The University of Florida had a problem. Urban Meyer had a problem, too.
In June, I wrote an article entitled Show Meyer the Money: College Football’s Biggest Conundrum, and mentioned how Meyer had defeated many head coaches who had bigger contracts including LSU's Les Miles, Alabama's Nick Saban, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, and Ohio State's Jim Tressel.
In July, I wrote an article about Meyer’s change of heart after he told a reporter that he wouldn’t be coaching at Notre Dame—“Ever.” The statements were a complete turnaround from comments Meyer made on South Florida radio station 560 WQAM in December, noting that Notre Dame was his “dream job” and igniting an ongoing controversy.
Before news reports revealed Meyer finally signed a six-year, $24 million contract extension with the Gators on August 3, the obvious questions were presented:
When would Florida give Meyer a boost in salary? Would he go to Notre Dame?
Why was he still the third-highest paid coach in the SEC?
Would Florida give the coach a raise after he declared that another school was his “dream job”?
The university has a strong alumni base with deep pockets, but has been economically prudent with its star head coaches.
The school held fast in 2002 when Steve Spurrier left for more money with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, and again in 2007, when basketball coach Billy Donovan left for more money with the Orlando Magic, before coming back to Gainesville shortly after thereafter.
Like Meyer, Spurrier and Donovan were looking for UF to open up the financial floodgates after leading the school to unprecedented success.
Meyer is the hottest coach in college football and riding the waves of success as the only head coach with two Bowl Championship Series titles (2006, 2008) in addition to producing the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow. His ingenious, unstoppable spread offense has also fashioned an undefeated season at Utah in 2004, 2005 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, and an overall record of 83-17.
Meyer’s restructured deal keeps the ultra-successful, 45-year-old head coach with UF until 2014. The timing comes as no surprise as Meyer’s previous contract extension, in June 2007, also came months after a national championship run.
Meyer’s deal is peculiar because he has pledged to give $1 million to the school’s Opportunity Scholars Program, a good deed and a welcome pledge of loyalty to the school after he declared Notre Dame was his dream job.
Although Meyer still isn't the highest-paid coach in college football, he certainly isn’t complaining. He just received an increase in salary to coach an excellent football program in one of the most talent-rich states in the country.
With the University of Miami and Florida State struggling to reclaim their past greatness, UF's football program is at an all-time high. After Meyer had records of 9-3 in 2005 and 9-4 in 2007, he now has plenty of job security in case the team isn’t winning titles every other year once the legendary Tebow has exhausted his eligibility.
Florida showed its great appreciation for Meyer by giving him a new deal despite his vivid proclamation of his adoration of Notre Dame. Although Meyer recanted his statement, Notre Dame can easily make him the highest-paid coach in football, the Fighting Irish are struggling, and contracts don’t prevent coaches from leaving schools.
While there is little debate on Meyer’s standing in college football entering the 2009 season, some of Florida’s alumni aren't entirely impressed with Meyer.
Meyer has coached at three different schools and signed five different deals this decade—including three with the Gators.
Spurrier, a passionate Gator who won the 1966 Heisman trophy as UF's quarterback and dominated the SEC as a head coach in the 1990s, wasn’t at all pleased with Meyer’s “daydreaming” about becoming the head coach at the nation’s most storied football program while coaching in the Swamp and called him out after the statements were reported.
After examining the aftermath, Meyer and UF are both winners. He inherited a program enhanced by Spurrier, brought it to extraordinary heights, and found a way to get two raises before his fifth season as the Gators head coach. The school locked in a hotshot coach at his peak.
The union between one of the country’s best football coaches and one of its best programs has been tenuous, but now the civil war between Meyer and the university may have come to an end—at least until the Gators win their next national title.