SCOTT: Meyer's Reputation Gets Tested

Florida coach Urban Meyer has earned a reputation as a relentless recruiter over the years and now he and his staff may be well on their way toward signing the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.

Of course, when you stand out from the crowd it's easier to get noticed – especially if you do something that can be called into question by your rivals.

Meyer is facing significant scrutiny for his recruiting lately, particularly the recruitment of Sierra (Calif.) Community College wide receiver Carl Moore, the nation's top-ranked juco receiver.

During Florida's pursuit of Moore, who signed with the Gators as a mid-year transfer, Meyer also spoke with Moore's girlfriend, Maranda Smith – who just happens to be a former UCLA gymnast. It is a violation of NCAA rules for coaches from one sport to recruit athletes from other sports.

Depending on whom you want to believe, Meyer either recruited Smith for the Florida gymnastics team as part of his effort to sign Moore, or Smith just exchanged a few pleasant greetings when Meyer called for Moore.

On Jan. 17, Smith told the Gainesville Sun, "I used to talk to (Meyer) every day back in November when he was recruiting Carl. He kept asking how Carl was doing and wanted me to come here and do gymnastics.

"It was weird. But I really didn't know anything about college football anyway, so it was like I was talking to any other person. Then I started watching TV and I'd see him and I'd say, 'I just talked to him on the phone an hour ago.'"

Smith is now on a gymnastics scholarship at Florida, where she has worked her way into the rotation. In Florida's most recent event at Auburn on Jan. 25, she scored a 9.75 and finished tied for third among the Gators on the parallel bars.

Then last week Smith changed her story, telling the Independent Florida Alligator she and Meyer had "never had real phone conversations. I never even had a conversation with him. I mean, he sounds like a nice guy, saying, 'Hi,' and, 'Bye,' but that's all I really know."

Then Meyer told various media reports that he had been cleared of any transgression, even telling the Orlando Sentinel, "No problems with that. We're fine."

However, last week several media outlets reported Florida athletics officials are still reviewing potential secondary violations that may have been committed by Meyer.

"We are in information-gathering mode," UF senior associate athletics director for compliance Jamie McCloskey told the Orlando Sentinel. "And we're going to see where that takes us."

In addition to the case with Moore and Smith, Florida officials are also looking into whether or not Meyer committed an NCAA rule violation at the Heisman Trophy ceremony when he involved quarterback Tim Tebow in a phone call to Moore.

According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, Moore's hometown newspaper, Meyer called Moore after Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in New York. Meyer then handed the phone to Tebow, who said, according to the Bee, "Carl! I just won the Heisman! Come on down here (to Florida), and let's win a national championship."

Meyer's decision to involve Tebow appears to be a possible violation of an NCAA rule that states college athletes are not allowed to speak to recruits by telephone when directed to by their coaches. It would not be a violation, however, if Tebow called Moore on his own or if Moore phoned Tebow, or even if Moore called Meyer and then asked to speak with Tebow.

The one thing Meyer did not do, however, was send highly-ranked receiver Julio Jones of Foley, Ala. home from his recent recruiting weekend. In the original report by the Gainesville Sun, Florida coaches told Jones to cut his recruiting visit short because Jones was recruiting for Oklahoma during his trip to Gainesville.

Jones has been reticent to offer any hints of where he is headed and his coach, Todd Watson, has consistently said throughout the process he has no idea where Jones is headed. That has given way to widespread speculation about his academic status, his character and his final destination.

According to Watson, who has done his best to clarify these rumors, Jones is already eligible (both ACT and grades) and was suspended from the Foley basketball team for missing a shoot-around that can be attributed to his hectic schedule, and Jones did not get sent home from Florida after recruiting for Oklahoma.

"People have blown it out of proportion and said he's a thug," Watson told the Birmingham News. "It's nothing like that. I've coached him (in football) for three years and he's never missed a practice. He's been a model citizen."

It turns out the original report was not based on fact and the Gainesville Sun was forced to run a retraction on its web site. This time the Sun reported that sources confirmed that Jones remained at Florida for his entire visit and had not done any recruiting for another school.

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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