Martin, author of the 2008 book “Urban’s Way,” set out to set the record straight with some of his inside information gained during his time spent following the Florida program from the inside, and he produces some interesting insights not just regarding Aaron Hernandez, but also the overall program, including methods of discipline and personal development Meyer employed while there.
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As a condition, I did sign a confidentiality agreement, which I continue to honor. Only now, however, after the recent Aaron Hernandez scandal, do I come forward with some of this information.
So if Urban Meyer is undergoing Trial by Media, what are the charges? That he harbored the criminals? That he knowingly coddled renegade athletes and looked the other way at their indiscretions? Or that he was loose with facts about his intentions to leave the job at Florida and therefore hypocritically portrayed his program as clean when it was overrun by the criminal element? To the well-informed those charges are almost laughable.
If Meyer was harboring criminals or hiding axe murderers in helmets and pads, I must have overlooked them.
Now Meyer is being characterized by some critics as someone who recruited troubled players and allowed them to run amok – not at all what I saw or heard.
Martin goes on to note that Hernandez told him in an interview for the book he credited Meyer with helping him deal with mistakes he had made while in Gainesville and considered him both a father figure and a coach.
Martin also describes some of the steps Meyer and his assistants took to create an environment for troubled players to get back on a better path and notes Meyer miffed some media with his practice of withholding information about injuries at Florida.
This bred an air of suspicion and perhaps led to an assumption that Meyer had manipulated the truth when he quit as coach, came back, then announced his health was forcing him to get out of coaching, which he did for a year when he worked for ESPN as a college football analyst. When Ohio State came calling and Urban said “yes,” the I-told-you-sos lambasted him as a hypocrite and a liar.
I can tell you for a fact that Meyer did not orchestrate the Ohio State deal. In the second month of his 2011 season with ESPN, on a weekday, he invited me to come to his home for an off-the-record chat. He was clear-eyed, calm and had put back on about 15 pounds that he had lost due to stress. That day, he openly admitted that he wanted to coach again one day but was enjoying broadcasting immensely. “Maybe in a couple of years,” he said of his coaching future.
He knew he wanted to coach again, but wasn’t ready to even tell his wife, Shelley, about it – let alone make a public pronouncement.
The way things played out with Meyer’s exit and his eventual landing at Ohio State probably played a role in how some members of the media – both in the Sunshine State and nationally – have written about the coach in the past year-plus, so that is a notable piece of information as well.
There is much more, and I recommend you read the whole piece.
Martin is pro-Meyer and makes no bones about that, but his blog entry, like his book, is a useful tool for understanding Meyer and how he runs his program. Many of the practices and beliefs laid out in the book played out in Meyer’s first year as head coach of the Buckeyes, although Meyer was much more forthcoming with the media when it came to talking personnel issues than he apparently was as head coach at Florida.
In talking informally to a few members of the Gators football beat during a week in Jacksonville to cover the 2012 Gator Bowl shortly after Meyer was hired at Ohio State (but before he officially took over), I thought the vibe was mostly positive, so I’ve been somewhat surprised with the reactions that have come from some sources in Florida in the 20 months since. Maybe not the initial bitter reactions but the continuing picking of the same scabs.
But then again I guess like any group, there are a variety of people and a variety of perspectives. I can’t say I talked to everyone, but the beat writers probably have a more accurate view of the situation than some of the columnists who have taken the most shots in the aftermath.
I also got the impression from them Meyer had changed during his time in Gainesville, gradually closing off access to the program and becoming harder to deal with. That was all probably part of the lead-up to his high-profile health problems and ultimate decision to leave the program.
While the Ohio State Meyer has much in common with the Florida Meyer, I do believe there are some key differences, and I think he learned a few things about program building during his first BCS head coaching job he has taken to his second.
Too much ink has been spilled and hot air wasted debating Meyer’s role in the Hernandez saga, and I think it’s clear to see a lot of that is a result of feelings about Meyer that really have nothing to do with Hernandez at all, but it is instructive to look at what he did in Gainesville and compare it with his start in Columbus to see if he can win at the same level without as many of the same problems creeping in to muddy the picture.