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.