Gator Nation News

Debate for the Ages: Urban Meyer’s Place in UF History

As UF considers inducting the two-time Gators national championship coach into the Ring of Honor, the Gator Nation must decide on its response: fanfare or fireworks.

If No. 1 Gator Steve Spurrier were to introduce Urban Meyer at his Ring of Honor induction, would anti-Meyer fans still boo? Photo by Streeter Lecko/Getty

There always have been plenty of subjects that divide Gator Nation. For instance:

  • There is the difference of opinion about a banned chant started by one of its most beloved players (Sorry, Lawrence Wright).
  • Florida’s biggest rival? Depends on when you were born.
  • I’ve heard people argue that the Florida Flop in 1971 was the right thing to do.
  • Others have argued against a coach getting fired on his way out the door and for a coach getting hired who was never considered by the athletic director.

But there is one issue that really leaves Gator fans with a sense of confusion and conflict: Urban Meyer and the Ring of Honor.

You’ll hear the discussion crank up again as we get closer to the start of both the Florida season and the NFL season. As soon as the professionals’ schedule was released on May 12, you couldn’t help but check out when the Jags are off, knowing what may be coming.

And it is coming.

Meyer is going into the ROH. Scott Stricklin, Florida’s athletic director, wants it to happen, as do many of the big money alums around the country. Stricklin went as far as inviting him to a luxury box for the Miami opener in Orlando in 2019 so the TV cameras could find Meyer in his Gator shirt.

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Former UF football coach Urban Meyer showed up at the 2019 season opener against Miami wearing a Gators shirt

But Florida has taken it slowly because of Meyer’s conflicts and the conflicted feelings of the fans. Stricklin has asked me several times about when I thought the time would be right, and I know he doesn’t want to pull the trigger and then have Meyer coaching back in college again.

I do think it has softened a bit, this anger toward Meyer because of the way he left Florida, but it’s still there. There is certainly a concern that a Ring of Honor ceremony could lead to booing from those fans who don’t want it to happen, and that would be embarrassing to the school and the program.

That’s why there is a possibility that Florida will have Steve Spurrier introduce Meyer, and if you boo the HBC, you are no longer a Gator.

I certainly respect anyone’s opinion on this matter and there have been times when I was speaking to Gator Clubs around the state when I was cornered for my thoughts on the subject. The vitriol was real, accompanied by the kind of passion that leads to people accidentally firing spittle in your direction (this was before the mask era).

Now that Meyer is the head coach in Jacksonville, it may change the way some people feel. If Tim Tebow suits up for one game as a Jaguar it definitely will.

But let’s face it – Gainesville has never been a big Jaguar town, so the effect of Meyer being there might not change many minds.

And what happens if you set a date and Meyer wins six games in two years at Jacksonville?

It brings up a pet peeve of mine ­– that too much emphasis on the criteria for the ROH is what you did as a pro. Jack Youngblood and Emmitt Smith are in more for what they did as a Ram and a Cowboy (make the NFL Hall of Fame) than what they did as Gators.

Oh, I believe they should be in the Ring. I just don’t think someone like Lomas Brown or Wes Chandler or Kevin Carter or Alex Brown should be excluded because they weren’t given gold jackets.

They lost me when Wilber Marshall, who definitely should have been in the first class, was left out and was angry so they created a criteria for which only he qualified. Again, he should be in. But the criteria leave something to be desired.

Urban Meyer is credited for bringing Tim Tebow to Florida. Rumors say Meyer plans to hire Tebow to be a tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Think about it. Recently retired Maurkice Pouncey’s Ring of Honor fate lies in the hands of the NFL Hall of Fame committee, many of whom probably never saw him play a game in person at UF.

I know, I know, I’ve gone off on a tangent. The qualifications are what they are and they are not expected to change.

And Meyer is the only person not in the Ring of Honor who is currently qualified for it.

So, let’s go to the arguments.

Pro: Meyer won two national championships at Florida. Case closed. End of story. The rest of Florida’s coaches have one. And the guy who won that other one has his name not only in the Ring, but on the stadium.

Con: He left the program broken. He left it because he said he had physical issues and wanted to spend more time with his family. And less than a year later, he was the head coach at Ohio State.

Pro: He started feeling better. His family made him write out a contract that included “My family always comes first” and “I will sleep with my cell phone on silent” and “I will eat three meals a day.”

Con: After the 2008 season, he said publicly that Florida was his dream job. And late in the 2010 season, he said to me, Pat Dooley, when I asked if this might be his last year at Florida, “No chance. And that’s on the record.”

Pro: Hey, he missed coaching. Coaches coach. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Con: Yeah, but coaches don’t leave the Gators for another college job. Name another one who did.

Pro: He brought Tim Tebow to Florida.

Con: He also brought Aaron Hernandez.

Pro: He brought some of the best recruiting classes to Florida in school history.

Con: He enabled the best players and saw 31 of them arrested while on campus.

Pro: His core values were strong. They included treating women with respect.

Con: He was suspended at Ohio State because he didn’t handle the Zach Smith domestic violence situation properly, a pattern of behavior by Smith that started when he was at Florida.

Pro: He won two national titles.

And that, my friends, is the overwhelming argument for the Urban-to-the-ROH crowd. The ones who don’t want him there may have dwindled slightly in number but they can be very vocal.

We’ll see how vocal the day he is inducted.

It’s coming.