- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Matt Hayes of The Sporting News has an extensive piece on Urban Meyer leaving what Meyer himself once described as a "broken" program at Florida.
Quoting sources and former players, Hayes paints a picture of a program that had a serious drug problem and one that had a different set of rules for star players.
Former Florida safety Bryan Thomas told Hayes, "The program was out of control."
Meyer, now the Ohio State coach, reportedly told top receiver prospect Stefon Diggs during the recent recruiting cycle that Meyer wouldn't allow his son to go to Florida because of significant character issues in the locker room. Diggs was considering Florida, Maryland and Ohio State at the time and wound up choosing Maryland.
Meyer denies that he ever painted Florida in a bad light to Diggs or his family.
Either way, it's not a pretty picture that Hayes paints in his piece, which was the culmination of a three-month Sporting News investigation.
One former player told Hayes, "Over the last two years (Meyer) was there, the players had taken complete control of the team."
Hayes' investigation uncovered what was called a "Circle of Trust," where select players were said to be given preferential treatment and not punished the same as others, which rocked team chemistry.
For instance, Hayes writes that former receiver Percy Harvin physically attacked then receivers coach Billy Gonzales during the 2008 season and threw him to the ground and had to be pulled off of Gonzales by other coaches. Sources told Hayes that Harvin was never disciplined. Meyer said he'd never heard of a "Circle of Trust."
Also, to open the 2008 season -- the Gators' second national championship season under Meyer -- he said publicly that Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez and Harvin all missed the opener because of injuries, but sources told Hayes that they were suspended and missed the game after testing positive for marijuana.
Current Florida coach Will Muschamp declined to be interviewed for Hayes' story. But it was obvious when Muschamp took over the program following the 2010 season that he had some major disinfecting to do. He dismissed his best player, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, following Jenkins' second drug-related arrest, and Jenkins later told The Orlando Sentinel that if Meyer were still the coach at Florida that he'd still be playing.
So even though Muschamp inherited some talent from the Meyer regime (although not nearly as much as some of the recruiting rankings would suggest), he also inherited some serious headaches, which probably explains as well as anything why the Gators in the past two seasons have lost 11 games, gone 0-9 against nationally ranked teams and haven't beaten an SEC team that finished the season with a winning record.