March 25, 2010

Urban Meyer, defending family values since yesterday

My friends, not all is good in Gainesville.

Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer

What started as a small kerfuffle earlier this week, has grown into a bit of a hullabaloo. Jeremy Fowler, Florida beat reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, posted what should have been a routine spring practice story earlier this week. The big story this year in Gainesville is, obviously, the loss of Tim Tebow. The next Gator quarterback in line, John Brantly, is a pure drop-back, pro-style signal caller, the complete opposite of Tebow, who would have fit in perfectly running any modern offense of the 1930s.

Naturally, Fowler spoke with junior receiver Deonte Thompson, one of the top prospects a few years ago, about what it will be like to have someone like Brantley taking the snaps and chucking the pigskin. It's an obvious question, one any half-competent journalist would pose in to a Florida player this off-season. And, as predictable as the question itself, Thompson said he was happy to have a more pass-oriented quarterback this year.
“You never know with Tim,” Thompson said. “You can bolt, you think he’s running but he’ll come up and pass it to 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.
Mr. Meyer didn't take too kindly to that kind of candor from his player, quickly cutting off all media contact with the Gators' coaching staff and players. Should have been as simple as that, but not exactly. Meyer took it one step further, making a public scene in front of the national media, attempting to scare, intimidate and shame Fowler for what Thompson said (as if Fowler water-boarded the receiver to get the quote) during the interview.

I'm a bit biased here, having experienced life as a beat reporter. I can sympathize with Fowler. What the reporter did here was not a personal hit-job on Meyer's program. Even if it was on the shady side of things (it wasn't), it was still a first offense, and Meyer's reaction was way out of line. He should have taken Fowler aside, or set up an off-the-record meeting, to express his disappointment with the story and the quote from Thompson.

But aside from breaking the accepted protocol between the media and the teams they cover, what Meyer said about family was downright hypocritical. All of a sudden, the Gators' coach is Mr. Family Man again, even though he mind-f@cked his own family earlier this winter, announcing he would quit coaching to concentrate on his own health, and spend more time with his family, who he admitted he'd neglected for too long.

So before we all go demonizing the media for doing their job, let's take a moment to consider who exactly is doing the demonizing. This latest spat came from a head coach who doesn't have the kind of credibility on the whole family thing that he believes he possesses.

But the family issue isn't the only problem I have with Meyer's reaction to his own player's words. It's this steadfast belief that Tebow should never be criticized or cast in doubt. Kind of reminds you of something else, no? The Church of Tebow has finally shown its true face this week, with Meyer leading the sermon.

Could Meyer be a bit more defensive of his star pupil following the NFL Scouting Combine, where not only did Tebow grossly under-impress the scouts, but now we're hearing he was even the recipient of a royal smack down by his soon-to-be teammates and colleagues? It would hardly surprise me.

But since when can't Tebow fend for himself? Meyer is acting like Tebow hasn't been college football's wonder-child for the last four years, having nothing but blind praise poured upon the two-time national champ and Heisman winner.

What Meyer did this week wasn't the honorable defense of good old fashioned family values. It was, in fact, the action of an inexperienced (and immature) head coach. Rather than maintaining a cool head, Meyer did what any zealot would, offer up a knee-jerk reaction, blowing the entire issue out of proportion.

Was Meyer justified in restricting media access to his staff and team? Absolutely.

Was he justified in making a public ass of himself by personally attacking Fowler? No.

Head coaches are the ones who should exude equanimity no matter how stressful the situation. It could even be asked, would Tebow himself have reacted that way? Talk about turning the pro-Meyer argument on its head.

Yet, what bugs me the most about this story is that Meyer thinks he won. "I showed him!" But all he did was portray himself, and his program in a negative light once again. Meyer, once again, displayed his unwavering belief that he is in charge of everything, and must not be doubted or questioned.

That attitude might work when you're winning national championships and Heisman trophies. But like everything else in college football, once the glitter begins to fall away (Tebow's departure, Meyer's un-retirement and hypocrisies), the fluff stories become less frequent, while the cracks and flaws begin to surface. That's what has happened this off-season in Gainesville, and Urban Meyer doesn't like it one bit.

The full transcript of the Fowler-Meyer exchange:
Meyer: “You’ll be out of practice … you understand that? … if you do that again. 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.”

Fowler: “Urban, come on. Don’t make any threats. That’s fine. I’ll play by rules.”

Meyer: “What’s that? (walking away, then turning back)”

Fowler: “I’ll play by rules, but all I was doing is quoting the guy. I don’t think I was the only one.”

Meyer: “You’re a bad guy, man. You’re a bad guy.”

Fowler: “Thanks, Urban. I appreciate that.”

Meyer: “Maybe when you get a chance, call his family and all that and help them out with it [the controversy the blog post created]. The kid has never been in trouble one time. He’s a great student, a great kid and you’re going to do that [to him]?

“If that was my son, we’d be going at it right now.”
You stay classy, Urban.


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  1. As Penn State fans we know what it's like to watch a head coach belittle a reporter, sometimes undeservedly so, but this is something Joe would never do. Actually Joe would not have done anything in this situation because hey… he doesn’t read the sports page. Joe’s blow-offs usually come from a stupid question during press conferences.

  2. That's right. Joe usually just doles out a zinger or two during his pressers. But he rarely, rarely goes on a vicious tear like Meyer's. Really, it's almost become a badge of honor to be antagonized by Joe Paterno at a press conference.

  3. Urban Meyer: Fair and Balanced.

  4. Its apparent Woody Hayes and Bob Knight had a love child.