Some unsolicited advice for Florida coach Urban Meyer: Coach, make sure you enjoy Friday night’s Sugar Bowl because as soon as the game is over you, sir, are on the clock.
I know you told everybody that you’re going to get away from the job and battle some of those inner demons that made you decide to resign for about 12 hours last weekend. In your own mind that may be exactly what you intend to do.
But fair or not, and many in the Gator Nation will say it’s not fair, life is about to get even more complicated for you.
Why? Because from this point forward there will be only one story written about football at the University of Florida: What is Urban Meyer is doing or not doing and when will he return or not return?
What about recruiting? Is he involved or not? How much is he involved? Are opposing schools hammering Florida because of the uncertainty? (Yes). Will Lane Kiffin bring it up when he’s in somebody’s living room? (A most certain yes.)
What about spring practice? Where will Urban be? Will he be in the meetings? Will he be at the beach? Will he be texting recruits while he’s at the beach? What about the spring game? Will even there be a spring game? Will Urban be at the spring game or will he be at the beach texting recruits?
You get the point. Until this issue is resolved one way or another, every story about the Florida football program will be dealing with the status of Urban Meyer. Nobody will care what kind of team the Gators will have in 2010. Nobody will care if John Brantley can take over the reins at quarterback. Nobody will care who the new defensive coordinator is and what he is doing. The players, assuming they are allowed to be interviewed by the media, will only be asked about the state of the program without Meyer or what Meyer’s involvement is or is not.
After last Sunday’s bizarre press conference in New Orleans, I’m sure Meyer and the people at Florida thought the media interest would subside after Friday’s game. In fact, the opposite will be true. Just like Florida was not prepared for the fallout of the Brandon Spikes eye-gouging incident, they are not going to be ready for what will come when Meyer returns to Gainesville after the Sugar Bowl.
It’s already started. At last Sunday’s presser Meyer said he checked himself into a Gainesville hospital for chest pains after the SEC championship game on Dec. 5. Thanks to some good reporting by ESPN, we now know that is not true. Meyer’s wife, Shelley, called 911 at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 6. The head football coach at Florida was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Does the man not know that 911 calls are a matter of public record? Did he think that nobody would check it out to see if he was telling the entire truth? Does he not feel obligated to tell the truth in that kind of setting?
When you hold a press conference like the one Meyer had in New Orleans, it is your best opportunity to get the entire truth out. It is your chance to get ahead of the story and control the message so that others don’t do it for you. Because if others shape the message you’re not going to like it.
But if you start leaving out details because they are uncomfortable, then the media starts digging deeper to see what else you’ve left out or potentially misled them about. And once the media catches you in a lie or a half-truth, you’re toast. The story takes on new life and will last for as long as there are new facts to find.
Earlier this season Florida and Meyer mishandled the Brandon Spikes incident and turned what should have been a one-day story into a five-day story. Spikes was caught on video intentionally sticking his hand into the facemask of a Georgia player. Meyer suspended Spikes for only one half and the national media backlash was swift and severe. Spikes then “volunteered” to extend his suspension to a full game. That story got out of control because nobody was willing to tell Urban Meyer that he was wrong and that Florida was going to get killed in the media. Meyer’s credibility took a hit that week whether he cares to acknowledge it or not.
Coach Meyer and the people who advise him would be smart to get out in front of this story when he gets back from New Orleans. If there are more details like the 911 call that leak out about his resignation/change of heart in the coming weeks, it will further undermine his credibility.
Here is the bottom line. The national media I know who have covered this story are sympathetic to Urban Meyer’s situation. The man has health issues and three children and a wife. You accept a man’s word when he’s talking about his family. But the flip flop and subsequent press conference in New Orleans, which raised more questions than it provided answers, left a lot of people skeptical that they aren’t getting the whole truth. In short, there are a lot of people who ain’t buying this story.
Trust me when I tell you that the story on the uncertain future of Florida football and Urban Meyer doesn’t end with Friday night’s Sugar Bowl. It is just beginning.
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