Forget The Process! The Right Man Got The Job

Okay so maybe there wasn't this long, exhaustive "search" where no stone was left unturned, the one that was promised by Bernie Machen the day that Ron Zook was fired. So maybe the "search" didn't exactly result in several well publicized cross country jaunts punctuated by a dozen different interviews of a dozen different coaches, all of whom are worthy of consideration.

Maybe the feathers of a certain former coach got a bit ruffled along the way, and perhaps a booster or two with some big bucks needs a hug right about now because the coach at a school playing for the national championship maybe didn't understand just how much money he could be making.

Does it really matter? At this exact moment, really, does anyone care?

The reason that no one should care is because no matter how exhaustive or how narrow the search for a new football coach at the University of Florida, it's the end result that counts. Maybe you didn't like the process. Who cares? Perhaps you wanted someone else to be interviewed. Who cares? All that matters is the end result, so if you're grading this one on results and not style points, give President Bernie Machen and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley an A-plus because they understood that this is football where games are not won by judges and pixies who can somersault and vault and twirl but by well prepared teams with coaches who are ready to seize the moment.

In Urban Meyer, Florida has that man. He is probably as well prepared as any man on the planet to step in and seize the moment. He is the right man at the right time for this job, and more importantly, he is the guy who is capable of bringing together all those factions that have been split right down the seams for the past three years in the Gator nation.

Ron Zook is gone now to the University of Illinois. He was a good man who brought a lot of hard work and integrity to the job at the University of Florida. Whether or not he should have been fired could be debated till the cows come home. There are those who say he should have never been hired, others who say the experiment should have been over after one year, and others who say that three years was just not enough time to prove if he was capable of leading the Gators to greatness that could have been long and lasting. For all his good qualities, all his recruiting skills and all his hard work, Zook never won with the kind of consistency that kept the masses satisfied nor did he ever totally get the fan base behind his efforts.

The merits of Zook can be argued some other time because today, this was the beginning of a new era. It was Urban Meyer's day and the moment he stepped to the podium, you understood why Jeremy Foley said, "There's a presence about him." One press conference a career does not make, but if this press conference is indicative of the kind of confidence and poise the new head coach has, it's going to be a good ride. On this first day before the media in the Norm Carlson Press Lounge at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Urban Meyer worked the room like Sinatra used to work a smoke filled bar. He was the crooner and the music was sweet.

He spoke with optimism of the future. He thanked Coach Zook for the great job he did, and praised Zooker as one of the great recruiters. He embraced the past and a certain living legend who will be dressed appropriately in black in November 2005. He did it all with the kind of confidence that brought back memories of Darth Visor himself. Urban's got that baby face about him, that gleam in his eye and that kind of smile that Gator fans will love and opponents will hate because they'll be quick to call it a smirk.

And, as Buddy Martin, one of the true historians of the modern era of Gator football so aptly put it, "He gets it!"

He gets it because he is a college football guy all the way.

"A lot of times people say 'do you have any ambition to go to the NFL' and I say none whatsoever," he said. "It's all about the pageantry and tradition of college football which in my mind is second to none."

He gets it because twenty years from now he sees himself on a college campus, hopefully this one, still embracing all the things that he sees that are good about college football. He likes it that kids can earn a college education by playing football. He likes it that football can rally the students, alumni, fans and community. He likes it that football can cause pride to swell on and off the campus, that the love that people feel for the university can be furthered by the right kinds of success enjoyed by its football program.

"Interaction with the student body is a big part of our job description," he said, "maybe more than any staff in the country. We will have a complete hands on approach with the student body. It's what we have done at Bowling Green and at the University of Utah.

"I do believe everything about this football program is the responsibility of the head coach --- behavior issues, discipline issues, performance on the field and how the fans react to your team, that's all the responsibility of the head coach. Can that one coach do it? No, but that's why you better have nine great assistant coaches and players who believe in the same things you do. If they do you can get that community right around you. I've seen it happen."

He also gets it because of the tradition, the pomp, the pageantry and all the rivalries that make college football the game that it is. He knows a little bit about rivalries, too, having been a part of them at places like Ohio State and Notre Dame. He knows how your hair stands on end when the last guy sprints to dot the I when the band spells Ohio and 100,000 people in the Horseshoe in Columbus scream their lungs out. He knows what it's like at the Big House when the band strikes up "Hail to the Victors" and 105,000 start singing. He knows what it's like to stand on the 50-yard line in South Bend and look up to see Touchdown Jesus smiling.

And he knows about the traditions in Gainesville at the University of Florida. No, he's not experienced them first hand, but he remembers when Darth Visor was here and how the Gators had that swagger. He remembers that you can't spell Citrus without the U and the T.

"I remember Coach Spurrier talking about Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl," he said with that kind of smile that makes you wish it's September 2005, the week that Tennessee comes to The Swamp. "Guys have to have fun but they can still respect your opponent. You can have great fun and still have the pageantry and tradition."

He said he will give Coach Spurrier a call in the next couple of days. He's going to make that call just to say thanks. He's admittedly spent only an hour or so with Spurrier one time at a coaching convention, but he knows all about Stevie Wonder and what he meant to Florida football. If it were not for Steve Spurrier and what he did in Gainesville, chances are Urban Meyer would not be the football coach at the University of Florida today.

"When I was an assistant coach and Coach Spurrier was here, I fell in love with the way they (the Gators) played, with the way they walked, the way they talked, the way they took the field, the way they came off the field, the way they scored points," he said. "If I was walking by a television and I saw the University of Florida playing, I made sure I sat down to watch them play because of the swagger I saw. I like to think when you see the Utah play you saw a little of that."

And when the conference was over, when he finally walked out of the room, you noticed that swagger. It's there. It's obvious. He's got it.

He doesn't wear a visor on the sideline, but he's got that swagger about him. He is indeed the right man at the right place and at the right time.

Tonight, in Tallahassee, Athens, Knoxville and a few other outposts where college football is embraced, folks need to take a long, hard look at Florida and what's about to happen and remember these words.

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

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