Today’s column was supposed to be about my visit to Gainesville, Fla., on Monday and Tuesday. The topic was going to be the Florida players discussing how disappointing the 13-1 season of 2009 was because of the constant pressure of trying to maintain the No. 1 preseason ranking. I sat down with three Florida players—Ahmad Black, Mike Pouncey, and John Brantley. To a man they agreed that given the lowered expectations and pressure, the 2010 season was going to be a little more relaxed and more fun.
Little did I know that on Wednesday, the day I left, head coach Urban Meyer would REALLY make things fun.
By now I’m sure you’ve read the story and seen the video of Meyer, who has limited his contact with the press this spring, confronting an Orlando Sentinel reporter at practice. When I was at practice on Monday Meyer did not speak to the press after it was over, which is fine. Other players and coaches were made available. But on Wednesday Meyer walked right up to Jeremy Fowler and objected to a quote that wide receiver Deonte Thompson gave on Monday when he was surrounded by several reporters. The question dealt with how the offense would look with John Brantley instead of Tim Tebow as quarterback. Here is the direct quote and again, Thompson said it in front of a group of reporters who all had their tape recorders going: :
“A REAL quarterback.”
Obviously, what Thompson meant was that Brantley is a more CONVENTIONAL drop back quarterback than Tebow, which is also obvious. Life for Florida’s receivers is going to be different with John Brantley as quarterback. It will be more conventional. Everybody in the program agrees that is true.
But in today’s 24/7 news cycle quotes like Thompson’s get picked up in the blogosphere and not everyone puts them into context. Thompson was reportedly upset because he has such a high regard for Tim Tebow and the quote made it look like he was ripping perhaps the most honored player in school history. Meyer’s reaction was to defend this player and so he goes after the source in front of everybody and has his Mike Gundy moment. He threatened to ban the entire newspaper from practice and called Fowler “a bad guy.” Meyer even went so far as to suggest that if Thompson were Meyer’s son, he and the reporter might come to a physical confrontation.
Go here to see the video:
I have defended Urban Meyer and bent over backwards to be fair to the man. And let me say that he has always been good to me, personally. But he is flat wrong here. There was a right way and a wrong way to handle this issue and over the last two years, when the media has been involved, Meyer has been pretty tone deaf. The issue was never the quote by Thompson. The issue was the way others outside the program picked up the quote and used it out of context. That is wrong and it is unfair to the kid.
But when that happens, the smart coach doesn’t go after the reporter who quoted the kid CORRECTLY in an attempt to intimidate the rest. You sit down with all the reporters and explain to them that the kid is upset and, if there is any doubt about the context of the quote, Meyer as the head coach provides it in a calm, rational manner. Then the story goes away. But now this story has gone viral and, like Gundy, Meyer will soon be in the YouTube Hall of Fame. Not smart.
Meyer made the same mistake when linebacker Brandon Spikes got caught with his hand inside the face mask of Georgia running back Waushan Ealey last season. By suspending Spikes for only one half, Meyer took what should have been a one-day story and turned it into a four-day story. After the national uproar, Spikes “volunteered” to sit out a whole game. It never should have happened. Somebody should have told Meyer that a half-game suspension was wrong and Meyer should have listened.
The media is so large now that it can’t be controlled. But it can be MANAGED with a little rational thought. Meyer has made it clear that he believes he does not have to manage media as part of his job. And that is certainly his right. But it’s not very smart, and Urban Meyer is a very smart man.
And on this I feel strongly: For Meyer to personalize this issue is not only unprofessional, it is not in keeping with the standards of behavior that are generally accepted in the Southeastern Conference.
Urban Meyer doesn’t need my advice but, if asked, I would tell him this: Given the drama of last December’s “retirement” and then “un-retirement” then “extended leave of absence” by Meyer, an incident like this will get the chattering class talking yet again about Meyer’s overall stability. Is that fair to him? Probably not. But if you don’t want people taking shots at you, why in the world would you hand them a gun and do it for all the world to see?
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