Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow, Aaron Hernandez, Percy Harvin and the rise and fall of the Florida Gators

ESPN.com has a very long (and very good) piece today about the Florida Gators during the Urban Meyer era. Florida fans know some of the details surfaced in here, like how Meyer played favorites on the team and propagated a culture that led to players feeling entitled and above the law -- but even the most avid Gators fans are hearing some things for the first time in this article. 

Sometimes the fighting got so bad that, Marsh remembered, "[Meyer] would say 'I can't have everyone hurt,' so he would just cancel practice."

That's about players competing to an absurd extent in practice, injuring each other on and off the field. 

Gators athletic department representatives once scheduled a meeting with Harvin and his mother to discuss whether he wanted a Heisman campaign and how he felt about Tebow getting so much love. Harvin and his mom didn't show up.

I'm not sure many Florida fans realize how disconnected Harvin was from the university and team as a whole. In many ways I'm grateful that I was able to watch and enjoy this team as a fan in high school, when I wasn't necessarily aware of the way players act in the way I am now. Tebow was everyone's favorite player, of course, but I loved Harvin and thought of him as this perfect Gators player when it's become quite clear that he ran outside the team in a lot of ways. 

As one former All-SEC performer put it, the only way Meyer could have stayed is if he dismantled the entire roster and started from zero. The grip had slipped that much, he said.

The idea that Meyer lost control of the team is one thing; the idea that Meyer lost control of the team to this extent is kind of insane to think about in retrospect. If anything, it should give Gators fans more comfort about Meyer leaving that, apparently, he would never have been able to accomplish a rebuilding job in the first place. 

There's a lot in this article. Quite a bit about Hernandez and the troubles he had with the law while at UF, most of which were covered up for him (lots of players had legal issues covered up, and the article touches on how they were able to so often avoid making headlines). There's a portion about Riley Cooper, who was the subject of a video in which he made disgusting racist remarks, and how he "accompanied teammates to Venue, where he might be the only white male in attendance some nights. 'He had more black friends than anybody,' one teammate said." Which...is weird to read. 

On a more positive side, there are really good nuggets about how the team was competitive in a fiery type of way that only the most elite programs ever reach. There's a story about Brandon Spikes laying Tebow out on a run play in practice during summer training camp (when the QB is not supposed to get hit, ever), only to have Tebow bounce up and light a spark that made for an insane practice. The article touches upon the leadership on those teams, about how the Pouncey teams held a lot of power in the locker room, and I think some of the players who held leadership power will surprise people (like running back / kick returner Brandon James). 

All in all, this is a pretty great look at the '06-'10 Gators, who, for a few years there, were the most dominant program in the country. One stat is jaw-dropping: The 2008 roster spawned thirty (30) NFL players. Completely ridiculous. But my main takeaway from this is that Urban Meyer was in his first huge head-coaching job, and while he may be the most talented coach and recruiter in the country, enabling him to win on high levels everywhere he goes, he simply fucked up in terms of the management and upkeep of the program as a whole. I think it's clear that he's using his mistakes at Florida to inform his current success at Ohio State. 

It hurts to think of how good Ohio State will be for a long time if Meyer has indeed learned his lessons: They could be dominant for a pretty long time, because I think Meyer is the only better coach and recruiter in the game than Nick Saban. It hurts because that could have been Florida if Meyer hadn't allowed his players to gain control of the team as a whole, if he had been tougher and stomped out the bad things those players were doing (getting in trouble with the law, challenges coaches and other players in unacceptable ways). 

I really recommend this article for any (even casual) college football fan as it goes considerably in-depth into one of the most dominant programs in the sport of the last two decades.