Oh, That Urban
Really? We're doing this now, Urban?
Coaches love nothing more than being able to foster an Us vs. Them
attitude and use fake controversies to focus the squad, create more of a
family, in-house mentality, and look like everyone is out to bring down
the house with negativity and, to go Joaqim Noah, "hatin'." But for
Meyer to bully around the Orlando Sentinel's Jeremy
Fowler and make an example out of him because of what WR Deonte Thompson
said was more than wrong. It was strange, misguided, and sort of creepy.
In case you didn't read about what kicked this all off, Thompson said, to paraphrase, that it was nice
to catch balls from "a real quarterback" in John Brantley who can actually
throw an NFL pass, unlike Tim Tebow. Fowler put it in his blog, Meyer
went nutso(You want to take on
the entire NFL scouting world on this topic, too, Urban?), and
now it's Game On for the 2010 Florida football season.
While it might be easy to immediately make comparisons to Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy's famous rant of a few years ago, this didn't seem as
scripted or as calculated because of the setting and the people around
Meyer. This wasn't a press conference; it was an informal gathering on
the sidelines of a spring practice, but there were reporters there and
the incident was caught on tape.
Meyer might be a lot of things, but he's not dumb. He obviously knew
that this was going to be a big deal and he knew that to browbeat a
reporter over something that wasn't that big a deal would bring the national attention. And if he
didn't, more's the pity.
Fowler didn't write anything inflammatory. He got a great quote to
make a great story and he ran with it. Did he make Thompson look mean?
No. Did he belittle him? No. Did he take what was said out of context?
No. But he did dare to suggest something slightly negative about Saint Tim,
and there was Urban to threaten violence by saying there would've
been a fight if Fowler had written something about a member of his family like he did about Thompson.
Considering Meyer talks all the time about Florida football being a
"family," then why didn't he have the minerals to throw down? Urban, are
you going to find the prospect at the NFL Combine who fired out a "shut
the (bleep) up" after Tebow suggested the group bow their heads in
prayer before taking the Wonderlic test (which must have been the reason
Tebow tested to be slightly smarter than a doorknob)? But I digress.
Meyer is a football coach, and football coaches are, for the most part,
bullying jerkweeds with an inflated sense of self-importance. Everyone
who has ever covered college football for a living has been on the wrong
end of a rant or five (personally, I live for those moments). That's
fine; they're in high-pressure jobs with the weight of the university on
their shoulders, but if you're Meyer and you're coming off a full-on,
full-blown, very public mental and physical breakdown, you need to go
out of your way to show the world that you're not nuts. At this point,
after this incident, either the month off did nothing for Meyer or he's
totally full of beans and he's trying to deflect attention off his young
Now Meyer is making the turn into Bobby Knightland, where being an assface is tolerated
and celebrated because he's so
successful and is such a genius at his craft, but he's also running into
the Knight-like irony. If one of Meyer's players had acted like he did
while showing the same lack of self-discipline, especially with the hint
of physical violence (for which he deserves to be suspended for), he
would've had a fit.
The next time there's a drunk driving incident involving a Florida
player, or an on-campus fight, or even a missed assignment, how is
anyone supposed to take Meyer seriously when he tries to be a
disciplinarian? Urban, you're a man. You're 45. Act
What a bully.
You're a real tough guy, Urban, dressing down a reporter in front of his peers because he had the audacity to accurately post a quote from one of your players and put his own spin on it. Oooh, everyone grab your pitchforks. Yeah, Jeremy Fowler stirred the pot a bit with his insinuation about Deonte Thompson's comments, but big deal. Get over it. Of course, that would be asking Meyer to go against his instincts, which are often driven by egomania and the incessant desire to control every tiny minutiae of a program. Oh, and making veiled physical threats against Fowler for exercising his freedom of the press? Totally not cool. Where is the University in this matter? Shouldn't Florida President Bernie Machen be reprimanding his coach for such boorish—and frankly childish—behavior? Good luck waiting for that one.
So, when someone says or writes something you disagree with, what do you do? Well, if you're Urban Meyer, you berate and threaten that messenger, and you build a wall between your players and the media. Ahhh, much better. Back in complete control again. Unfortunately, real life rarely operates in such a cocoon, which is why Meyer ought to make like a Gator and grow some thicker skin, especially since this was supposed to be a less stressful offseason in Gainesville. A few months back, we learned that Meyer was dealing with some physical issues that needed attention. It seems as if his mental health could use a little tinkering between now and another season as well.
This incident – which evoked memories of Mike Gundy's 2007 rant at Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman - does indeed deserve to be viewed as a big story. With that having been acknowledged, let's let the question linger so the moment can be appreciated and properly understood: Just exactly WHY is this – to quote Joe Biden – a big [expletive deleted] deal?
Okay, you're thinking… thinking… thinking…
If you think this rates as a major event because of Urban Meyer's recent return from a period of – at the very least – slightly diminished activity, you're on the right track. Yet, the answer needs to be a little more specific.
The reason why this is a lightning bolt in the middle of the college football offseason is that it casts a cloud of falsity over much of what Mr. Meyer said in his multiple post-Christmas press conferences. At those two staged events, the Florida coach talked a lot about his family and his faith. He talked about doing things the right way. He talked about the need to be something more than a workaholic absentee dad who missed his children's most meaningful moments, the rites of passage that parents are meant to share with their offspring.
Meyer talked about the demands of a profession that had clearly eroded his health and had worn away his face. He talked about the need for balance and perspective. Though shaken when he initially announced his resignation on Saturday, Dec. 26, he earned a lot of respect… not just from the college football community, but from any dads in America who have had to make a similar choice; any wives in this country who know how deeply a high-powered job can tear at the fabric of family life; and any children who have already come to understand that Daddy is often a seldom-seen figure because of his responsibilities at work.
Meyer – as cutthroat and demanding a coach as there is in college football – reached the top of his profession precisely because of his maniacal devotion to every aspect of his craft. When he resigned, he sent a message to a football-loving nation that the quality of the person matters a lot more than wins and losses. Meyer made himself vulnerable and open, so much so that Nicki, his 18-year-old daughter, was reported by Pete Thamel of the New York Times to have said, "I get my daddy back."
Meyer – it's worth remembering – threw concussed quarterback Tim Tebow right back into the lion's den… or rather, the Bayou Bengal's lair… in an October game at LSU, when the simple act of benching No. 15, in and of itself, would have radically reshaped the culture of football for the better. Meyer missed an opportunity to send a positive message to an American society obsessed with bread-and-circus spectacles involving unpaid gladiatorial figures who toil for our pleasure and risk their bodies for our cathartic release. However, by owning up to his limitations as a person and confessing his need to be right with his God, his spouse, and his kids, Meyer compensated for all the defective decisions he had made over the previous few months, which also included his refusal to crack down on Brandon Spikes for the infamous eye-gouge against Georgia. When Meyer shocked the world on the feast of Stephen, he gave American culture a true Christmas present known as the gift of wisdom, spiced with more than a little of the humility and frankness we see from far too few college football coaches. It was really a rather marvelous moment, and one did not have to be a fan of Florida's many rivals – Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, or Alabama – to appreciate as much… at least if being a good person matters more than winning football games.
We know, alas, how the story changed after that. Meyer rescinded his resignation and made his wife, Shelley "No Chance" Meyer, look very foolish for pronouncing that her husband was simply not going to get back on a sideline and a practice field beyond the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati. Then Meyer pushed the envelope of absurdity even more by reattaching mystery and a dose of dubiousness to the "leave of absence" he was supposedly going to take. As the weeks went by, Mr. Meyer acknowledged how out of his element he was when relaxing and doing little. Like an addict, a person who is never satisfied with enough hits, Urban needed his fix, and he needed it immediately.
All the talk about faith and family; about balance and perspective; about stepping away and being present for one's kids, was just that – talk. All the good messages Meyer sent to Americans in a land where football (or perhaps football betting) is our true national pastime suddenly flew out the window. The reinforced message of Meyer's return to the fray was and is simple: "Hell, no! All that stuff about faith and family and children and balance? Hah! It means nothing! It's all about the wins, baby! It's only about Saturdays in the fall. Results. Bottom line. Kill or be killed."
"Damn right I'll play a concussed quarterback even though I could have radically improved football's subculture at both the college and professional levels for years to come. Damn right I'll treat Brandon Spikes with kid gloves. We have football games here to win at this fine academic institution known as the University of Florida. That's what we're here for: winning and nothing but."
Is that harsh? It sounds harsh, but it's exactly the message Meyer sent. No, the wholesome crap really didn't mean a lick after all. It was all a smokescreen, a pretense that was never truly believed or adhered to. The fix had to be sated. The craving had to be met. The drug had to be ingested. Urban needed his high, his buzz, his surge of testosterone-flavored adrenaline. Sniff. Snort. Inhale.
Do we now understand why Mr. Meyer's terribly inappropriate and wildly disproportionate tirade in the face of respected Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler is a big story?
Meyer saw the unhealthy, negative and all-consuming progression in his life and in the life of his family on Dec. 26, 2009. On that day, the Gator coach identified the process in which a healthy goal was turning into a source of excess that was destroying his well-being and assaulting the cohesion and harmony of his household, not to mention the principles of the faith he claims to cherish.
Now, this loss of control – a completely unreasonable outburst toward a reporter who not only quoted a player (Deonte Thompson) faithfully, but IN A LARGER CONTEXT AS WELL – shows that Meyer's rest (whatever there was of it, anyway) has not produced a better man or a person with a healthier sense of perspective. The desire to essentially slit the throats of those who stand outside his tight inner circle of players and coaches is part of the take-no-prisoners mentality that enabled Meyer to win lots of ballgames, but if a coach is supposed to stick up for his players, and if the political calculus of being a football coach led Meyer to sincerely think he was doing something good for his team, his big-money boosters, his administrative bosses, and his fan base, then he's wrong. Simply wrong.