Bullying, threats all part of Meyer’s game plan

Those who believe Urban Meyer’s "vacation" was long enough are well-advised to watch a video of the coach threatening a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel.

The University of Florida should be considering the imposition of additional, involuntary vacation time on the coach. Of course, a simple apology would do. But judging from this candid glimpse, that seems beyond the capacity of a man who makes $4 million a year toiling for a public university.

Meyer – who threatened to bar an accredited news organization over a perfectly accurate quote – owes an expression of regret to the reporter, Jeremy Fowler, and to the newspaper. But also, to college football itself. It’s about time somebody acknowledges that being a football coach isn’t a license to bully.

Toward this end, I called Meyer’s boss, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley.

"How’d you get this number?" he asked.

In this instance, getting his number was part of my job. But it wasn’t the issue, and he knew that full well.

"I’m getting ready to walk into a meeting right now, Mark."

"Is there a good time I can call you?"

"Not today," said Foley, who apparently works banker’s hours. "I’m off tonight, and I’m out all weekend. So it’ll have to be next week."

"Well, I’m writing a column for tomorrow about Coach Meyer."

"Like I said, I’m not available for comment, OK?"

OK.

I include this conversation only because it speaks to the real problem, which is the monumental arrogance of coaches in big-time college sports. If you wonder where Meyer – or Urban Liar, as he’s occasionally referred to – gets the nerve, now you have a pretty good idea. It was Foley who signed Meyer to an extension that made him the highest paid coach in college football, now that Pete Carroll has gone to the NFL.

Now I can understand Gator fans wanting to believe that Tim Tebow walks on water. But that doesn’t entitle his coach to play God.

At issue was a quote in the eighth paragraph of a piece Fowler posted on the Sentinel’s website on Monday. Deonte Thompson, a junior receiver, said he was looking forward to playing with John Brantley, a more traditional pocket passer than the departing Tebow.

"Any receiver would be happy," Thompson said. "You have a guy like Brantley throwing the ball, spreading it around to everybody … You never know with Tim. He can bolt. You think he’s running, but then he’ll just come up and pass it you. You just have to be ready at all times. With Brantley, everything’s with rhythm, time. You know what I mean, a real quarterback."

There’s been no suggestion that the quote is inaccurate in any way. Nor can one accuse the reporter of leaving Thompson out on a limb, as the receiver’s point is essentially the same one already made by legions of NFL scouts.

Perhaps Thompson’s life in Gainesville would’ve been simpler – at least for a day or so – if he’d used the word "conventional" instead of "real." But that’s not Fowler’s concern. In fact, the story would’ve already been forgotten if not for Meyer, whose threats ensured that Thompson’s remark would live in infamy.

"You’ll be out of practice – you understand that? – if you do that again," said Meyer, getting in Fowler’s face after practice Wednesday. "I told you five years ago: Don’t mess with our players. Don’t do it. You did it. You do it one more time and the Orlando Sentinel’s not welcome here ever again. Is that clear? It’s yes or no."

Some moments later, he told Fowler that if Thompson "were my son, we’d be going at it right now." That the coach declined to engage in physical violence should be a source of encouragement to everyone but recruits who believe Meyer will treat them like family.

"It is to be expected that there will be disagreements between reporters and the subjects they cover," said Tim Stephens, the Sentinel’s sports topics editor. "…Threatening or limiting the access to athletes at the University of Florida or threatening to revoke a credential is not an acceptable way to resolve those differences."

In other arenas of American life, limiting access to public institutions is said to have a chilling effect on free speech. According to the Constitution, it’s a no-no. But in big-time football, in typically small college towns, it’s business as usual.

Invariably, the coach is bashing the press – usually by singling out one reporter – to defend one of his "kids." Recall Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. The kid quarterback he so passionately defended thought Gundy was such a standup guy he transferred to Texas Southern.

But the man who delivered the "I’m a man" rant seems stable in comparison to Meyer. Recall that Meyer announced his resignation back on Dec. 26, citing his health and his family. Apparently, he’d been hospitalized for "dehydration" after Florida’s loss in the SEC Championship game three weeks before. Then, on Dec. 27, Meyer said he wasn’t resigning, but would take an unspecified leave of absence.

The occasion of his return sounds like another fun day. Here I quote Sentinel writer, Andrea Adelson: "Meyer stared down anybody who even attempted to pose the "How are you feeling?" question."

Sounds like a guy who could use a little more time off, no?