Fixation on Urban Meyer Continues as Former Florida Coach Speaks Out about Aaron Hernandez

As we near the start of the 2013 college football season, many of us need to come to the realization that Urban Meyer last coached the Florida Gators in 2010. Two full seasons have passed since Meyer ‘resigned’ as the head coach of the Gators’ football program. Since that time, Jeremy Foley hired a new coach–Will Muschamp–and that coach led the Gators to a BCS bowl following the 2012 season. While that particular game started and ended on a sour note, our focus should be firmly on the man in charge of the Gators now, yet we can’t seem to let go of the fascination with the man that used to coach the Gators. And that fascination is largely a negative one.

Urban Meyer - Florida Gators

I’ll always remember Meyer fondly for two things–the 2006 national championship and the 2008 national championship. You could expand that to bringing certain players to Gainesville as well, but let’s stop with the championships because it’s difficult to accurately predict which players would have gone where had Meyer never taken the job as the head football coach at the University of Florida. Remember, some very bad coaches are great recruiters too. What Meyer did (although some would go as far as to give credit elsewhere even in these instances) is lead the program to two national titles during his six seasons at the helm. The Gators’ football program claims three titles today, two of which were won under Meyer.

There you have it; that’s where Meyer begins and ends for me these days. He was the coach for six seasons and brought two titles. The man now coaches the Ohio State Buckeyes. End of story. Or so you would think

Following the 2008 season, many fans began to sour on Meyer. Once offensive coordinator Dan Mullen left to become the head coach at Mississippi State, Meyer’s offense began to stall. He would produce a 13-1 season in 2009, but fans wondered just how good the Gators really were that year. The following season would be Meyer’s worst as a head coach. The Gators would finish 8-5 and before heading to the Outback Bowl, Meyer would announce he was resigning (for real this time).

Since he’s been gone, fans have continued to grow their hatred for the former Florida head coach. The championships do very little to put him in their favor. They feel he quit on them, on the Gators. If he had truly needed to get away from coaching for an extended period of time, fans may have accepted that, but after only one year off, he ended up in Columbus. Taking over for a program in its own period of turmoil. One season at Ohio State, one undefeated season at Ohio State, and the feelings haven’t changed–Urban Meyer has become the enemy.

The last week did absolutely nothing to get him back into the favor of Florida fans. Gators’ running backs coach Brian White was turned in for illegally ‘bumping’ a prospect–running back Curtis Samuel. The school that turned in White? You guessed it–Ohio State. But then the plot thickened. Not only was it the Buckeyes that turned in White, but it was also supposedly Urban Meyer. A ‘source’ said so, so it has to be true, right? Meyer has denied turning in White and has even gone as far to say he didn’t even know it had occurred, but those pesky sources say he was aware and, if he wasn’t the one that did it, he was at the very least in favor of it.

And we care. For reasons beyond explanation, we care. We care that a man that IS NO LONGER AFFILIATED WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA supposedly (according to those ever-reliable sources) turned in a Gators’ coach for violating an NCAA recruiting rule. Why do we care? Are fans to expect better from someone they can’t stomach? And that right there is why they care. They want to continue to believe Urban Meyer is the bad guy and this story furthers their cause.

Then there’s Aaron Hernandez and a situation completely unrelated to a minor recruiting infraction. A situation in which we should actually side with Meyer. The media has been quick to place blame on what could have caused Hernandez to become the man he is today. The alleged murderer must have had something push him toward his accused actions. Something that couldn’t actually be his fault, right? Enter Urban Meyer.

Known for the high number of arrests during his time at Florida, Meyer was thought by many to care little about discipline when it came to his star players (or in some cases, all of his players). The reality could be that he was attempting to give his players second, and sometimes third, chances. There’s an argument for both sides and one that is raging on again with Hernandez not leaving the headlines in the near future. The truth could be either or a little bit of both, but to place blame on Urban Meyer, the Gators’ coaching staff, or the University of Florida is ridiculous and irresponsible (as Meyer himself has said).

Aaron Hernandez may be a very, very bad man. If he did what he is being accused of doing, Hernandez is not a good person. If that’s the case, the blame is on Hernandez himself. To say his time at Florida turned him into an (alleged) murderer is grasping at every straw you can find. Meyer didn’t cause this and the Florida Gators didn’t cause this. If Hernandez is found to be the one the did in fact kill Odin Lloyd, he did this. If we discover that he was the one that pulled the trigger, that’s a decision he made. The desire to place blame elsewhere is the media’s attempt to enhance the story to unbelievable levels. In other words, it’s a way to get more readers and more page views. It’s also a joke of the worst kind.

In most cases, we want Urban Meyer to be the bad guy. It makes it easier for us to go about our daily lives. He left when the going got tough and Florida fans don’t want to like him anymore. A source said he turned in the Gators. GREAT! Screw that guy! Ohio State loses a game in the future. WOO HOO! Go Michigan! But Aaron Hernandez? No. We must draw the line somewhere and it’s far before that point. The University of Florida isn’t to blame. The Gators’ football program isn’t the blame. Urban Meyer isn’t to blame.

Numbers Beyond Sports and the Tragic Death of Odin Lloyd

We immerse ourselves in sports for many reasons. For the sports fan, it’s far more than entertainment; it’s an all encompassing passion that has us cheering unconditionally for our favorite teams regardless of the circumstances. We spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on merchandise and we do whatever we can to make ourselves a part of the team. That passion also has us checking various sports-related websites before we’re even fully awake in the morning. We have alerts set on our cellphones so we know exactly when news has broke. We compare the heroes of today with those of the past and we debate endlessly with each other over what the future will bring.

Odin Lloyd

There is one part of sports where we can’t fall on different sides of the argument though–numbers. Numbers occur and are hard to debate. (Aided by performance enhancements or not) Barry Bonds hit 763 homeruns. The Miami Heat won their second-consecutive NBA Championship with a 4-3 series victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Whether you agree with the way participants in the title games are chosen or not, the Florida Gators football program has won three National Championships. Those numbers happened. We witnessed them and there’s no way to erase them. Even when we attempt to delete them due to sanctions handed down, we know they really occurred.

As Aaron Hernandez’s story continues to be written there are many numbers that will be focused on. One of those might be 11. In the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC Championship game, New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady completed a pass to Hernandez. The former University of Florida star tight end gained 11 yards. Those 11 yards may turn out to be the last yards he ever gains in the NFL. That number and others will be discussed. The career that could have come and the statistics he could have achieved will be debated. Many will wonder what could have become of Aaron Hernandez the football player. Few will focus on one of the most important and saddening number of the entire story–27.

I started dating the woman who would become my wife when I was 27. In the seven years since then, we bought our first house together, got engaged, got married, and–almost one year ago–brought our amazing son into the world. Saying the last seven years have been the best years of my life is not an overstatement. I’ve lived more in those seven years than I had before and look forward to what the next seven will bring. Odin Lloyd won’t get those seven years. He was 27 years old when he was murdered. He won’t get those seven years. He won’t even get one more.

Life is fragile. We can barely make it through a week without hearing how one was cut short needlessly. Tragically, when that story also involves someone as high profile as an athlete or celebrity or other well-known personality, we hear too much about that person and not the victim. If we didn’t already know the victim, we may never truly discover who they were. Odin Lloyd’s tragedy will be well-documented, but not always from the right angle. The story will be sensationalized to focus on Aaron Hernandez’s role. From time to time, a piece will pop up that will make us think more about Lloyd and what could have become of the 27-year-old semi-professional football player–like this one–but those pieces will be few and far between. We may never learn much about the 27 years Lloyd spent in this world, but we’ll surely be presented with a detailed account of Hernandez’s remaining years.

At 27, you’re still figuring out what to do with your life. At least I was. When I turned 27, I enjoyed many things about my life. What I didn’t know was how much more I would enjoy the future. I was naive in thinking it would only get better, but at the same time I was somewhat of a prophet because it has. We’ll never know what the future would have brought for Lloyd. Maybe happiness. Maybe despair. To steal a line, it could have been the best of times or the worst of times. Or, probably more accurately, it could have been both.

A few short months after I married the love of my life, I lost my mother. My mother, teacher and best friend passed away on November 27, 2009. There’s that number again–27. She encouraged my obsession with sports from an early age. She put up with a son that read her box scores and statistics that she never wanted to know. Her life was cut short after an eight-month battle with Leukemia. It wasn’t fair then and it isn’t fair now. That number–27–sticks out to me and always will because of the day that I lost her. There was no November 28 for my mother. There is no 28th birthday for Odin Lloyd.

We’ll always remember Aaron Hernandez. That was already a certainty for Florida Gators’ fans. Now it’s a certainty for all sports fans and even those outside of that realm. We’ll know him like people across the world know O.J. Simpson. Whether he is guilty or innocent, we’ll remember this one instance over all others in the life of Aaron Hernandez. But will we remember Odin Lloyd?

I hope we will. I hope that months from now, years from now we talk of a life that could have been. I hope we wonder what the next seven years would have brought Lloyd. I hope we think of his family and friends. I hope the tragic loss of life at a young age is what we remember. I hope we won’t forget what we often do–that there are victims as well as killers. I hope for all of this just like Odin Lloyd hoped for a better life, or at the very least more life. Lloyd’s hopes have ended; there is no tomorrow for him. But we can choose to remember him and what he may have hoped for. We can think about the 27 years he was given and dream about what he would have done with those that were taken away.

Jeff Demps Signs With New England Patriots

The trend of Bill Belichick picking up Florida Gators is continuing Friday. Jeff Demps – the Gators’ former speedster – decided to sign with the Patriots after much interest in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Demps will join his former teammates Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes in New England. The Patriots look to be Super Bowl contenders again after losing to the New York Giants last year. Demps should be used in many ways by the offensive mastermind that is Belichick and his speed will fit well on an already quick roster.

It’s unlikely that Demps has been chosen to replace Wes Welker at the slot position obviously because of the wide skill gap, but Demps should play some roles in the receiving game.

Bill Belichick should find some ways to use Demps that we never had imagined, and it will be interesting to watch Demps in his transition back from track to football.

Former Florida Gators To Play On World’s Grandest Stage

The world will be captivated by tonight’s Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Giants. Sure to be one of the most widely viewed events across the planet, the Pats and Giants will do battle to determine which team will go home with the Lombardi Trophy. It’s a dream come true for many players to even be able to participate in the Super Bowl, but to win one is something completely different. Among those searching for a ring will be a few former Florida Gators.

In 2010, the Patriots decided it best to fill their roster with practically as many Gators as they could draft. In the second round of that year’s NFL Draft, New England selected defensive end/outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and inside linebacker Brandon Spikes. The Pats would look back at Florida in the fourth round and take tight end Aaron Hernandez. That same year, New England would also sign former Gators defensive end/defensive tackle Gerard Warren. All four remained part of the roster into the 2011 season and three are expected to be big contributors tonight (Cunningham struggled to find a spot in the defensive rotation during the regular season and was put on injured reserve on December 10, 2011).

Not to be left out, the Giants have a former Gator as well. Signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season, defensive end Justin Trattou made the roster and is listed as active. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck also on the roster, Trattou’s time has been extremely limited during his rookie season. We don’t expect to see Trattou on the field during Sunday’s game, but just being there as an undrafted rookie free agent will be an experience for the former Florida player.

If you don’t have a routing interest in tonight’s game, cheer for the Gators. Each one will be looking for their first (and hopefully not their last) Super Bowl ring.

Aaron Hernandez, The Second Fiddle That Clearly Isn’t

When a team’s starting tight end amasses 90 catches, 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns during an All-Pro season, it’s easy to forget who the other TEs on the roster are. When that team is the New England Patriots, the exact opposite is true.

Rob Gronkowski had one of the most prolific second seasons in NFL history. The Patriots’ “other” tight end wasn’t far behind. Despite missing two games, former Florida Gators’ star Aaron Hernandez totaled 79 catches, 910 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Peter May of The New York Times reminds us just how important Hernandez is to New England’s offense, and it’s not just in the passing game. Hernandez totaled 61 rushing yards on five carries in the Patriots’ win over the Denver Broncos.

Hernandez suffered a mild concussion against Denver, but should be ready to go against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. New England will be elated to see both of their stars tight ends on the field.

For more Florida Gators coverage, like our Facebook page and follow @TheBullGator on Twitter.

Friday Night Links: FNL, Madden, Pro Combat Jerseys, UNC, And More

We rarely post on the weekends around these parts. One Eyed Willy has offspring and I have an XBOX. Unless something monumental (and by monumental, I mean monumental to us) happens, it’s typically quiet at the TBG home office on Saturdays and Sundays.

Because of that, we have created this weekly installment for you. Friday Night Links honors Florida’s annual camp – Friday Night Lights (see how that works?) – and provides you with reading material to get you through your weekend. When it’s posted, you are probably happy houring it up somewhere without a care in the world, so it waits patiently for you. You may have seen some of these stories throughout the week, you may not have. We hope you enjoy and orange and blue your way through the weekend. Remember, there aren’t that many more left before they’re filled with football.
Let the links begin…
Do NOT go for two in the first half of a game. Just don’t do it. (Smart Football)
Shameless self promotion, but it’s a Friday Night Lights recap of sorts. (Alligator Army)
The NFL is back and there are 10 reasons you should be excited. (SB Nation)
First Rhaheim Ledbetter committed. Now Carlos Watkins is seriously interested. Florida could be looking at a North Carolina trifecta. (Only Gators Get Out Alive)

No pro combat jerseys this year. Thank you! (Alligator Army)

Some prospects won’t change their mind about UNC. Butch Davis may be gone, but one recruit remains committed to the Tar Heels. (Rivals)
You already knew this, but it’s not wise to always trust what you read. Especially on Twitter. (Jason Schreier)
If you ever collected sports cards, you know there were some very odd versions created over the years. In 1995, Fleer had one of their own. (SB Nation)
Who should replace Butch Davis? (Every Day Should Be Saturday)
Oklahoma State has new uniforms. What do you think? (Nike Blog)
A little bit of the Bulls for you. Jamius Gunsby left USF for Georgia Military College. He left Georgia Military College after three weeks. (USF Sports Bulletin)
Chad Ochocinco is now a member of the New England Patriots. Former Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez is too. Hernandez wears no. 85. I think you know where this is going. (ESPN)
And finally, how to put together your preseason preview pieces. (Team Speed Kills)

The Long Snapper (4/28/10)

To many (me included), Aaron Hernandez seemed to drop and drop and drop during the NFL Draft.  Being selected in the fourth round is hardly a bad thing – especially when you go to the New England Patriots – but many expected Hernandez to be gone by the time the second round was over.  And then reports came out of him failing multiple drug tests during his time at Florida.  His fall in the draft was being attributed to Hernandez’s problem with marijuana.  Now Hernandez is refuting the reports.  Sort of.  The tight end has admitted he did fail a test during his time with the Gators, but he says it was only one.  Hernandez also says he was very clear with every team he spoke with prior to the draft and was open and honest with them.  He still fell, but again, where he fell to may be better for him in the long run.  Make sure to head to page two of the article where former defensive back Wondy Pierre-Louis has some interesting things to say about Urban Meyer cleaning up the program.
I’ve said it before and now the SEC is: if expansion runs rampant, the conference will be ready.  Commissioner Mike Slive has said the SEC has not actively pursued the idea of expanded, but they will put together a plan just in case they have to.  Slive mentioned that if other conferences add teams, it doesn’t necessarily mean the SEC has to, but he also has said the conference will do whatever it takes to maintain its prominent status.  I pointed out earlier this week that some believe the SEC would be best suited picking up the big boys of the Big 12, but let’s be more realistic.  I would still lean toward Clemson and Georgia Tech joining the SEC East with the possibility of an East team moving to the West.  If the conference goes to 14 teams, there’s also a chance each team could pick up an additional SEC game during the regular season.  I doubt many would argue with a schedule featuring three out-of-conference opponents and nine SEC opponents.  The format would be similar to what it is today, play every team in your division, have one opponent from the other division that you play every year, and have two additional opponents from the other division that rotate every two years.  Seems logical to me.
Depending on how you look at it, the quarterback situation at Georgia could either be getting muddier or clearer.  Muddier in that one got kicked off the team and another is considering heading elsewhere.  Clearer in that the 2010 starter has pretty much been determined at this point.  Just recently, Zach Mettenberger was dismissed from the program and now Logan Gray is “weighing his options.”  Tampa, FL native Aaron Murray has been placed on top of the depth chart and even though head coach Mark Richt hasn’t officially named Murray the starter, Gray may have had enough.  The junior hasn’t transferred yet, but could soon.  Either that or he could look to change positions.  Gray has been a frequent special teamer during his time as a Bulldog and it’s possible he could return to that role on more of a full-time basis.  Wherever Gray ends up, the path to 2010 starter may be open for Murray.  He’s the only one that hasn’t been shown the door or debated leaving.  Sounds like starter material to me.  And sounds like a good rallying cry for the upcoming season.  “Don’t break rules.  Don’t transfer.  Do play.  Georgia Football 2010!”
So we all know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made news when they asked former FSU safety Myron Rolle about deserting his team to go study at Oxford (way to go Bucs), but I didn’t hear about this other incident until recently.  Former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant was asked by the Miami Dolphins if his mother was ever a prostitute.  Bryant has a checkered past that includes him being declared ineligible for his final season with the Cowboys.  His mother did have a history with drugs, but Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland may have crossed the line here.  I understand teams are trying their best to find out everything about players these days.  They invest a lot of money in these athletes and want to ensure they are getting someone who is focused on their job.  But I’m surprised Bryant didn’t come across the table when asked that question.
The List: A few things to occupy your time now that we’ve hit the dead time of year.
1. Baseball.  You all know my thoughts, but hey, sports are sports.  Nothing like keeping your competitive nature going.
2. Both the NBA and NHL are only in the first round of their playoffs.  They’ll be more action for weeks to come.
3. Recruiting.  I never fully understood people who consider themselves huge college football fans yet don’t follow recruiting.  There’s nothing quite like the rush of getting your hopes dashed by the decisions made by teenagers.
4. There are things other than sports on TV.  Now’s the time to catch up on them.
5. Apparently there are activities one can partake in outdoors.
The Sixth Man: Florida isn’t listed among the top 10, but Alex Tyus is mentioned.  Many think Tyus won’t return.  After all, he nearly transferred before last season.  After declaring for the NBA Draft, the writing may be on the wall.  The forward may have played his last game as a Gator.  But Florida would be best served if he returned.  The Gators have a young, talented team that appears to be improving.  Tyus is definitely a part of that.  Florida will move on without him, but is better off moving forward with him.  The Gators can build on last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance with all they have returning, but inside presence has been an issue for the past few years.  Tyus coming back is as close to a “need” as you can get.

Major Wright Joins the Exodus, Will Enter the NFL Draft

After the 2006 National Championship season, four players with eligibility left – Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, and Ryan Smith – decided to depart Florida for the NFL.  This time around the exodus is even worse.
Junior safety Major Wright marks the fifth early entrant for the 2010 NFL Draft to leave the Gators.  He joins Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, and Maurkice Pouncey and may very well be the most surprising of the bunch to throw his hat into the ring.
Wright is an extremely talented safety, but one can’t help but wonder if he is nothing more than a mid-round pick.  Not that the money offered to mid-round picks is anything to turn a cold shoulder at, but just something to consider.  However – as One Eyed Willy so graciously pointed out – could Wright realistically up his stock by returning for his senior season?
The answer is no.  Wright is most likely a mid-round pick in 2010 and would probably be a mid-round pick in 2011.  He is a physical safety who can cover a large area of the defensive backfield, but needs to improve his reads on receive route running.  He can get better and probably will, but the odds he will boost his draft stock by sticking around for the 2010 season are slim to none.  After all, the Gators have enough defensive backs to fill the rosters of the entire SEC.  Despite being entrenched as a starter, Wright could’ve actually seen his playing time decrease in 2010.
 

The Pounceys Spilt and Carlos Dunlap Heads to the NFL

2010 will mark the first time since the 2001 season in which Florida will not have a set of twins on the roster.  If that doesn’t concern you, you better get your head checked.  Junior center Maurkice Pouncey surprised no one when he announced his intentions to head to the NFL, but the decision of twin brother Mike Pouncey to stay was a shocking one.
Both decisions actually make sense.  While both are extremely talented offensive linemen, Maurkice has a little more experience (Mike contributed on the defensive side of the ball during their freshman year).  He was rated higher by most NFL Draft “experts” and appeared to be more, even if only slightly so, ready for the next level.  Still, the fact that one will go and one will stay is befuddling to stay the least.  However, the Pounceys did choose to not live together during the junior year in anticipation they would end up in different NFL cities.
Be happy at least one of them returns to anchor the offensive line in 2010.  And anchor Mike might do.  Word is he wants to move over to center to fill the void left by Maurkice.  Just be careful when you two go out together next season Pounceys.  One of you is in the NFL now and can’t be footing the bill for a collegiate athlete.
Jump across the line of scrimmage and the Gators lose another junior to the NFL with the declaration of Carlos Dunlap.  The defensive end is another one where the decision shouldn’t surprise you, even if there was some word last week he was considering a return.
The last two games of Florida’s season may have had the biggest impact on Dunlap’s draft status despite the fact he didn’t appear in one of them.  We all remember the DUI and subsequent suspension for the SEC Championship Game.  And even remember saying we weren’t sure Dunlap’s absence would be as detrimental as we first thought.  One Alabama victory march later and Gator fans missed big #8 even more.
He returned for the Sugar Bowl to cap off his Florida career by showing just how dominant he could be when he turned it on.  Dunlap continues a strong line a Gator pass rushers in recent years that turned their Florida success into becoming first-round draft picks.  There is some concern over character after the DUI arrest, but talent can’t be denied.
Both Maurkice and Dunlap will be missed as they join Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez as early entrants.  And they may not be the last.  Rumors are circulating about Major Wright and who knows what Ahmad Black is thinking.
 

The College Football Season Comes to an End, Mourn It

This is a bad day for college football fans.  We don’t know what to do with ourselves.  There are other sports still in season, but they don’t compare.  I read somewhere that it’s 41 days until pitchers and catchers report to camp.  I nearly threw up.  I tried baseball last summer.  Can’t do it.  College football is the penultimate.  The pinnacle.  And it’s done.  Luckily for us who can’t get enough recruiting is in full force, then there’s spring practice, then before we know it, fall practice and games.
The season brought us – as Florida fans – the end of the Tim Tebow era (and, yes ladies, the end of the Riley Cooper era as well).  Some of the greatest Gators to ever play their respective positions will never again suit up for the orange and blue.  Tebow.  Brandon SpikesAaron HernandezJoe Haden.  More could come with several of the juniors still deciding.  They will all be missed for their individual and team accomplishments.  They were the leaders of back-to-back 13-1 seasons and part of the most prolific run in team history.  2009 brought the Urban Meyer resignation.  Quickly followed by the Urban Meyer leave of absence.  Despite yells of mediocrity from most fans, 13-1 is good.  Exceptionally good.  Good enough for a #3 ranking.
USF, on the other hand, had a forgettable season similar to those of the past few years.  The season wasn’t a bad one, but after a hot start, the end result shouldn’t be praised.  Initially, the year would be defined by a win over FSU in Tallahassee, but all that is now forgotten with the news of Jim Leavitt’s firing.  And not because he was fired due to expectations not being met, but because he was dismissed over a moment in which he apparently lost his mind.  The Bulls now head toward the 2010 season unsure of who will lead them.  B.J. Daniels will be back.  So will Mike Ford.  But from a coaching standpoint, it’s anyone’s guess.
So what do you do know?  Do you immerse yourself in the NFL playoffs?  Sure, that’s a possibility.  Super Bowl odds are out, so make your picks accordingly.  Do you get involved in the world of college basketball?  You could, but until March you may not be able to get too excited.  You want college football and it’ll be back soon enough.  Next season will be here quicker than you think.  At least it better because I, for one, am eager to see how the John Brantley era takes shape.  Until then, USF will find a new coach.  Pete Carroll could move on.  And recruiting…ah, recruiting…will take the forefront.