COACH URBAN Meyer was asked by a reporter the other day about former University of Florida player Aaron Hernandez being arrested and charged with murder.
Meyer, the coach at Ohio State, offered a six-word response:
“I’m not gonna talk about that.”
Of course he’s not.
Funny, you can’t get Meyer to shut up about coaching Tim Tebow at Florida, but now he won’t say a word about his experience coaching Hernandez at Florida. Meyer commented the other day about Tebow perhaps playing tight end for the Patriots, but he won’t comment on Hernandez being accused of murder while playing tight end for the Patriots.
Maybe it’s because Hernandez — just as much as Tebow — is becoming the handcuffed, perp-walking symbol of what Florida football represented during the Meyer era. Tebow and Hernandez both helped Meyer’s Gators win national championships, but they have gone on to become divergently emblematic of his program.
Tebow was the wholesome choirboy; Hernandez the thuggish tough guy. Tebow is recognized as one of the sports world’s greatest role models and ambassadors; Hernandez is now an accused murderer and the national poster boy for the NFL’s dark, discreditable criminal underside.
Here’s all you need to know: According to a Gainesville police report acquired by the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, when Hernandez first signed with Florida as a 17-year-old freshman, he got into a bar fight and sucker punched the bouncer so hard that it busted the poor guy’s ear drum. Guess who was at the bar/restaurant trying to break up the fight? That’s right, none other than Tebow himself.
The police report did not specify whether Tebow laid hands on the bouncer’s damaged ear to restore his hearing.
The point is this: Tebow was the great deodorizer for a Meyer program that often reeked from the stench of players running afoul of the law. If I’ve written it once, I’ve written it a million times: Whenever one of Urban’s outlaws would get arrested for running up charges on a dead woman’s credit card; or would steal a $1,500 laptop computer and then throw it out the window when police arrived; or would get shot with a Taser while trying to elude the cops; or would open up the trunk of his car and pull out an AK-47 and begin firing it into the air, the Gators could always point to Tebow bringing a smile to a dying kid’s face at a cancer ward; or preaching to inmates at the local prison; or providing food and medical supplies to orphan children in the Philippines.
Make no mistake about it, Timmy Terrific wasn’t just a magical quarterback who could pull out miraculous victories; he was the magic eraser who could miraculously make felonious stains disappear.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming Meyer for Hernandez being arrested for murder. That would be as asinine as blaming John McKay and Southern Cal for O.J. Simpson’s ride in the back of the white Bronco. Hernandez is a grown man and responsible for his own actions.
But there is also an old saying: “If you sleep with dogs, eventually you’re gonna get fleas.” And, by the time Meyer left Florida, his program was like a fleabag motel, infected from the shady characters he recruited and the discipline he failed to instill. The fact is, Meyer gave his players so much rope that you knew they would eventually construct a noose and choke the life out of what he built at Florida.
I got a first-hand look at Meyer’s discipline the year Will Muschamp succeeded him at Florida and kicked star cornerback Janoris Jenkins off the team after two marijuana arrests in a matter of weeks. Jenkins transferred to Division II North Alabama, where I went up and interviewed him a few months later.
“No doubt, if coach Meyer were still coaching, I’d still be playing for the Gators,” Jenkins said. “Coach Meyer knows what it takes to win.”
At Florida, Meyer was the best in the business at winning.
At all costs.
Sadly, though, Aaron Hernandez now stands alongside Tim Tebow as a symbol of his Florida program.
At Florida, Tebow was not only a great Gator.
He was Urban Meyer’s greatest fumi-Gator.