It’s All in a Name:
Urban Meyer’s Aura Hovers Over Florida, Gator Bowl
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As advertised, Urban Meyer has stayed clear of the “festivities” in Jacksonville surrounding this year’s Gator Bowl.
His name has not.
The game, which will be played Monday at 1 p.m. in EverBank Field, features the Florida team he led to a pair of BCS National Titles against the program he now calls home in Columbus.
Meyer respectfully declined to walk through the door opened by Gator Bowl officials when they invited both Florida and Ohio State—a pair of 6-6 football teams—to participate in this year’s game.
No doubt, they were hoping his name—which is approaching rockstar status in the world of college football—would add further intrigue to a rematch of the 2007 BCS title game. Both coaches have done their best to keep the focus on this matchup between the 2011 Buckeyes and the 2011 Gators, but that hasn’t stopped Meyer’s name from hovering over the city of Jacksonville.
“Who?” current Florida coach Will Muschamp said with a wry smile when asked about the school’s former head coach.
Muschamp, who was hired to replace Meyer after he stepped down for health and family reasons following the 2010 season, was making light of the situation. He hasn’t seen any impact from Meyer, who is not expected to attend the game, or even show his face in Jacksonville.
“I think absolutely none. None. Zero,” Muschamp said.
“I really don't think it has any effect. He's gonna be the head coach at Ohio State next year, not right now. It's about the players playing the game on Jan. 2 in the Gator Bowl.”
Meyer will officially take over the Ohio State football program, which has been mired in controversy since last December, on Jan. 3, the day after the Gator Bowl. Until then, Luke Fickell will continue to act as interim head coach of the Buckeyes. He will serve as Meyer’s defensive coordinator next season, but he has not been particularly interested in talking about the future this week.
“We're not going to talk about it,” Fickell said after a reporter attempted to ask Ohio State players about the unique circumstances surrounding this game and Urban Meyer.
“We're going to talk about stuff that's this week, this team, these guys and not worry about anything hypothetically.”
Fickell prevented his own players from talking about their future head coach, but the Gators were anything but shy in speaking about their old one.
“They're in good hands,” Florida linebacker Jon Bostic said.
“Coach Meyer's a good coach. I was here with him for two years. He's a good guy, recruited me since I was a junior in high school.”
Most of Florida’s players were recruited by Meyer, who spent six seasons in Gainesville before stepping away from the game after an 8-5 season a year ago. It was a tough transition for the Gators, who went 6-6 in their first season under Muschamp, but most players seem to have no hard feelings for Meyer, even now that he is coaching for another university.
“If I saw the guy today, I would still shake his hand and talk to him with a normal conversation,” said defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd, one of a number of 5-star prospects Meyer brought to Gainesville.
“That's the name of the game, it can happen anywhere.”
Not everyone at Florida took the news so well when they found out Meyer was coming out of retirement to coaching the Buckeyes in 2012. Defensive tackle Omar Hunter said the locker room was very divided and wide receiver Andre Debose pointed to the money as an explanation for why Meyer is at Ohio State just one year after leaving the Florida football program.
“I've learned over the years since I've been in college that it's a business, and it's all about money,” said the sophomore out of Seminole High School in Sanford, Fla.
“So I mean, I wouldn't turn down whatever he was offered. So I'm happy for him. He went to the money. It's a business.”
That is the same opinion held by Florida fans, many of whom feel betrayed and now see Meyer as a traitor.
“There’s kind of mixed reviews,” said Tom Loy, who covers recruiting in the state of Florida for FlaVarsity.com.
“The guy quits because he wants to be around his family and then he takes a job at ESPN College Gameday. That was kind of weird and people looked at it like, ‘did he just leave because (Tim) Tebow and (Percy) Harvin were gone and the classes weren’t as strong and winning wasn’t as easy.’ If his health is really not all there, why is he coming back to football?”
Meyer’s explanation has centered around his love for the game and his ability to find balance in his life. He feels healthy and happy for the first time in years, saying that, ‘once you have been the to the dark place and come back, you never want to return.’
It will be interesting to watch how Meyer handles himself in what will be another pressure-packed job at what he called a “monster” program in Columbus. Not everyone in Florida is rooting for him to fail.
“He's long gone. We're just moving forward,” Gators’ offensive lineman Jon Halapio said.
“We're moving forward as a football team. I don't feel betrayed, I think everybody feels…I think the fans feel that way because of our record. Obviously if we were undefeated the fans wouldn't feel that way.”
Until then, Florida fans will continue to wear their ‘Urban Liar’ T-shirts and think of better days.
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