The Better Question: What Took So Long?

Now that the book has been closed by Coach Urban Meyer on this very strange and equally sad saga that is Josh Portis and his mother, Patricia, the simple question is how did things spiral out of control? The better question, however, is why did it take so long to jettison Portis and Portis from the Florida football landscape?

There are no simple answers to these questions and I don't have enough psychology degrees hanging on my wall to analyze Patricia Portis, but I can honestly say that in all the years I've been writing sports --- and that goes back to the 1960s --- I've never encountered a parent quite so possessive, quite so obsessed and quite so manipulative. Oh, I have already heard all the excuses --- and they are excuses --- about how much she loves her son. It's one thing to love your child with all of your heart and want the best for your child. It's another thing altogether to be so consumed with your child that you are driven to the point of totally irrational behavior.

If I were to list all the things that I've taken note of in the past eight months since the first Patricia Portis spottings on the Florida practice sidelines, it would pack a mini-series. I haven't enough time or enough patience to go into that kind of detail so I'll just defer to Larry Vettel's well chosen nickname for her --- "Mommie Dearest." Let's just say it fits her like a glove. Since her first appearances on the sidelines at spring practice back in March, she's gone from visibly supportive to highly amusing to downright comical to extremely bizarre right before our eyes. Now that she's taken matters into her own hands by pulling Josh out of Florida, you have to wonder what coach in his right mind would want this very talented kid playing on his team the next four years knowing that he not only has to coach Josh but deal with Patricia.

Without rehashing details that many other talented writers have gone into the past few days when the Portis and Portis story surfaced to become the second hottest topic in college football after Reggie Bush, I will say that the roots of dissent began at the Orange and Blue game back in April. When Josh threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns in that game, Patricia Portis became emboldened to go from the supportive mom to carnival barker, selling her son to whoever would listen at every opportunity. In her opinion --- and in the past few days she has used this game as her proof --- Josh was every bit as talented, if not more so, than Chris Leak, the two-year incumbent at quarterback.

In the eyes of Patricia Portis, it probably didn't help Coach Urban Meyer that he used the forum of the state's Gator clubs to talk up Leak at every stop. Meyer pushed Leak as the trigger man for the offense and in retrospect, furthered an agenda of expectation that Leak never fulfilled during Florida's 8-3 regular season. Meyer was simply doing what he should have been doing --- healing the wounds and reuniting a badly divided Gator Nation while building excitement and expectation for the 2005 season. You can't blame him for hyping Leak, either. Championships are rarely won by inexperienced quarterbacks and here was Leak, two years a starter in the rugged SEC. Meyer needed Leak to take charge on and off the field, so he used the forum of the Gator clubs to publicly nudge Leak out of his private shell to become the very visible and open leader of the team.

As we all know, the offense was a hit or miss affair for Leak and when he was struggling, many fans who had seen Josh Portis in the spring game thought that maybe it was time for a change. Meyer stuck with Leak, however, staying with a pattern he established at his previous two outposts. Josh Harris at Bowling Green and Alex Smith at Utah both struggled mightily in their first years of running the Meyer offense but in the second year, they blossomed, so if history repeats itself, Leak will have a lights out senior year.

Back when the season began, Josh got a chance to play under the bright lights a few times. He got extensive action in the second half against Kentucky against Mississippi State. After the Mississippi State game, he would only see the field again against Vanderbilt. He didn't play against Tennessee, LSU, Georgia or Alabama.

For all who feel that perhaps Portis wasn't given a fair chance, remember that none of us have seen how the kid practiced every day. None of us heard what went on in preparation meetings when quarterbacks have to show that they are mentally prepared for every situation and circumstance that can come up during a game. None of us talked to teammates before games to find out if they feel confident in a rookie quarterback. None of us can know what Josh Portis did to earn the confidence of the coaches to put him into or hold him out of big games. We will just have to trust that Urban Meyer knows what he's doing and that Meyer didn't have the confidence that is necessary to put Portis on the field.

When the season began, Patricia Portis seemed publicly supportive of Leak. On more than one occasion after practice in August and in the fall, she was seen putting her arm around Leak's shoulder after practice and chatting with him, almost as if she was offering motherly advice. The public Patricia Portis and the private Patricia Portis are quite the opposite. At the same time she was making her public show of support, she was privately calling writers to complain that her son wasn't being given a chance to showcase his talent while making highly derogatory remarks about Leak and the other backup quarterbacks. In those conversations with other writers she also showed a greater than could be expected fear that Meyer and the Gators will sign quarterback phenom Tim Tebow.

Some of the players' parents that I know told me that at the Florida State game, Patricia was bad mouthing Chris Leak and Urban Meyer to whoever would listen to the point that she was as welcome as the giant zit on the end of your nose on class picture day. I've been told that she was heard grousing at other games, but that the Florida State game was the worst.

So it came as no surprise last week when Patricia Portis began calling one writer after another to tell her tale of woe, a story about how she only wanted her son to be given a chance and how Urban Meyer had misused Josh so badly that she was going to pull him out of Florida and find a new school. The initial stance was that Josh would transfer AFTER the Outback Bowl game against Iowa. If you were thinking that this is just a normal mom sticking up for her kid then your mind had to be changed by that rationale. Did she really think that Urban Meyer was stupid enough to keep her disgruntled son on the team for another month as the backup quarterback knowing that she would be spreading her poison?

What is truly bizarre about this entire affair is how Patricia went down her list of writers one by one. Some wouldn't return her calls and those who did heard all her reasons for transferring out but no one heard Josh's side of the story. It was all Patricia all the time. Did she really think that she would call Urban Meyer's bluff? Could she really believe that by making this a cat fight in a public forum that she could force Meyer to play her son?

Meyer did what should have been done long ago. He said sayonara to Portis and Portis. If he's made a mistake in this entire sordid matter, it is putting up with Patricia and her antics as long as he did. I'm sure that Urban felt that Josh is a good kid in spite of his overbearing mama and I'm sure he felt when he signed Josh that the distance between Los Angeles and Gainesville would be a sufficient buffer. I'm also sure that he felt that if he could simply keep Josh moving forward until the spring when all jobs are on the block that he could deal with Patricia.

In retrospect, he should have drawn his line in the dirt months ago and dared them to cross it with the penalty for crossing the line an irrevocable notice of don't let the screen door hit you in the butt on the way out.

Josh Portis will resurface somewhere. Word is that he's got Maryland first and foremost on his target list. Josh would probably fit nicely in The Fridge's offense but if Fridge doesn't have enough problems with two straight losing seasons, then wait until he deals with Patricia for a full year while Josh meets the NCAA transfer requirements. Pity the coach that takes on both son and mama unless mama changes her motives and actions. If she's willing to change her ways, then someone will get a very talented kid who could turn out to be a first rate quarterback. If she doesn't change her ways, some coach is going to have a born again religious experience because he will have experienced hell here on earth.

As for Urban Meyer, I'm willing to bet he's learned a valuable lesson. I'm willing to bet that potential Gators with overbearing parents won't get the time of day much less a scholarship offer from Florida in the future. He strikes me as the kind of coach who will never let an experience like this happen again.

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