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Blame Game? Nope. But Questioning Meyer’s Discipline At Florida Is Fair Game

blame-game-fingersIt’s one of the oldest and most successful dodges in all the world.  It can be used in various settings from political debates to press conferences, newspaper columns to blogs, and tweets to family arguments.

It’s as simple as this:

 

Person A asks a question.

Person B takes that question, exaggerates it, and then shoots down the exaggeration in an effort to avoid the actual question.

 

And that’s the end of the initial question.  At least in theory.

We bring this up because we’re reading a lot about how former Florida football coach Urban Meyer is being “blamed” for the crimes allegedly committed by former Gator tight end Aaron Hernandez.  Meyer has said it’s “irresponsible” to blame him.  Meyer’s family has taken to Twitter to defend their paterfamilias as well.  Even in-your-face CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel has jumped in to take Meyer’s side and accuse people of “blaming” the UF coach (and/or Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick) for Hernandez’s alleged crimes.

The trouble with all of the blame talk is pretty easy to spot.  Or not spot, as it were.  Meaning: I have not found anyone — at least not anyone who’s ever been handed an actual press credential at some point in their life — who has said Meyer was “responsible” for the death of Odin Lloyd (and possibly others).

Not one serious column or opinion piece has claimed that Lloyd (and possibly others) would be alive today if Meyer had handled things differently with his former star tight end.

I have seen people ask what the hell kind of ship Meyer was running while in Gainesville.  But that’s been going on since Meyer was actually running said ship in said city.  When you have 31 players arrested between 2005 and 2010 you can expect some questions.  When the majority of those players don’t miss serious playing time, you can expect even more queries.

I personally pointed out on June 27th that — in my opinion — from a disciplinary standpoint it sure looked like Meyer had more interest in keeping his players on the field than in teaching them life lessons.  I called that “enabling.”  Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun quickly responded that Meyer had held Bible study sessions with none other than Hernandez right in the coach’s very own domicile.  Why, at that point I almost felt bad about questioning the Gators’ discipline under Meyer.

But then I remembered that love, hugs and Bible studies can also be provided for suspended players, too.  And when a player fails multiple drug tests, is arrested in a bar fight at age 17, and is questioned as part of an investigation into a shooting — call me crazy — but a meaningful suspension from football might be in order.

At Florida under Meyer, that wasn’t the case for Hernandez.  Now, he did have to sit out one game as part of the school’s official drug policy, but as I pointed out in this site’s previous column on the topic, Meyer didn’t want anyone to even know that his guy had been suspended.  Rather than admit that Hernandez had broken an unspecified team rule, Meyer claimed that Hernandez just hadn’t gotten himself ready to play that week.

Folks, look up “players’ coach” in the dictionary and you’ll find a photo of the ex-UF and current Ohio State head coach smiling back at you.

But is writing any of that actually blaming Meyer for what happened with Hernandez a few years later in Massachusetts?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s stating that Meyer liked to spare the rod on the disciplinary front.  I think it’s questioning — questioning, mind you — whether that tack is the best approach to take when dealing with repeat offenders, of which there were several at Florida under the Meyer regime.

To suggest that asking questions about Meyer’s tenure at Florida is blaming him for Hernandez’s actions later in life is an exaggeration that simplifies and misrepresents what I and so many others are now writing.  (See: The beginning of this column.)

This is a site that has covered the Southeastern Conference objectively for five years.  Hernandez played at an SEC school under a coach who had a reputation for looking the other way when his players got into trouble.  I can assure you, I would have written the same things had Hernandez gotten into his current mess after playing for any other SEC coach whose program had been the subject of so many off-the-field scrapes with so little punishment handed out in response.

It’s not unfair in the least to question what a coach knew about his players’ activities and how he responded to them.  Did the coach use a look-the-other-way policy to keep his players on the field?  See?  That’s a fair question.  Here’s another: Did the coach try to teach his players right from wrong by taking away the one and only currency that matters to NFL wannabes at big-time programs — playing time?

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Hernandez Gun Photo Punctuates Meyer’s Shameful Disciplinary Record At UF

Can we officially defrock Coach Urban the Pious at this point?

During Urban Meyer’s tenure at Florida, no one in college football did a better job of protecting his athletes from the press.  Remember this scene?

 

Urban Meyer ripping into Orlando Sentinel's Jeremy Fowler (3-24-10)

 

Ridiculous.

In case you’ve forgotten, the reporter Meyer berated had dared to quote a Gator player verbatim in a story.  Jeremy Fowler, you bad guy.  Meyer later apologized for his over-the-top reaction to a man doing his job.

Under Meyer, his Gators also got protection from the long arm of the law… at least when it came to punishing his players for their illegal activities.  More than 30 players were arrested during Meyer’s reign.  The number of suspensions and dismissals from the team was somewhat smaller.

Meyer said upon taking his current job that the arrests had more to do with stupid mistakes than “bad kids.”  Possibly.  But was it just a mistake when speedster Chris Rainey texted a woman the message “Time to Die Bitch” and found himself behind bars for it?  Meyer would probably say so since he reinstated the player to the team.  

In a real show of appreciation, Rainey himself said after Meyer’s departure that the coach and some of his assistants “were scared” of certain members of the UF team.  The players under Meyer also knew that he would let them get away with failed drug tests and arrests.  When Janoris Jenkins was booted from the Gators by new coach Will Muschamp over a marijuana-related arrest, the current NFL defensive back said: “If (Meyer) was still the coach at Florida, I’d still be there.”

The theme of Meyer’s tenure seemed to be “everybody wins on the field; anything goes off it.”

But did Meyer’s protection of players — from both the press and lengthy suspensions and dismissals — help the athletes in question?  Former Gator Aaron Hernandez is now in jail, charged with murder in the first.  While at Florida, NFL sources said last week that he’d failed up to six drug tests.  UF officials said he didn’t fail six, specifically, so it might have been five.  Or four.  Either way, Hernandez missed all of one game while at Florida.  And it was claimed at the time that he was being held out for an injury.  Meyer didn’t even want anyone to know Hernandez had broken an unspecified team rule.

Failed drug tests weren’t the only trouble that the star tight end found himself in.  Hernandez was arrested as a juvenile during his first year in Gainesville following a fight at a local bar.  He was also questioned in connection with the shooting and wounding of two men in 2007.

Now, the website TMZ.com has posted a 2009 photo of Hernandez proudly posing with a Glock while a member of the Gator football team.  Whether he was a legal gun owner is questionable because a lawsuit filed against the player just last week for yet another shooting claims that Hernandez “was not legally licensed to have” the gun he allegedly used in that shooting.

And regardless of whether or not the gun was licensed to Hernandez, this isn’t the kind of photo schools want to see associated with their football program:

 

aaron-hernandez-gun

 

At this point, can everyone admit that Hernandez has always had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time… at the very least?  And that his coach did the bare minimum from a disciplinary standpoint to help teach him right from wrong?  Instead of having Hernandez’s best interests at heart, Meyer had his back.

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OG Dunker Transferring From Florida After Legal Woes

jessamen-dunker-florida-scooter-stolenThe brief career of former hotshot prospect Jessamen Dunker has come to an end at Florida.  The offensive guard had been suspended from the Gator squad since his arrest in January for riding a stolen motorscooter on the UF campus.

Will Muschamp announced the transfer last evening:

 

“I met with Jessamen Dunker, matter of fact about an hour before I came in here.  He’s decided to transfer.  He and I just felt like he needed a fresh start.  He felt like he needed a fresh start, and I didn’t disagree with him.  Didn’t really get into where.  We’re going to continue to work through that.  It’s his job to finish up strong academically here at Florida…

Guys get in a situation and obviously he’s got some pretty well-documented off-the-field issues, and we talked about it and he felt like he needed a fresh start and I support him.”

 

Here’s hoping the redshirt freshman can work through the legal case that’s still open against him.  Perhaps this decision was more Dunker’s than Muschamp’s, but it’s certainly fair to wonder if Dunker might still be on the Gator team if Urban Meyer were still practicing his brand of “discipline” in Gainesville.

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Muschamp Says Lack Of Depth Will Impact UF’s Spring Game

gfx - they said itFlorida’s spring game on April 6th might not be much of a game if depth issues on the Gators’ offensive line persist.  Currently, UF has just six scholarship O-linemen who are healthy and ready for action.  A string of injuries, surgeries, and one suspension have Florida’s front wall short on building blocks.

With Florida using a run-first offensive system, Will Muschamp says it may be necessary for him to scale the spring game back to a regular, run-of-the-mill practice:

 

“We’re adjusting as we go.  Even with the spring game, it may be more of a practice-like atmosphere…

What’s hard for the offensive line is just taking 60 straight snaps.  That’s kind of difficult for just five guys to take that.  We’re incorporating within the scrimmage some 7-on-7 (and) some special teams periods, where we just concentrate and let those guys get a break.”

 

Florida will add five freshman offensive lineman in the fall and others are expected to return from the injured list.  As for his current thin ranks, Muschamp says it hasn’t prevented the Gators from practicing well this spring.  “We’ve still had a good, physical spring,” the third-year coach said.  “I feel very strong with where we are on the offensive line.”

Florida finished third in the SEC in rushing yards per game last year.  Only Ole Miss (42.54) rushed the ball with greater regularity than Florida and its 41.46 carries per game.

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Good News, Gators… Full Strength Ahead

clean-bill-of-health-doctor-giving-the-thumbs-upFlorida finished up a Tuesday night road loss at Tennessee without the services of Will Yeguete, Michael Frazier II, and Casey Prather.  It was the Gators’ third SEC loss since February 5th, probably costing the Gators a #1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament… for now.

The upside?  All three banged-up players have now been cleared to resume practice.  This as the Gators prepare for a Saturday home date with Alabama who now sits just one game behind them in the SEC standings.

Prather left Tuesday’s game late after colliding with a teammate and suffering a forehead gash.  Frazier missed the Tennessee contest altogether with a concussion he suffered Saturday as Florida hosted Arkansas.  Yeguete played just one minute of UF’s road loss at Arkansas back on February 5th.  He had surgery to remove bone chips from his knee three days later and his been out ever since.

After starting SEC play 8-0, Billy Donovan’s squad has gone 4-3 since Yeguette’s early exit at Fayetteville.

If Florida can get everyone back on the floor and back into the groove they’d found prior to the injuries, there’s still time for the 22-5 Gators to make another push for a top seed in the NCAA tourney.   Defense and rebounding will be the key.  With Yeguette, Frazier and Prather healthy, UF allowed just 48.6 points per game in its first eight SEC games.  That’s a ridiculous number.  But without his full complement of players, Donovan has seen his squad give up 60.4 points per game in the seven contests since Yeguete’s brief cameo at Arkansas.

If Florida is healthy and their defense returns to pre-injury form, look out for the Gators at the SEC Tournament.

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New Florida Line Coach Helps Land Recruit

Former New York Giants linebacker Corey Miller played under Brad Lawing at South Carolina.  His son Christian will play under the new defensive line coach at Florida.  The Rivals 100 member committed to the Gators over the weekend and mentioned his father’s relationship as a reason. “I know him very well, and he makes me feel comfortable. He’s one of the main reasons I chose UF.”

Offensive linemen Travaris Dorsey and Benjamin Knox also committed to the Gators, giving them six members in their 2014 class.

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Observations On Florida’s Nightmarish Sugar Bowl

observation-pointA few thoughts and tidbits that ran through the noggin during Louisville’s 33-23 win over Florida in last evening’s Sugar Bowl:

 

*  Florida fans shouldn’t complain too much about the loss.  No, really.  They shouldn’t.

Because they didn’t take Louisville any more seriously than the Gator players did.

That won’t actually prevent grumbling, of course, but the fact is, many Gator fans moaned about having to play a Big East team.  UF also failed to sell out its bowl allotment by a pretty good chunk.  So if a fan — who could afford to go — didn’t take the Cardinals seriously and didn’t go to the game, I don’t see how that fan can whine too much about his team not showing up, either.

 

*  Florida went 11-1 against the season’s toughest SEC schedule.  They did so with a heckuva defense and a penchant for taking care of the ball (they were plus-17 going into last night’s game).  In our game preview, we wrote that with Florida’s depth and talent, turnovers were the only thing that could undo the Gators’ chances in New Orleans.  One fumble and two interceptions later — including an INT returned for a touchdown 15 seconds into the game — and UF had another loss on its ledger.

UF went 11-0 when it turned the ball over two or fewer times in a game this past season.  The Gators were 0-2 when they turned it over more than twice (six turnovers versus Georgia, three versus Louisville).  Even simpler, Florida was 11-0 when it won the turnover battle, 0-2 when it lost it.  Which goes to show…

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Gator Fans Haven’t Exactly Snapped Up Sugar Bowl Tickets; Blame The Weather

florida postcardThere are lots of different ways to buy tickets to games these days.  From brokers on the internet.  Via eBay.  Outside the stadium doors by way of scalpers.

But the tried and true method of gauging a fanbase’s interest in a bowl game is still a simple check of the number of tickets sold through their favorite school’s box office.  And by that measure, Florida fans have not been gobbling up tickets for tonight’s Sugar Bowl game with Louisville.

Not surprisingly, Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel takes Gator fans to task for that:

 

“Florida coach Will Muschamp says the nation’s economic downturn has played a significant factor in the number of UF tickets sold, but personally I think it’s more of an enthusiasm downturn among Florida fans. How else do you explain Florida selling less tickets than any other bowl team in the SEC? How else do you explain upstart Louisville selling twice as many tickets from its allotment as Florida?

Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, a longtime defensive coordinator at UF, witnessed first-hand the evolution of the UF program. He remembers when the Gators getting invited to the Sugar Bowl constituted a special season. Now, though, a trip to New Orleans is treated like a trip to the bathroom.

‘Florida is a program that has had so much tradition over the last few years,’ Strong says. ‘At Louisville, this is just our second BCS bowl game, so our fans are excited.’

Translation: Florida fans have become spoiled and blasé.”

 

Bianchi goes on to say that the reputation of “Gator Nation” is bigger than it should be and that Florida fans are “a bit overrated when compared to those at traditional powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska and Texas.”

There are multiple factors involved in this situation that need to be mentioned.  One is the economic downturn that Muschamp has mentioned.  But the economy hasn’t slowed the ticket-buyers from Louisville.  Also, while fans across the nation are staying home and watching games on television more often, Florida had more trouble selling tickets for so-so games this year than most 11-win, top 10-ranked teams would have.  (If you looked at the stands in the Swamp during some of UF’s 2012 nonconference games you know what we’re talking about.)

The spoiled factor certainly plays a role as Bianchi suggests.  But that happens at a lot of other places, too.

There is one issue, however, that is unique to a handful of big-time football programs of which Florida is one.  That’s weather, climate.  And, yes, we believe Florida’s place on the US map may exacerbate the school’s problem with ticket sales.

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A Pregame Rumble, A UF Coach Shoving A UGA Player, Cats And Dogs Living Together…

Georgia’s Mark Richt has a reputation for being a nice guy, a Goody Two-Shoes.  But when it comes to letting his players walk right up to the edge of starting fights, he washes his hands like Pontius Pilate and allows it to happen.  Repeatedly.

Several years ago his team stomped on the “T” logo at midfield before a game at Tennessee.  He also instructed his players to draw a celebration penalty after UGA’s first score against Florida a few seasons back.  Both instances could have led to fisticuffs in the testosterone-fueled, macho world of college football.  And something that occurred this past weekend could have led to a (bigger) fight as well.

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Vegas And The SEC: Just How Accurate Are Those Opening Lines?

Here at MrSEC.com we’ve been known to travel out to Las Vegas on occasion in order to chat with various bookmakers about the lines that they set.  If you’ve read this site for any length of time, you know that we’re told just about every summer by just about every oddsmaker who’ll talk that:

 

1.  The line is set purely to bring in equal amounts of cash on both sides.

2.  The line is set with Las Vegas gamblers in mind.  The casino companies don’t care what deal you get from Vinny the Nose in Valdosta.  They make money off what people spend in their sportsbooks.

3.  For that reason, West Coast schools often get a little more love when it comes to setting the opening lines.  Ditto Big Ten schools with their enormous alumni bases.  Simple math and geography suggest casinos are more likely to be visited by Ohio State and UCLA alums on a fall Saturday than they are by Western Kentucky grads.

4.  Big names get a little bump, too, because they’re big names.  “Softcore” gamblers are more likely to throw money at some school they’ve heard of so big-time, traditional programs like Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma often see their lines fudged a point or two.

 

All that said, many fans still believe that the opening line set by Las Vegas Sports Consultants — and many Vegas’ books start with that company’s number — is truly a prediction of who will win a game and by what margin.  Whenever we write a piece trying to explain that that’s not what the books are doing and that they’re simply trying to make money based in large part off local gamblers’ perceptions of teams (re-read points 1-4 above), we always get a number of responses asking us something akin to this: “Then why are those numbers so often right?”

Honest answer?  They’re not so often right.

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