It sure seems like Urban Meyer is trying to get back in the good graces of Florida Gators fans

By Adam Silverstein
September 3, 2019
It sure seems like Urban Meyer is trying to get back in the good graces of Florida Gators fans
Football

Image Credit: UAA Communications

No longer coaching at Ohio State (and not yet coaching at USC), former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer finds himself in an interesting spot. As a college football analyst for Fox Sports, he has been put in a position to comment on his former teams. But even beyond that role, it appears as if he is making a concerted effort to get back in the good graces of Florida fans.

It’s not that Meyer has much to atone for on the field from his UF tenure. He led the Gators to two national championships in his first four seasons, recruited some of the best players in the history of the program and saw his quarterback, Tim Tebow, become the third Florida signal caller to win a Heisman Trophy.

The success Meyer brought to the Gators also helped to bring improvements to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and Florida’s training facilities, though UF was quickly surpassed in those areas by many of their competitors.

But since Meyer’s departure, his six seasons with the Gators are looked upon through a different lens with criticisms abound. There’s the numerous off-the-field incidents involving his players that tarnished the reputation university and the football program, the lengths he went to in order to keep some of those players eligible and active, and of course, his about-face-and-back-again departure that left the team in a tough spot from which it is still recovering.

Despite all of this, Meyer is that two-time national championship-winning coach who brought Florida more success in such a short period of time than anyone else in program history, Steve Spurrier included. And with that comes the question about how the Gators will remember — and potentially honor — Meyer in the longer term.

In the eight years since Meyer left, Florida has frequently looked back on the success of his teams — just not so much on Meyer himself. And for good reasons. Just one year after leaving due to health concerns, he irked fans by immediately coming back to coach a major competitor (at least as far as recruiting is concerned) in Ohio State. One of his former star players became a convicted murder and later died by suicide in prison while on trial for a double murder. And the program, despite some positive seasons, has largely floundered, hiring three different coaches in an eight-year period.

But Meyer is no longer coaching — at least for now — and anyone who knows him well understands that legacy is exceedingly important to someone of his ilk.

Meyer will never get a portion of the stadium named after him like Spurrier, and his ties to the university will never be the same as they were when he led its football program, but the Gators just so happen to have a way to recognize someone who has accomplished as much as Meyer did at Florida: the Ring of Honor.

And Meyer just so happens to be the only man who is qualified to be inducted into the Florida Ring of Honor based on its strict criteria but is not yet a member.

In order to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, one must either be a Heisman Trophy winner (Spurrier, Tebow, Danny Wuerffel), a former All-American inducted into the Pro Fooball Hall of Fame as a player (Emmit Smith, Jack Youngblood), a former All-American who leads an NFL career statistical category (Smith), a college football career category leader (Tebow), a player with two or more consensus All-America honors who also has a national player of the year honor (Marshall, Tebow), a coach with three or more SEC championships (Spurrier) or a coach with one or more national championships (Spurrier … and Meyer).

Oh, and you must also be five years removed from the program … and in “good standing” with the university. The definition of that latter qualification is purposely ambiguous.

Tebow (who graduated in 2009) became eligible for induction in 2015, but Florida held off both due to his schedule and because it wanted to induct Tebow while also honoring the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 national championship team. Meyer (who left in 2010) has been eligible since 2016 but had been coaching Ohio State and had a game the same day as UF’s induction of Tebow on Oct. 6, 2018.

So Meyer is eligible but not yet honored. He’s still involved in college football but no longer coaching. And while he’s still been offering plenty of praise and insight on his most recent program in Ohio State — after all, he still technically works there and draws a paycheck from the university — he also appears to be seriously ramping up his attempts to get back in the good graces of the Florida football fan.

As I was reminded by colleague Andrew Olsen, it actually started back in January innocently enough when Meyer — moments after his last game on the sidelines at Ohio State — and his wife Shelley did the Gator Chomp to a couple fans at the Rose Bowl.

Meyer then attended the Week 0 game between Florida and Miami … wearing a Gators polo in the press box while standing alongside SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. (A number of Meyer’s former players were also at the game, including Brandon Spikes, Ahmad Black and others.) If memory serves, this is the first Florida game Meyer has attended since 2010.

Meyer is also tweeting about Florida …

… praising The Swamp as the best atmosphere in college football …

… and calling Tebow the best college quarterback of all-time (OK, no surprise there).

That’s just a selection of Meyer’s recent comments about Florida.

It may all be a coincidence. It may be Fox asking him to ensure his praise does not focus on Ohio State or Big Ten teams. (But there’s not really much being said by him about Utah or Bowling Green.)

It may also be Meyer — especially now with his former offensive coordinator in Dan Mullen leading the Gators — attempting to extend an olive branch to the program where he had the most success in his career.

Whether the motives are completely genuine, a bit selfish or somewhere in between, some fans are coming around. Others remain offended at the mere sound of his name.

The truth is that Meyer and Florida (for better on the field, for worse off of it) will always be linked. He may never be Spurrier in the lore of Gators football, but his accomplishments in a much shorter window of time stand up to the greatest to ever do it in Gainesville.

And sooner or later — maybe sooner than later — Meyer will be honored inside The Swamp.

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