there was a collective “WTF?” amongst fans.
Anyhow, 2004 rolls around. Rumors of Spurrier’s return surfaced. It was said he should interview. Some fans did not like that idea. They felt he should be handed the job and that Jeremy Foley, Florida’s Athletic Director, was being petty. The way I saw it was, Spurrier bailed on them, leaving them in a bind. He said he was burnt out at the time. He already was known as a guy who wasn’t too serious about coaching, relying on Florida’s natural talent and preferring to spend his time golfing. His way worked early in the SEC when he could simply “out talent” everyone; by the end of his stint, the league had caught up. He went to the NFL and realized he couldn’t get away with that.
So, Florida’s position opened. The AD wanted the man who never was a committed coach to interview. Fans thought this was ridiculous. I liken it to the following; your wife/girlfriend leaves you. Says she’s burnt out, needs a change. You both date someone else. You are single, she finds out you’re looking and wants to come back. Are you just going to take her back because she’s available ? I would hope there’d be some serious discussions as to her commitment. That might seem like a crazy comparison but Spurrier is a Florida graduate, a legendary player turned legendary coach. He WAS Florida. So when Mr Florida walks away from his school, you’d damn well better quiz him if he wants to return. Anyhow, rumor has it Spurrier was pissed and took his name out of the hat then went to a rival school.
Another coach explored was Bob Stoops, of Oklahoma. Stoops was the DC for Spurrier when Florida won the national title in 1996. He made his name at Florida. He was an obvious choice. He turned them down in 2002. Turned them down in 2004 and apparently turned them down again in 2010. Weird. Yes, Oklahoma has Texas to dip into for talent, but Florida has a backyard full of talent. He had a chance to go to one of the marquee schools in THE marquee conference with the most TV exposure and the richest talent pool in the country. Why on earth would he turn that down, especially after over 10 years at one school ? Perhaps there’s something at Florida, something he saw firsthand when he was an assistant, that has made him decide tornado land it way better than Florida. I’ll get to that.
So it’s 2004. Florida hires Bernie Machen as president, away from Utah. As the 2004 season comes to a close, Machen’s old school is making noise. Utah, this small program, is killing everything. It’s led by this young coach named Urban Meyer, a catholic guy in Mormon land, who is running some new fangled offense he calls the Spread Option. He didn’t actually create it, but he tweaked it and made it his foundation. Eventually Utah goes undefeated and gets a BCS bowl berth. Meyer is the hottest name in the coaching ranks since….well, I honestly can’t remember a coach being so in demand.
During Meyer’s ascension, it is learned that Notre Dame is his dream job. THE job for him. He’s a Midwestern guy. He has ties to Notre Dame. Notre Dame is just putting the finishing touches on a disaster of a season and release their coach. So, Urban Meyer is headed to his ultimate dream job at Notre Dame right ?
Wrong. Florida swoops in and magically secures Meyer’s services. How ? Well, for one, Florida’s new president Bernie Machen is the guy who hired Meyer at Utah. Florida obviously needed a huge splash after the Zook disaster and this time they needed someone with head coaching experience on the way up.
It’s still a mystery how they managed to coax him into choosing Florida over Notre Dame but there are a few obvious reasons. One of the reasons Meyer would later cite as a reason for retiring was missing his kids growing up. Well, coaching at Notre Dame, with no local talent pool AND strict academics, Meyer would have to spend pretty much all year on the road recruiting. At Florida, he can just hop in a car most of the time. So, coming to Florida means he could stay around his kids more.
So, if Meyer was to take his offense to Florida and run it with that talent base, big things would happen. Florida HAD to make a bang. And they did. In 6 years, Florida won two BCS titles. They are the only school to win 2. Meyer is one of two coaches to win two. Nick Saban is the other but he did it at two different schools.
However, one of the ugly pock marks on Meyer’s tenure is Florida’s arrest record. Over 30 arrests in 5 years. To me it’s not THAT big of a deal. The overwhelming majority of it is college kids being kids – beer in public, that kind of thing. Not to mention, a person has to think about where they are. Regions are different. States are different. Cities are different. Hell, counties are different. What I am saying is, do you think the police in Alucha County Gainesville, which is northern Florida, polices the same way as the police in, say Dade county Miami, which is on the southernmost tip of the US, would ? Do you think the police in Gainesville face the same challenges as those in Miami ? Do you think the police in Miami worry about the same things they do in northern Florida ? Of course not. To say that would suggest that the police in Kansas face the same challenges as those in LA, Phoenix etc. The majority of trouble in Gainesville is bored college kids trying to make excitement; in Miami there is actual gang violence, drug trafficking rings etc. There’s a reason Scarface made a point of emphasizing where and what Miami is. So, no, I do not worry about Florida’s arrest record because the police there target the things most other cities can’t be bothered with. However, make no mistake, I truly believe Meyer was given a “no matter what” mandate to win.
Now, I don’t believe Meyer ever really wanted to go to Florida. Meyer being a staunch catholic, he was as out of place in Florida as he was in Utah. But, Florida was an opportunity for him.
It is obvious Florida was never going to be a long term destination for him, that it was only a mutual agreement of “I’ll stay long enough to win and cement my name, and you’ll get a lot of money out of it” once he found out how things really work at Florida.
I believe he was slowly stripped of his power by the power brokers aka the boosters. Meyer needs a certain type of quarterback to run his offense. He recruited Cam Newton in 2006. Newton was bigger, faster and more fundamentally sound than Tim Tebow. By every indication, he was the future of football. The future that a Mike Vick or Vince Young never became. Then, out of nowhere at the last minute they secured a commitment from another highly rated QB named John Brantley. Brantley decomitted from Texas. Brantley is the son of John Brantley, nephew of Scott Brantley. The Brantley family is a Florida legacy. People were excited and a lot overlooked the obvious but some of us caught it and wondered – “wait a second. Brantley went out of his way to choose Texas because he is a pocket passer and wanted to start. He chose Texas because Meyer runs an offense that is the complete opposite of his skill set. Is Florida wasting a scholarship on this kid ? He’s a 5 star recruit so surely he doesn’t expect to sit on the bench and just be a backup. But Florida runs the spread and has Newton. Why is the 5 star recruit choosing to go to a school he’ll never play at ? Just because that’s where his family went?”
Right there is where it should have been obvious; Meyer didn’t recruit Brantley. Meyer was made to take Brantley. So in 2007 Cam Newton is the backup. He saw some time, but Meyer left Tebow to win the Heisman and to run his offense how it should be run. However, Newton saw some action and showed us glimpses of what to expect, so much so that some of us were left to say “we don’t really want Tebow to leave but damn this Newton kid will be better than Tebow”
Then, mysteriously, in 2008, Newton and Brantley are somehow tied for the #2 job, when Newton “hurts his ankle” allowing Brantley to ascend to #2. In spite of Tebow suffering injuries from being left in too long during the 2007 season, Meyer still rarely pulls Tebow from games already in hand, not allowing Brantley much time.
During the run to the BCS title game in 2008, after having just won the SEC title, at almost the exact same time the following two announcements came within HOURS of each other:
1. Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen is going to be the next head coach as Mississippi State.
2. Urban Meyer says Notre Dame is still his dream job.
Um, what ? During a title run ? Meyer is a calculating man; there was clearly a motive behind that. So, with Meyer seemingly letting people know he’s already thinking about leaving, why wouldn’t Mullen stick around to assume control of the team he helped build ? Meh, probably a coincidence.
January 5 Cam Newton announces he is leaving Florida. January 8 Florida wins BCS title vs Oklahoma. January 11 Tim Tebow announces he is returning to try for a repeat.
So now we’re into 2009. Florida hasn’t recruited a QB suited to Meyer’s talents. They sign one in 2009. One. The primary backup is now Brantley, a guy whose skill set is the complete opposite of the system in place.
During the course of the year, Florida’s offense struggles. It is believed they are playing to not lose, rather than playing to win. During the year, Meyer withers away, and looks….ill.
On Boxing Day 2009 Meyer announces his resignation. The next day he announces he’s changed his mind and will take a leave of absence. Meyer hires an NFL guy as a DC, closes out the recruiting class, which is heavy on defensive players, the DC then leaves to go to the NFL, then Meyer vanishes, avoiding most of his public appearances and media obligations, the very things that are part of his salary.
What makes it fishy is Notre Dame had just fired Charlie Weis and hired Brian Kelly. Meyer missed his dream job because he was coaching elsewhere.
In the spring of 2010 Jeremy Fowler, the local beat guy, publishes a story where underachieving Deonte Thompson more or less blames Meyer’s offense, plus Tebow’s style, for his inability to live up to his ratings by stating that John Brantley is a “real quarterback.” Urban Meyer flips out at Fowler for this. Fans who’d worried that Meyer lost his fire are relieved. Shortly thereafter Jeremy Fowler is promoted to the NFL beat. The whole thing seemed like a WWE style work, where everyone wins – Brantley gets some props form the player, the underachieving player gets an excuse, Meyer gets to look committed to Florida, and Fowler, long considered a sycophant, now gets to appear as a hard hitting objective sports writer.
It is discovered in June 2010 that Meyer has not signed the extension proposed in 2008, and announced in 2009. Florida management tries to dismiss this as common. Myself, I found it more proof that he didn’t want to be there.
At the end of the 2010 season, Meyer resigns again for good and later joins ESPN. The Big Ten is home to Ohio State. Meyer was born in Ohio. He earned his undergrad degree at Cincinnati. He earned his graduate degree at Ohio State. He got his coaching start at Ohio State. Urban Meyer IS Ohio State. In May, legendary coach Jim Tressel is canned from Ohio State due to scandal. His replacement, Luke Fickell, is announced as INTERIM coach. We then find out Meyer is part of ESPN’s Big Ten team. Oh and by the way, Ohio State is one of the teams Meyer told everyone his wife has no veto power over should he be in line for the job. So, now Meyer is merely sitting in a tv studio, not tied to a team coaching, available at any time, should Ohio State, one of his dream schools his wife has no veto power over, being coached by an INTERIM coach, decide that he is just an interim coach and be in need of a permanent coach for 2012.
The closer you look at the chain of events, the more obvious it is.
Where am I going with all of this ? Well, I am torn on whether or not Meyer ever really wanted Florida, but the one thing I am certain of is that he got tired of Florida’s power mongers very quickly. Remember, John Brantley’s family are boosters but he does not fit Meyer’s scheme. Pretty obvious Meyer was made to take him. Then Newton, who was born to play Meyer’s offense, mysteriously regresses and Brantley catches up to him on the depth chart ? Newton eventually left the school of course. During his amazing run at Auburn, some reasons were tossed around, such as he didn’t want to wait behind Tebow. Problem is, he announced his departure before Tebow announced his return (and of course he didn’t just decide all in one second he was leaving; it must have been a long time coming). Now, you can say it was known Tebow was coming back inside Gators headquarters. Ok, so it must have been known Meyer was thinking about leaving right? Mullen would have known this ? Why didn’t Mullen stick around to take Meyer’s position ? Could it be that he was going to have to work with a QB that doesn’t fit his system, that an ill-suited QB was being FORCED upon the staff ?
The other problem with that is NCAA rules required Newton to sit out a year or play at a community college. He chose community college and returned to the big leagues in 2010. Tebow was already in the NFL then. So, he had to wait until 2010 to play in the big leagues anyway, somewhat poking a hole through the “didn’t want to wait” story.
During the course of the season, as Newton was becoming the Heisman favourite and, possible #1 overall draft pick and Auburn on the way to a title, more info started leaking, like Newton was going to be expelled from Florida for cheating on tests so he left before that could happen. He had bought a stolen laptop and gotten in trouble for that. All of this info came out as Newton, the former Gator, was excelling at Auburn in the spread option while Florida was tanking with the QB ill-suited to run the spread was tanking. Sure looks like Florida insiders were trying to protect their decision any way possible. Oh, and there was the story that Newton’s father asked Mississippi State for $150k for Newton to go there. Personally I think it wasn’t so much wanting to get paid as it was Auburn has national power potential and Mississippi State has been an outpost and it was more of a “you want my son to forgo national prominence to play in no man’s land ?”
So, in spite of all the other players getting in trouble at Florida, cheating on tests in the breaking point. Oh, and cheating on tests for football players is a no no at a football factory? When did this happen ? Now, in spite of all of this evil by Newton, Dan Mullen, former OC at Florida, wanted Newton.
Of course, then Meyer resigned for good. STILL Dan Mullen did not go to Florida to take the job. Why ? Was he not offered ? Why not ? Last time they chose a head coach with no experience it was a mess. They had a team full of players recruited for Meyer’s offense which Mullen built. They opted for Will Muschamp, a defensive coach who was a real up and comer. He then hired Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator. The same Charlie Weis who was Notre Dame’s Plan B when Meyer rejected them in 2004 is now Florida’s Plan B since Meyer rejected Florida.
Just looking on the surface, it seems like nobody wants to deal with meddlesome boosters. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am partially right and there is much more to it than that.
Basically, what I am saying is that it seems like the coaches at Florida rarely get to be coaches for long, before they become administrators of the boosters’ whims.
In 2009, Meyer said he’d be the coach at Florida as long as they’d have him. Some viewed it as him being happy there. Others viewed it as a backtrack on his “dream job” comments in 2008. Me, I viewed at as him cleverly saying “Me, I want to be the coach here as long as they’ll actually let ME be the COACH”
Think about it – Urban Meyer himself became a lame duck coach, through no fault of his own.