BY BUDDY MARTIN
He’s been flying under the radar for months, but sometimes without the plane. A short visit here or there -- in late February, giving the hand of daughter Gigi in marriage to Brian Pruett. If needed, a long flight to South Africa for Tim Tebow’s wedding. Or sailing on a ship, the lucrative money-raising Buckeye Cruise for Cancer. Most of all, the freedom to move about, even if sometimes just hanging out the new Sarasota home with Shelly and grandkids.
Urban Meyer seems to be enjoying the ride without football. At least without coaching football. Sure, he misses the game, but he’s found a sweet spot with home cookin’, for real. And he absolutely loves his current gig -- doing Fox's new college football pregame show, Big Noon Kickoff.
Which begs the question, Where In The World Is Urban going?
Maybe nowhere. But more on that later.
Meanwhile, Urban’s former graduate assistant at Notre Dame and offensive coordinator at Utah and Florida is getting more notice. Dan Mullen is 21-5 after two years at Florida and expected to improve substantially this season. Some experts are picking Mullen’s Gators to break through and contend for the SEC title -- and possibly a Final Four bid.
The producers of Fox’s Big Noon Show, where Urban currently employed, asked each co-host to pick their “breakthrough team” in 2020. Urban’s’ choice was easy: The Florida Gators
“I think they should be in the playoff,” Urban said of the 2020 Gators. “I think it’s time. Dan’s built a good program. But I spent six years at Florida. Georgia is a BIG game. Until you beat Georgia you can’t say a thing. And I think this is the year.”
Which adds even more fuel to the fire for the Oct. 31 WLOCP in Jacksonville in what promises to be one of the most-discussed SEC games of the year starting with spring football.
As for the Bulldogs, Meyer says: “Georgia has a good squad but it’s a transition year at quarterback (Jamie Newman) and with the offensive coordinator (Todd Monken). If Dan can keep that team healthy I think they’ll be there right at the end.”
I agree about Georgia, given that its entire focus is going to be on Kirby Smart’s ability to create the new chemistry around the coaching staff and a new quarterback in time to compete at the highest level for the Bulldogs’ big game in Tuscaloosa Sept. 19.
Like Urban said, “you gotta beat Georgia.” Keep in mind that Newman has never taken a snap in the SEC.
Meanwhile Meyer continues dodging the questions regarding his future, those wanting to pin him down on his coaching future: Southern Cal? Cleveland Browns? He’s not doing any interviews on that subject.
The Urban Meyer I spoke with for 45 minutes seemed calm, relaxed and in no hurry to make a life-changing professional decision. For the most part, he no longer talks publicly much about issues at Ohio State, although he keeps an office there and fund raises for OSU.
About the only thing as polarizing as politics these days, when it comes to Florida football, is the name Urban Meyer. Some Gators still don’t embrace him and never forgive him for leaving, although he went to ESPN and not another school. And many people think they know the inside scoop on him, which they don’t. I’ve lost friends in arguments over Urban’s motivation for leaving Florida.
As for Ohio State, the whole Zach Smith episode was probably mishandled, but Urban’s role in his was exaggerated. And a “blue ribbon panel” convened by Ohio State found no evidence that Urban knowingly contributed to any kind of coverup. In fact, I know one of the attorneys who worked on the case and he explained that some key information was not made available to everyone, including Meyer. That attorney is a good friend and I trust him.
And yeah, I know about Aaron Hernandez, but I don’t agree with all those who contend Meyer was harboring a murderer. And frankly, I’m tired of litigating all of that.
Go ahead – get your licks in now on the Urban health jokes. I know for a fact he’s been suffering painful headaches from the cyst on his brain. How this will impact his coaching future remains to be seen, but it doesn’t enhance it.
I’ve given up on trying to convince anybody of anything about Urban Meyer. Personally, I consider him a friend who’s open and willing to share many of his thoughts, although we don’t always agree.
So I tracked him down and was able to connect for one of the few interviews he’s doing in the off-season. The intention purpose was to catch up with one of college football’s greatest coaches on matters of life and trends in football. When I finally connected with him he was driving to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine to “support our players.”
Once again Ohio State will feed the NFL a chunk of talent and his “guys” might go 1-2-3 in Las Vegas on April 23-25. Former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow, defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah. “I’m and going there to support them,” said Meyer.
Regarding Burrow’s future as a pro, Meyer said, “I think he’s and going to be great. He’s got all the intangibles of toughness and leadership.” While he was at OSU, Meyer and his coaches picked Dwayne Haskins as starter and then Justin Fields, the transfer from Georgia.
“He was a multi-sport athlete who was a little behind in his development when Tom Herman found him. And then he broke his hand. But he graduated and decided to transfer, – and we supported his decision. We are still very close.”
It’s that kind of streak fierce loyalty that may have become a liability. Urban should have probably stayed retired when he quit at Florida, but one reason he didn’t is that he remembered how many of his staff members would lose their jobs if he left. But It was a mistake to come back.
A source told me that at Ohio State Meyer got caught up in trying to help Smith keep his marriage together and made some errors in judgement, but a blue-ribbon Ohio State panel found him not guilty of complicity with Smith. Smith was the grandson of Urban’s mentor Earl Bruce and whether that influenced the decision to give him a second chance is not own.
Urban is a serial forgiver and he proudly admits to it. An example, but not applicable to the Smith case, was this comment: “I believe in helping people and whether that’s a second, third or fourth chance.”
Meanwhile, all of that controversy seems to have cooled down and critics are starting to realize that the game may be about to lose one of its top coaches of all time.
If I had to wager on it right now, I don’t think he’ll take either of those jobs, or any other for now. Based on several long of my conversations with Urban, I’ve got a strong hunch that he’s done with coaching. Plain and simple, he seems far too happy now. And he’s busily making up for lost time with Shelly and the family. Yeah I know it’s a cliché and some skeptics are poking fun at that, but it’s true. He truly does want to spend more time with his family.
However, knowing Urban as I have over the years, however, it’s not altogether certain he’s done forever. Those competitive juices could still stir up the emotions and adrenaline could start flowing. But at age 55 and three national championships to his credit – plus more money than he will ever spend – it would be semi-stupid and borderline insane to test health risks. And as he has discovered before is his career, “it’s almost impossible to go back.”
So the guessing game rolls on.
“You think Urban’s and going to coach again?” I was asked recently by Steve Spurrier.
“I don’t know,” I told the HBC, “but I don’t think so.”
If not, then he will be ending an illustrious 17-year career as a head coach who posted the third highest winning percentage in CFB history (182-32 for .853) behind only Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy. His bowl teams went 12-3 and he was 27-3 in rivalry games. If he retires, it will be time to start considering his entry into Florida’s Ring of Honor – and maybe a statue. You gotta wonder how Gator fans will feel about that.