Ohio State Football: Inside the Florida Media's Beef with Urban Meyer

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterAugust 1, 2014

Three years after leaving, Urban Meyer remains continually criticized by the Florida media.
Three years after leaving, Urban Meyer remains continually criticized by the Florida media.PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

During Urban Meyer's appearance on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike—which was being hosted by two guys not named Mike—the Ohio State head coach managed to slip in a subliminal shot at the media when asked about his time as the head coach at Florida.

"The one thing I learned probably about five years ago is to focus on what you can control. We had a great run down there. I loved Florida," Meyer told fill-in hosts Jorge Sedano and Herm Edwards. "Sometimes you'll hear one or two people with pens in their hands saying certain things, and I don't understand."

At the time, I joked that the latter half of Meyer's quote was a nod to my poor wording of questions at Columbus press conferences. But anybody who's been following Meyer's relationship with the media since leaving Gainesville knows that he was referencing Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi, who holds an admitted disdain for the two-time national champion head coach.

"I've not been kind to Urban Meyer, but I don't like Urban Meyer," Bianchi recently said on his radio show on 740 The Game in Orlando, Florida. "I don't like the style of coach he is. I think he's disingenuous. I think he's dishonest."

And that's fine.

Bianchi isn't the only one to hold that opinion, and you could find plenty of people in Columbus with similar things to say about Nick Saban, despite having never interacted with the Alabama head coach as Bianchi has with Meyer. If that's how Bianchi truly feels about Meyer—and clearly, it is—he has every right as an American to express it.

But why now? Why four years after Meyer's last season with the Gators and on the eve of his third with the Buckeyes is Bianchi still spending time writing and talking about the Ohio State head coach?

Schtick aside, Bianchi's latest piece on Meyer stems from comments that Urban's wife, Shelley Meyer, gave to Bucknuts.com about Florida fans' treatment of her husband. "I think they feel like they were kind of left at the altar," Shelley said.

Shelley Meyer has been critical of the way Florida fans have treated her husband.
Shelley Meyer has been critical of the way Florida fans have treated her husband.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

It's certainly possible the author went into the interview intending to rile up Gators fans—why else would the piece lead with that subject?—but whether Shelley was baited into her comments or not is neither here nor there. Intentionally or not, the first lady of Ohio State football needled her husband's former fanbase, and as one of the voices of Florida media, Bianchi felt compelled to respond.

But do his comments and criticisms really carry weight?

His admitted bias aside, Bianchi's recent shots at his adversary deal with the discipline that Meyer doled—or didn't dole—out during his time in Gainesville:

I don't much like coaches such as her husband; disingenuous coaches who run crime-ridden football programs; head-in-the-sand coaches who once allowed former player like Aaron Hernandez to stay on the University of Florida football team even after he sucker-punched a bar employee in Gainesville so violently that it burst the guy's ear drum; enabling coaches who actually kept former UF running back Chris Rainey on the team even after he was arrested for threatening to kill his girlfriend.

Never mind that Meyer has extensively denied enabling Hernandez during his time at Florida or that the death of former Florida corner Avery Atkins—who Meyer dismissed from the team in 2006—has admittedly "haunted" the former Florida head coach. Is it not possible that a man can change his philosophy?

Since arriving in Columbus, Meyer apparently has, telling reporters at Big Ten media days a year ago that he wanted Ohio State to have "as hard or harder" discipline than any other program in the country. And while that's certainly up for debate, he's certainly attempted to live up to his word, dismissing no fewer than seven players in the last two years at OSU and even suspending stars Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby a year ago for incidents in which Hyde was never charged and Roby had charges dropped.

Say what you will about Meyer's discipline at Florida—and Bianchi has—but it's impossible to argue that it hasn't evolved since he arrived at Ohio State.

Bianchi's other primary argument is an old one: the manner in which Meyer left Florida. Quoting Gators great Lee McGriff, Bianchi attempts to paint the picture of a man who lied to spurn Florida in favor of greener grass in Columbus, Ohio:

"Urban made such grand statements about, 'I'm a Gator. I love the Gators. This is utopia. This is paradise. This is my life.'" McGriff told me not long after Meyer took the Ohio State job. "And then he said he was done coaching [because of burnout]. And now, suddenly, he's at Ohio State, which is as big-time as big-time gets. He jumped right back into the frying pan. It's not like he's coaching Dartmouth in the Ivy League. That left a lot of Gator fans saying, 'Whoa, who is this guy?'"

Only this ignores that Meyer has repeatedly stated that Ohio State was the only job that he was willing to put an early end to his retirement for and that upon his departure from Florida, the Buckeyes already had an established head coach in Jim Tressel.

At the time of his retirement, did Meyer know that six months later, Tressel would resign from his childhood dream job? Probably not.

Urban Meyer won two national titles during his time at Florida.
Urban Meyer won two national titles during his time at Florida.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Having brought the Gators two national championships and their greatest run in program history, one would think that Meyer would have little to apologize for when it comes to his career in Gainesville. But Meyer, nonetheless, has shown contriteness for the way that his time in Florida ended, admitting to CBS Sports that it was an unnatural transaction.

"I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret. Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all. I've always felt our job is to do a good job and do it the right way," Meyer said in 2013. "It just wasn't a normal way to move on. There would have been if I would have stayed out. I was worried about survival for a little bit."

Having both evolved and apologized since his time at Florida, it's hard to understand why Meyer is now being criticized for events that took place then. Like Cleveland fans with LeBron James, Bianchi's criticisms may have held water in 2010, but it's 2014 and most rational people appear to have moved on.

Like Shelley Meyer said, get over it.


All quotes obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise.


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