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April 20, 2012

Smith: It's no lie - winning mattered most


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As time passes, that incendiary 2005 Mike Freeman column labeling Urban Meyer as "Urban Liar," a phrase that infuriated Florida fans like no other, appears less and less of a stretch.

[Related: It's not easy learning the truth about Meyer]

Meyer lied when he said repeatedly that he recruited the top one percent of one percent on and off the field. He recruited great players - period - without regard to their character.

He lied when he said he loved Florida. Sure, he loved Florida for what it did for his career and his wallet, but like many coaches, he is a mercenary. He will say anything to help his current school win, whether it is Utah, Florida or Ohio State, where he reportedly ran down the Gator players he helped sign as he tried to land recruits for the Buckeyes.

He lied about injuries and he lied about suspensions.

Twice, he even lied to himself about being able to get out of coaching, which is why he spent one more year than he should have in Gainesville and has resurfaced in Columbus, Ohio after "retiring" for health reasons.

But here is one thing about which he never lied: the way he played favorites on his team.

Of all the negative revelations in Sporting News writer Matt Hayes' thoroughly sourced recent rip job on Meyer, the one that should have surprised no one was Meyer's unequal treatment of his players.

[Related: From champs to chomped: How Urban Meyer broke Florida football]

Heck, he bragged about it from day 1. His favorite topic at early Gator Gatherings (before he big-timed the clubs by not doing them anymore) was the Champion's Club dinners. He talked in colorful, humorous detail about rewarding his hardest-working players after off-season workouts with a lavish meal while subjecting the slackers to paper plates and crappy food in dingy conditions.

[Related: Winning, losing, even in the spring]

Everything about his program revolved around separating winners from losers, starting with the Circle of Life battles at the beginning of many practices.

Fans ate it up, and Florida devoured the competition, winning two national championships in three years with that culture, while Meyer made no secret of who was in his inner circle. He understood that winning was the ultimate deodorant. Clearly, he could not have cared less about dissension due to some players beating treated differently than others.

He hardly was alone in that approach. When Jimmy Johnson coached the Dallas Cowboys, he cut a linebacker for falling asleep in a team meeting. He joked at the time if Troy Aikman had dozed off at the same meeting, he would have gone over to him and whispered, "Wake up, Troy."

If Meyer had treated everyone the same, Florida might have won zero nationals championships under his watch because Percy Harvin would never have been signed in the first place (his off the field issues would have precluded him from being in the top one percent of one percent) or booted before the end of his freshman year.

Harvin practiced when he wanted, worked out when he wanted, and according to Hayes' sources, decked assistant coach Billy Gonzales when he wanted.

Almost anyone else would have been gone. Harvin lived on with little punishment, playing a key role in Florida's run to the title in2006 and an indispensable one when Florida rolled to the 2008 championship.

His teammate disliked him so much, they won 26 of 28 games in 2006 and 2008. Dissension? What dissension?

Certainly, Meyer's approach was risky. We'll never know whether Florida would have beaten Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game if Carlos Dunlap had been available. The lack of accountability in the program finally hurt when Dunlap was arrested for driving under the influence four days before the match-up of unbeatens, with front page headlines, virtually forcing the Gators to suspend him.

Still, Meyer won 13 games three times with that philosophy. Florida's stretch from 2006 to 2009 was one of the most dominant in recent college football history.

The Gators imploded in 2010, but the coddling of star players ranks far down the list of contributing factors. Meyer's resignation/un-resignation right before the previous Sugar Bowl left every returning player uncertain about the future. A drop-off was inevitable without Tim Tebow, a candidate for best college player ever. Meyer forcing his successor, John Brantley, to operate the same spread offense was the height of lunacy.

As the losses mounted, the team came apart at the seams, culminating in back-to-back debacles against South Carolina and FSU.

No doubt, Meyer left successor Will Muschamp with a major rebuilding job and a bunch of problem players last year.

The sense of entitlement they felt under Meyer had spiraled out of control, with a ridiculously high arrest count that started with mostly minor offenses like open-container violations turning into more serious crimes and zero accountability by the end of his tenure.

The culture surrounding Florida football had become one in which what a player did between Sunday and Friday would be overlooked as long as he could help the team win on Saturday.

That was verified when Janoris Jenkins griped that Meyer never would have kicked him off the team after his third arrest, which Muschamp promptly did last spring.

[Janoris Jenkins: I'd still be playing for Gators if Urban Meyer was coaching]

Jenkins probably was speaking the truth, but here is the pivotal question: would you give up the bad acting under Meyer if it meant no national championships?

If the answer is yes, you're probably lying.


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