When the stage was set for the final act in Monday’s national championship game, you knew exactly how it would play out.
Leading 35-20, Ohio State picked up a first down at the 3-yard-line with under a minute remaining. Oregon had two timeouts but was choosing not to use them, having already conceded defeat. The Buckeyes could have simply taken a knee twice and began to celebrate.
But Urban Meyer wanted more.
Urban Meyer always wants more.
Meyer took two more cracks at the end zone, found it on the second try with 28 seconds remaining, and made the final score 42-20.
And for what? To impress Associated Press voters who will be casting ballots for the preseason Top 25 poll in just a few more months? It isn’t like the Buckeyes had anything else to accomplish this season. They had dominated the football game and won the national championship. The margin of victory wasn’t going to make their trophy any bigger, or any shinier. It wasn’t going to make any more confetti fall from the rafters at AT&T Stadium. It wasn’t going to make the spotlight shine a little brighter when Meyer and his team took the stage to claim their crown. And it isn’t as though Ezekiel Elliot needed to pad his stats. He had already turned in the most impressive performance of a national title game in years.
In that situation, winners would’ve shown a little mercy; displayed a little sportsmanship. It’s what winners do.
But Urban Meyer isn’t a winner.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Meyer since he left Utah for Florida and hit the big-time college football stage, it’s that he isn’t a winner. He’s a good coach. He’s a good recruiter. He knows the game of football. His teams win.But he isn’t a winner.
And that’s why I — and most other football fans I know — really don’t care for him. There’s a reason Forbes.com called him “the biggest hypocrite in college sports.” Because doing what he did last night — scoring a garbage touchdown in the final half-minute in an effort to humiliate his opponent — is just what Meyer does.
Now that he’s won national championships at two different schools, many want to compare Meyer to Alabama’s Nick Saban. But what would Saban have done in that situation? We know what he wouldn’t have done. He wouldn’t have chosen to beat the dead horse. Because, like him or hate him, and plenty of people hate him, Saban wins with dignity and loses with dignity.
Meyer, on the other hand, has a history of poor sportsmanship. In 2008, with his Florida team leading bitter rival Georgia 49-10, Meyer used both of his remaining time outs in the final minute of the game to prolong Georgia’s agony. Sure, Georgia’s entire team rushed the end zone the previous year to celebrate a touchdown against Florida. Sure, Bulldog coach Mark Richt was responsible, and it reflected poorly on him. Sure, Meyer’s tactic was a retaliatory move. But someone should be the adult. Tic for tac approaches leave everyone on the losing end.
But that’s what you get with Urban Meyer. When people asked me why I don’t like Meyer I say it’s because he represents a lot of what’s wrong with college football. There is so much wrong with college athletics, and it’s becoming more obvious every day, but as long as characters like Meyer are celebrated by the national pundits instead of being called out for their lack of class and integrity, college athletics will continue to be mired in this cesspool.
It isn’t just Meyer who’s responsible. There are plenty of coaches who play their part, and Tennessee — my team; my school — has had its fair share. Lane Kiffin ring any bells? Or how about our present basketball coach, Donnie Tyndall? As much as I love the hustle and effort his team plays with, if the Southern Miss allegations are substantiated, Tyndall will be branded as a repeat offender — which makes him, too, a part of the problem.
No, Meyer isn’t alone. But he might be the poster child.
This is the same Urban Meyer who once declared that his SEC coaching rival Phillip Fulmer was letting his players in Knoxville run loose in the streets “like a bunch of animals.” And, yet, 12 of the 22 starters on Meyer’s 2008 national championship team at Florida — the team Meyer called “the greatest to ever play the game” — were arrested during their college days or after leaving school. Is that Forbes.com “hypocrite” line starting to ring a little more true?
One of those 12 starters was Aaron Hernandez, the NFL tight end who is now facing trial on double murder charges. Would Hernandez’s alleged victims — Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado — still be alive if Meyer handled his teams in Gainesville correctly? Maybe that seems far-fetched. Maybe it even seems unfair.
Or maybe it’s a legitimate question.
Rolling Stone magazine alleged that Meyer covered up not only Hernandez’s failed drug tests at Florida, but also an assault and a drive-by shootout outside the bar. Presumably, those incidents, properly investigated, would have led to his dismissal from the team and he would have never made it to the NFL.
Even Yahoo Sports admitted that it’s “hard to believe” Meyer wasn’t aware of Hernandez’s troubles. Meyer himself later admitted that his biggest mistake was, “I probably gave second chances to some people that maybe shouldn’t.”
Forbes.com calls Meyer the “biggest hypocrite in sports” because he extolls Christian virtues and then, at the very first opportunity to display Christian behavior, chose not to at the conclusion of last night’s game.
But there are also less inflammatory examples of Meyer’s hypocrisy. Like his claim that Florida only recruited the “top one percent of one percent” during his tenure there. There used to be a running punch line in the SEC, and it involved former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. Fulmer’s lax discipline resulted in a number of his players landing in hot water. So when any other team in the SEC had an arrest or a player suspended because of off-the-field issues, fans called it “The Fulmer Cup.” That phrase lost its luster somewhere around 2008 or 2009, and not just because Fulmer was no longer the coach at Tennessee. It lost its luster because Fulmer’s disciplinary struggles at Tennessee paled in comparison with Meyer’s problems with his “top one percent of one percent” at Florida. And the SEC had itself a new punch line.
In fact, the New York Times later reported that 41 — FORTY-ONE — players on that one single 2008 team were arrested either during their time at Florida or later.
Even Florida fans figured out the real Urban Meyer. Since Meyer won two national championships at Florida, you would think he would be revered there. Instead, he’s reviled. Most Gator fans were actively rooting for Oregon in last night’s game. They can’t stand Meyer, because they’ve seen his true colors.
In fact, Meyer has made enemies at every stop. When he left Utah for Florida, he left Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson saying, “The problem with Urban Meyer is, unless you know the real inside scoop, it’s hard to tell when he’s lying. Maybe it’s only when he’s moving his lips.”
Monson’s problem with Meyer was Meyer’s repeated statements about Utah being where he wanted to be.
“Go back and check his quotes in past months about his full intention of staying at Utah as long as the stadium is full and the student-athletes are getting their opportunity to be a Top 25 team, about how much his family loves Salt Lake City, about blah, and blah and blah,” Monson wrote.
Seven years later, when Meyer was leaving for Ohio State, it was Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi who was ripping him. “What was it those renowned college football analysts — Fleetwood Mac — once sang about Urban Meyer? ‘Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies,’” Bianchi wrote.
Bianchi’s beef with Meyer was much the same as Monson’s. When he resigned because of mysterious health reasons, then came back a day later, Meyer said, “If I am able to coach, I want to coach at one place, the University of Florida. It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my back and go coach. I don’t want to do that. I have too much love for this university and these players and for what we’ve built.”
One year later, when it became apparent that Meyer would have a tough time winning in the SEC without Heisman quarterback Tim Tebow, and when it became obvious that Alabama’s Nick Saban was knocking on his door, Meyer resigned again — this time to spend more time with his family. Except, 10 months after that, Meyer apparently considered his familial duties fulfilled and was throwing the scarlet and silver on his back to go coach at Ohio State.
“I’m sure he’s probably spewing the same disingenuous garbage in Columbus he spewed in Gainesville over the years,” Bianchi wrote that day. “Come on, Gator fans, you probably have his lines memorized by now, right? ‘This is the mountain top. This is my dream job. This is the best job in America. You are the best fans in America. I’m only going to recruit the top one percent of the top one percent. And it’s all about discipline and integrity and players being good role models, on and off the field.’ Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies.”
The biggest hypocrite in college sports? Seems appropriate.
Lest we forget, Meyer scored an early recruiting coup at Ohio State when he turned highly-sought-after wide receiver Stefon Diggs away from Florida. Diggs’ other top choices were Ohio State and Maryland — which is where he ultimately signed.
Turned out, as The Sporting News reported, Meyer turned Diggs away from Florida by telling Diggs’ family that he “wouldn’t let his son go to Florida because of significant character issues in the locker room.”
As Sporting News said, “Character issues that we now know were fueled by a culture Meyer created. Character issues that gutted what was four years earlier the most powerful program in college football.”
Negative recruiting is part of the game in college athletics. Teams use other teams’ weaknesses against them to sway prospective players. But it takes a special kind of magician to use his own shortcomings to negatively recruit against the former school where his shortcomings manifested themselves.
A special kind of magician or a special kind of hypocrite.
And remember when Kiffin scored his own recruiting coup by convincing highly-touted receiver NuKeese Richardson to sign with Tennessee instead of Meyer’s Gators? Then Kiffin made headlines when he falsely accused Meyer of a recruiting violation: “I love the fact that Urban tried to cheat and still didn’t get him,” Kiffin said. It was a classless statement by a classless coach. It drew plenty of flack. And left Meyer crying foul.
Then, in 2013, Meyer did the same thing. He falsely accused a team of a recruiting violation. But unlike Kiffin, who made his allegation while bragging with fans, Meyer actually made his allegation to the NCAA, who looked into it and found it to have no bearing.
The team Meyer falsely ratted out? His former Gators. The team he “had too much love for” to “suddenly go throw some other colors” on his back and coach.
Lack of integrity? Yeah, that seems appropriate, too.
Of course, none of that had any bearing on last night’s national championship game. But Forbes.com was right about one thing: Meyer does spend a lot of time extolling Christian virtues. And so, at game’s end, when he had the opportunity to show the sports world that he’s turned over a new leaf, should we have expected any different? Not really. Meyer has run out of chances to show us he has even an ounce of integrity in him. And last night he proved once again that he has no class, either.
Congratulations go out to Ohio State. It was a well-deserved victory; a complete throttling of a very good Oregon football team, and one of the most dominant performances of a national championship game in recent memory. It may be the first of several national championships to come if Michigan and Jim Harbaugh don’t get in the way. Either way, your team went out a winner last night.
But your coach is a complete loser.