Sunday, December 03, 2006

Coming to terms with Urban

There is no time when I had a greater passion for Falcon football than when Urban Meyer was our coach. When he was named the coach (six years ago today), it was hard to figure out exactly how he had gotten the job--he had never even been a coordinator. Anywhere. Lou Holtz (who I dislike strongly), said Meyer had something special. Lou was right.

The team was 2-9 the year before. Urban turned the team right around with an opening season win @ Missouri. Later, we went to Northwestern and won our second game ever in a Big 10 Stadium, and wrapped up the season by beating Toledo 56-21 in an absolute beat down, smack down. To this day, if I want my blood to pump, I watch our highlight video from that season: "Why not us, why not now?" It makes me want to run through a brick wall.

You wanted to follow him. He had a presence, a way of establishing expectations. And the football on the was entertaining, risk-taking and unabashedly aggressive. Someone would score on us, and we would be in their territory three plays later. We blocked punts, we faked punts. We had throwbacks and screens. We brought unremitting and unrelenting pressure on a defense.

Next year, we were 9-3, including a thrilling victory against Missouri on our field. Just to give a flavor of how it felt, check out this from the St. Louis Post Dispatch the day after the game.

Sorry, Mizzou fans; loss to imaginative Falcons is no upset

GREEN, Ohio - If the dateline had been different, maybe it would
be easier to digest this, but the setting was all out of whack. If the dateline said
Norman, Okla., or Lincoln, Neb., or even Austin, Texas, it all would have made
so much more sense. But none of this made even a little sense, because what was
happening to Mizzou was not being perpetrated in some hallowed college football
temple like Oklahoma's Owen Field, or Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. On this
breezy, steamy Saturday night, in this most unlikely place called Doyt L. Perry
Stadium, the Tigers were routed not by Nebraska, but by Bowling, freaking Green.

"My heart's in my stomach right now," said Missouri kick returner Tyrone
Roberson. "I'm hurting, I'm really hurting."

Roberson and the rest of the Tigers are hurting with just cause after a 51-28 spanking, not simply because of the final outcome, but because of the painful and obvious fact that this was no upset.

The better team won.

Now there will be a whole lot of folks all across the state this morning scratching their heads and wondering how a team like Bowling Green -- so far out of the loop of the BCS championship series that even Martha Burk couldn't get them an invitation to the national championship dance -- could do such a thorough destruction on a team from the almighty Big 12. But don't be fooled by the intimate 30,000-seat
stadium, or the Mid-American Conference pedigree, or the names on the Falcons'
roster that look so unfamiliar to the world of big-time college football.

What happened here was no fluke. First of all, take a quick glance at
the college scoreboard this morning, and what you'll see is several MAC teams
giving schools from the major conferences absolute fits. It happens all the
time. Now, take a deep breath and listen to the stats that Bowling Green piled
up on Missouri:

When you pile up 577 yards of total offense, and score
on six of your first seven possessions (the half ended on the seventh), that's
no fluke. When you build a 34-14 lead by halftime, when you have a quarterback
named Josh Harris giving you 394 yards of total offense (311 passing, 83
running), a receiver named Robert Redd, who caught 10 passes for 209 yards and 1
TD, and a running back named Joe Alls, who added 119 yards rushing . . . Oh
yeah, and a wide receiver named Cole Magner who threw 2 TD passes just for
yucks, this is no upset. This is simply one of the most dazzling offenses Mizzou
will see all season.

If you do not know much about the Falcons, here's a little introduction. A year ago, they made the top one-year turnaround in NCAA Division I-A, going from 2-9 two years ago to an 8-3 record. Bowling Green head coach Urban Meyer was the MAC coach of the year last season with good reason. His dazzling spread offense has no fancy name like Fun 'N Gun, or Run & Shoot. But what it lacks in name recognition, it more than makes up for in entertaining, head-spinning effectiveness. With a jaw-dropping quarterback like Harris operating almost exclusively from the shotgun, the Falcons threw every conceivable bit of offensive fireworks at Mizzou's defense, and waded up the field with little resistance.

If you think Mike Martz has a vivid offensive imagination, wait until you get a peek inside the diabolical offensive mind of Urban Meyer. This guy's offense is so aggressive, he makes Martz look positively timid. Imagine a wild video game in hyper-drive, and you begin to understand what this Bowling Green attack looked like. There were five-receiver sets, empty backfields, shovel passes, reverses, double screen option passes, reverse option passes, quick pitches, option pitches, and when they got really bored, the Falcons even used straight handoffs to the tailback Alls.

And there was nothing the Tigers could do to stop them. They did not overlook
Bowling Green, nor were they surprised by all the razzle-dazzle. "We knew they
did a lot of trick plays," said starting middle linebacker James Kinney. "We
just didn't stop them."

And now, in a weird way, this major butt-whipping could be the turning point in Missouri's season. If they did have a big head after beating Illinois, the hat size shrunk dramatically Saturday night. Coach Gary Pinkel says they are neither as good as they looked against Illinois, nor as bad as they looked against Bowling Green. Now they have the rest of the season to show us Pinkel's right, and figure out exactly where they do fit in on college football's pecking order.

Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the day Urban Meyer was named our coach.

And next Monday is the fourth anniversary of when he left.

Rumors swirled throughout the second season that he was on his way out. Though young (not even 40), he was the hottest commodity in the coaching profession.

In response to the rumors, Urban stepped up to do an interview with the Sentinel, ostensibly to try and reassure people that he would not be leaving. It was called Staying Put, and in it he said things like this:

"We are nowhere near what we can do here. That's what's driving me right
now," Meyer said Tuesday afternoon. "Everybody's worried about those other
places; nothing's going on."

"I was contacted by one, but I'm not interested. I love it here. We have a
lot of work to do. That's the bottom line."

Meyer said the talk of him leaving started when he took the Bowling Green
job. Coaches from other schools tell recruits Meyer is not going to stay with
the Falcons.

"With recruits, that's been for two years, even before we won," he said.
"(They say) "that guy's not going to be there very long"; that's silly ... The
future is fantastic here ... I'm proud to be the football coach here.

"Once they get to know me, know my family, know how important it is to have
continuity, my kids going to school somewhere."

I read that interview. And I bought it. I believed him when he said it. Then, two days later, he announced he was going to Utah.

On December 11, 2002, he left BG.

I felt like someone had ripped my heart from my chest. I felt so betrayed, and I was so angry--angry beyond any reasonable level. I was not alone. Signs popped up around campus calling him "Urban Liar."

I hated Urban Meyer with a white-hot hate. I declared him "dead to me." I was so angry that I actually questioned the time I had spent following spectator sports, and whether it had not brought a greater misery index to my life. For three weeks, I swore off sports completely. Didn't read the stories about Brandon being hired. Stayed off the Internet message boards. Decided, in my mind, to find another hobby, one less painful.

It would have been one thing to leave. But to leave two days after calling the notion "silly," after selling me on the idea you were committed to staying, after bringing your family into it, I simply could not contain myself.

It lasted, too. I rooted against him in Utah. I could hardly stand the sight of him. Then, three things happened.

  • First, I got over it like the grown up I am supposed to be.
  • Second, he hosed Utah, and that sort of took the stain off for us.
  • Third, I heard about something he did for someone--someone who had nothing to
    offer him. He did something incredibly nice--and more than that, something
    incredibly thoughtful, something which reflected the actions of a person that wasn't the
    vector of evil that I had built in my mind.
So, I decided to stop hating Urban Meyer. And I will be rooting for him on January 8th, both because I hate the Buckeyes, and because it will be pretty cool for us to have had a piece of a guy who is now working his third two year miracle in coaching.

A few thoughts on Urban as a coach.

  • He's a good one. When he left BG, the team thrived for two years, and then is 10-13 over the next two seasons. Utah has also failed to keep their momentum. In both cases, Urban assistants were put in charge of the programs. Clearly, he makes a difference.
  • A lot of people (including Coach Brandon, who is a friend of Urban's), have been blaming Urban's recruiting for our hole in the senior class this season. My opinion is that Urban told Gregg to blame it on him, and Gregg did. I don't think Brandon really believes it, but it is something to say to take pressure off yourself.
  • Some question Urban's ability to win with his own players. That is a laugh. Look at the talent he recruited to our program. This year's Florida team played the nation's highest number of freshmen--those are all his guys, too.

So that's my star-crossed relationship with being a fan of Urban Meyer. I'm not proud of how strongly I felt--I'm not proud I hated him--but I'm not exaggerating. I really did. Go Gators!

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