Commentary

What will Meyer's legacy be at UF?

Meyer leaves behind a full trophy case, some new traditions and some hurt feelings

Updated: November 30, 2011, 12:13 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There is no denying that Urban Meyer accomplished some impressive things during his six seasons at Florida.

He won two Southeastern Conference titles and two national championships.

He posted three consecutive 10-win seasons.

He won more games (65) than every coach but Steve Spurrier (122) and Ray Graves (70), and his winning percentage (65-15, .813) is barely behind Spurrier's school record (.817).

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AP Photo/Chris O'MearaFlorida head coach Urban Meyer, his wife Shelley, left, and their son Nate sing with the band after Meyer's final win at Florida -- a defeat of Penn State, 37-24 in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011 in Tampa, Fla.
But is all that tainted now that he has become the new coach at Ohio State, just 11 months after leaving Florida because of his health and to spend more time with his family?

There are fans who certainly feel that way -- and you can find an almost endless stream of complaints, insults and criticism on Twitter -- but there are also those who are grateful for what Meyer did for the program from 2005-10. Hard feelings eventually fade with time, but what Meyer accomplished on the field can't be erased. Certainly no one wants to stick the two crystal footballs in a storage closet next to some old shoulder pads and helmets.

Categorizing Meyer's legacy isn't a simple task. He did some great things at Florida, but his time certainly wasn't perfect. Too many arrests (31), his resignation flip-flop in less than 24 hours in 2009, and his abrupt resignation last December just days after promising to "rebuild it [the program] right" certainly marred the end of his tenure.

Meyer won big at Florida. UF set a school record with 13 victories in 2006 and equaled that in 2008 and 2009. He dominated rivalry games, going 17-2 against Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State and Miami. He never lost to Tennessee (6-0) and had 5-1 records against Georgia and FSU.

Meyer led the Gators to a 36-5 record at Florida Field, which included a 16-0 start to his career and 14 consecutive victories over the 2008-10 seasons.

More importantly, he won SEC and national titles in 2006 and 2008. He also had the Gators one game away from playing for the national title again in 2009 before losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

He went 5-1 in bowl games, including 3-0 in BCS bowls.

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AP Photo/Phil SandlinPlayers Bryant Royal, right, Mike Degory, left, and coach Urban Meyer, center, pat a decorative alligator for luck as they enter the stadium on Florida's first Gator Walk before Meyer's first game of his first season in 2005.
But it's not just the wins and titles that Meyer leaves behind. He also established some traditions that new coach Will Muschamp has continued: the pregame Gator Walk and singing the alma mater with the school band after each game.

He also teamed up with basketball coach Billy Donovan as co-chairmen of an effort to raise $50 million to support the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, which is meant to help first-generation students.

That makes for a pretty impressive resume, and one that shouldn't be dismissed lightly just because someone is unhappy with Meyer's final season or his decision to leave, UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

"We will always be indebted to Urban Meyer and his contributions to the University of Florida," Foley said. "He elevated our program, winning multiple national championships and made a strong impact in this community."

Despite his impact and accomplishments, Meyer will never be as beloved as Spurrier, who won six SEC titles and one national title. What fans need remember, former UF receiver Chris Doering said, is that college football is just as much a business as a trucking company or marketing firm. A coach's job is to win games, and gone are the days where they are supposed to adopt their university.

"All of us Florida fans were spoiled by Spurrier," said Doering, who has a sports talk radio show in Gainesville and Ocala. "That was a unique situation where he went to school there, won the Heisman Trophy, was a Gator through and through, and comes back and coaches the football team. ... A lot of us have that attitude that, 'Once a Gator, always a Gator,' and you love the university, but in this case it's different.

"You got what you paid for. Florida paid a big salary for a guy to come in and have success. During the time he was here he earned a lot of money, but he also won two national championships and that's the bottom line these days in college football."

That goes back to wins and losses, and Meyer's final team had five losses -- which is half as many as he had in his first five seasons combined -- and looked nothing like the teams that dominated the SEC. There were several embarrassing losses -- including a 10-7 setback to Mississippi State at home and a 31-7 rout by Florida State in Tallahassee -- and the offense was a mess.

In the moments after the loss to the Seminoles on Nov. 27, 2010, Meyer said it would require hard work to rebuild the program and that required "tough-ass players and tough-ass coaches." Eleven days later he resigned, citing health reasons and the desire to spend more time with his family.

Nearly two months later, at the end of January, Meyer joined ESPN as a college football analyst and color commentator. Ten months later, he took the job at Ohio State.

That's why fans are angry, said Randy Echevarria, the president of the Jax Beach Gator Club. They're not mad that Meyer took the Ohio State job. They feel that Meyer was disingenuous about his reasons for leaving Florida.

"His legacy's tainted because he has no credibility as far as him taking time off for being healthy and spending time with his family," Echevarria said. "It doesn't matter what [coaching] job he took.

"He said he needed to take time off for health reasons and spend time with his family, then he goes and takes a job with ESPN. If he would have just said, 'I'm burned out and I've got to take a break,' he would have had more credibility."

Meyer's legacy may be tarnished a bit now, but time will eventually return the shine.

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.

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