Do you smell that?
It’s that “I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it-but-something’s-not-right-with-this” smell surrounding the hiring of Urban Meyer as the Florida Gators Head Football Coach. Yes, it seems they out-bid Notre Dame for the hot, flavor of the month coach, but there’s something unseemly about it.
Or perhaps that’s just how it’s going to go from now on when it comes to hiring a head football coach at any major program. I don’t know anything about Urban Meyer except that he’s won everywhere he’s coached. He’s young enough to build a legacy at the University of Florida if he wins there and decides to stay and that he had an out in his Utah contract that would have allowed him to go to Notre Dame, Michigan or Ohio State without penalty. Florida wasn’t in that grouping, but when it came time to choose where he’d coach next, he picked the Gators.
Or did he just pick the money?
Somebody who puts three schools in his contract that he can leave for has a deep affinity for those schools that goes beyond just money and reputation. So when his self proclaimed “dream job” at Notre Dame was opened for him by firing Tyrone Willingham, it seemed like a slam dunk he’d be coaching the Irish next year. But after less than 48 hours of deliberations, Meyer picked Florida. “I heard people say it was your dream job. It still is,” Meyer said. “It just so happens I have three children at a (young) age and a situation that was well into effect before that one was even on the radar.”
So if Notre Dame had called, what decision would he have made?
“I don’t know,” Meyer said bluntly.
“He has a presence,” Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said about Meyer. “When he walks into a room, people notice.”
Short term, winning at Florida will be easier. The Gators are already loaded with talent and even with the recruits who have said they’ll look around again who were committed to Florida (Zook told me they had “everybody”), next year’s freshman class only deepens the talent pool.
Meyer has the offensive philosophy Gator fans like. His Utah team beat UNLV last month by opening the game in the rain with a reverse-pass kickoff return for a touchdown. But Gator fans want a little more than just a guy who has won, throws the ball around and has some tricks up his sleeve. They want their coach to appreciate their suffering. They want a coach who hates Auburn, Georgia and Florida State as much as they do. That’s why Steve Spurrier was an instant hit in Gainesville. He was one of them from the start. He never hesitated to stick it to Florida opponents on and off the field. He had an open disdain for the schools who had kept the Gators out of the SEC Championship for their first 59 years in the conference. He wouldn’t even say “Florida State” rather referring to them only as “FSU” and “that school up the road in Tallahassee.” And he made them pay for it.
Meyer has to jump into that right away. If they’re paying him $14 million over 7 years, the expectations will be high. But Florida fans will be looking for the emotional attachment he develops with the school, the fans, the boosters and the rivalries. Meyer could be considered University President Bernie Machen’s boy. He hired him in Utah, and now he’s brought him to Gainesville. Even though Meyer admitted he’d been talking to Florida since the regular season ended, he knew Notre Dame’s job was open for three days prior to accepting the Gators’ top spot.
Maybe it says something about where Notre Dame is in the college football pecking order. While the Golden Dome has a certain cache’ among 40-somethings and up, it’s just another school to a younger generation. Players who will be freshmen this year were born in 1986. The Irish last won the National Championship in ’88. So in the game of coaching musical chairs, ND is left without a seat and the Gators get their man.