Urban Meyer has done more for Florida than Florida has done for him -- and Florida has done plenty for him. It gave him almost $20 million and the platform to become known, deservedly so, as one of the best coaches in college football history.
But look what Meyer did for Florida. He led the school to two national titles and three SEC East titles, which stoked donations at Florida to record highs even as the economy hit generational lows. Gator Boosters, the fund-raising arm of the UF athletic department, is approaching the $200 million endowment needed to cover the cost of every scholarship in every sport, male and female, on campus. Urban Meyer didn't do that all by himself, no, but he did more to make it happen than any single person on Earth.
|Urban Meyer, can you please gently slide out the back door so Will Muschamp has room to breathe? (AP)|
Go away. Get out of there. Don't work there, and if you can swing it, don't even live there.
Not forever, of course. But now. Definitely now. Go away, and stay away. No speeches around the state. No regular phone calls with your pals in the athletic department, pals like AD Jeremy Foley. Especially not Foley. Lose his phone number and e-mail address for the next few years. Christmas cards to the Foley house are OK -- but corporate cards only. The kind you send to everyone.
Maybe that's going too far, but better to go too far in that direction than to stumble even a little bit in the direction that Foley and Meyer, incredibly -- stupidly -- seem hell-bent on heading instead.
While Meyer takes off the next few months or even years to rest his heart and be with his family, Foley foolishly wants him to work for the athletic department. And Meyer, crazily, seems inclined to say yes.
Meanwhile, new Florida football coach Will Muschamp will get whiplash from looking over his shoulder. And Gator Nation will get hoarse from shrieking for Meyer's return once Muschamp hits a rough patch. Which, as a rookie head coach making his debut in the brutal SEC, he will. Probably in October 2011, when the Gators play Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia, only one of those games in Gainesville. Imagine the Gators going 2-2 or even 1-3 in that stretch. Can you hear what would happen next? I can:
Bring back Urban! He's rested, he's ready, and he's still living in Gainesville!
That could happen, and you know it. Foley and Meyer know. Believe me when I say, Will Muschamp knows. He'll play the good company man and insist to anyone who asks that he would welcome the input and even the presence of Urban Meyer, but that will be a lie. I mean, a partial lie. I'm sure Muschamp truly would welcome the input of Meyer ... as long as it comes via telephone. From Tahiti.
From an office down the hall? Muschamp doesn't need that. No coach would. The only thing harder than replacing a legend is replacing a legend who won't go away. Ask Ron Prince, who replaced Kansas State icon Bill Snyder in 2006. Snyder kept an office in the KSU football complex and didn't move for three years ... when he returned to his old office by replacing Prince, who was fired.
Or ask former Nevada football coach Chris Tormey, who tried to resurrect the magic created years earlier by Chris Ault and who was slowly making progress -- Nevada's record improved for three straight years -- when in 2004 he was fired and replaced by ... Chris Ault.
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Ault was the Nevada AD, and Meyer isn't going to serve in that capacity for the Gators -- I don't think -- but the lesson from Ron Prince and Chris Tormey is that this stuff happens. A legend who doesn't leave, who stays close to the program he once ruled, can be a nightmare. Even if the legend in question has the best intentions, which Meyer might well have.
I know Jeremy Foley's intentions, and I'm not sure how pristine they are. Foley is a financial guy, and he knows that Urban Meyer on his campus means millions in donations. He also knows that Urban Meyer on his campus means heightened pressure on Will Muschamp, but Foley can live with that pressure. Meyer is a golden goose and maybe even a security blanket. Maybe that, now that I think about it, is why Foley would hand the gaudy Florida job to a greenhorn like Muschamp.
Perhaps Muschamp is the rising star people seem to think he is. In that case Foley's the bold genius who gave him this shot, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Or maybe Muschamp isn't the rising star people seem to think he is. Maybe he's less Bob Stoops, more Bob Davie. In that case, assuming Meyer hasn't already bolted for Ohio State or Notre Dame, Foley has the replacement on campus. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Meyer knows all of this, believe it. He knows what his presence in Gainesville, and on campus, would mean to Florida football fans. Meyer knows the Internet, knows talk radio, knows message boards. He doesn't seem to like any of it, but he knows it. And as soon as Muschamp starts to stumble, the call for Meyer's return would be deafening.
All of this puts Meyer in a tough spot. He resigned, he said, to spend time with his family. Then again, within a few days of vowing that his health had nothing to do with it, a source close to Meyer leaked it to the Gainesville Sun that Meyer's health had everything to do with it.
It's almost as if Meyer is planting the seeds for his return to the sideline in 2012. In Gainesville? Maybe, assuming he's still in town at this time next year. Which he figures to be because, again, he's in a tough spot. He resigned for family reasons (right?), and next fall he still will have one child living at home. While his daughters are playing college volleyball, Nate Meyer will be 13. Does Urban Meyer uproot his wife, himself, his son, just for the sake of Will Muschamp? Or for Florida?
Or does he stay in town, working on campus, getting a daily ego stroke that would be intoxicating to Meyer ... but toxic to Will Muschamp and the Florida football program Meyer rebuilt to greatness?