When we look back on this past season years from now, many story lines might come to mind: Urban Meyer’s health (again), his desire to spend more time with family, a supremely talented but underachieving recruiting class, new coaches added to the coaching staff, a pro-style quarterback in a spread offense, a senior class fragmented between the NFL and Gainesville. All these and more could be completely correct and valid.
However, as we dig deeper, there are yet even more questions to be answered. Some of these are: 1) Is Urban Meyer really the coaching genius we have come to think he is, or is he a very good coach that many normal situations and circumstances took their toll on? 2) Is Steve Adazzio really as incompetent an offensive coordinator as he appeared this past year, or is there more to the story? 3) What is the real value of recruiting great classes in the world of college football today?
A very smart person once told me that “you’re never quite as good as you think you are, but you’re also never as bad as others say you are.” This statement applies equally to Urban Meyer and Steve Adazzio.
Urban Meyer’s record, 103-23 with one game (maybe) yet to coach at the Outback Bowl, is a very good and enviable one (two national titles) for any Division I college coach. But let’s be fair and honest with ourselves when we judge the 10-year head coaching history of Meyer.
He spent two years at Bowling Green and went 8-3, and 9-3, and then moved to Utah where he was 10-2 and 12-0. That second Utah team was the early BCS buster, playing in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Well done in both places, no question. On to Florida and six years in the Swamp. A couple of good years (2005: 9-3, 2007: 9-4) buffeted by two great years (two national championships). 2009 was a very good year with the exception of one game—Alabama in the SEC Championship game. All this added to the past year of 7-5 gives us the story in wins and losses.
The deeper story is that Florida is the first place that Meyer has stayed to see what would happen after a full recruiting class went through. Assistant coaches went on to become head coaches and expectations became long-term, not short-lived. These issues and more were the things that took their toll on Urban Meyer, just as they would on any coach.
Many have argued that Meyer won the first national championship with Ron Zook’s recruits. Fair enough. But it was followed up two years later with another one. Again, fair enough. After that season, Dan Mullen went to Mississippi State to become the head coach of the Bulldogs. This meant the exit of a consistency in Meyer’s offense from Bowling Green, Utah and the first four years at Florida were gone. This showed greatly in the 2009 season but also gave way to one of the other obvious truths we have come to realize—just what a truly great player Tim Tebow really was.
Without Mullen, Tebow put the offense squarely on his back and did the brunt of the work while adapting to the loss of two great playmakers—Percy Harvin and Lewis Murphy. The 2009 Gators were strong but lacked the “big strike” capability Harvin and Murphy brought as Tebow used Aaron Hernandez, David Nelson and Riley Cooper (all three are in the NFL today, by the way). The only blemish on the year was an Alabama team that had the Gators squarely in their sights after the previous year’s SEC Championship game.
After a full regular season of grinding through the SEC schedule and “the concussion” at Kentucky, it all caught up with Tebow, Meyer and the Gators. Alabama went on the win the national championship, and Florida would be left to claim the Sugar Bowl title with a route of Cincinnati, 51-24.
Charlie Strong, the defensive mainstay for Florida at defensive coordinator, accepted the head coaching job at Louisville after the Sugar Bowl win, and the carousel began to turn for the Gators and Meyer in the defensive coordinator spot. Before spring football of 2010, George Edwards came in for 27 days and left again for the NFL. Teryl Austin was brought in and did a respectable job for Florida in 2010. It appears Austin is headed now to Texas to replace Will Muschamp as the defensive coordinator for the Longhorns.
Steve Adazzio has been an easy target for Gator fans and others since Dan Mullen left prior to the 2009 season. The Gators' offensive production was down last year and was well down this year. But how much of the blame really belongs to Adazzio? While I do feel Adazzio is a better offensive line coach than offensive coordinator, let’s again be fair.
With Tebow, Adazzio’s lack of creativity in the offensive scheme was masked a bit because of the talents the Heisman Trophy winner brought to the table. The unaltered face of the offense was seen early in the 2010 season as the Gators sputtered time and time again with John Brantley struggling to run the offense Tebow was so effective with. In fairness to Brantley, his abilities are not a pure fit for Meyer’s spread, and without the weapons of prior years and without Mullen to coach it, things hit rock bottom.
To further complicate matters, it has been rumored that the offensive play-calling fell to three people as the year progressed: Adazzio, Scott Loeffler, the quarterbacks coach, and Meyer himself as drives entered the red zone. I’m not sure any quarterback or combination of quarterbacks could overcome this type of fragmentation at the helm.
The recruiting class of 2010 was reputed to be “the best ever” for the Gators, in spite of the “retirement, return/leave of absence, return” of Meyer. By all accounts, this class represented a great accumulation of talent that never quite jelled or built a cohesion that the prior classes did. That lack of cohesion spilled over to a team that lacked the leadership to set an example of excellence without the proven talent that exited for the NFL in the previous draft.
It was never really forecast how important this group was after following the most successful class in SEC history (Tebow, Spikes, etc.). Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden, Carlos Dunlap, Major Wright and Aaron Hernandez going to the NFL left a huge hole in the Gators roster but an even bigger void in the locker room. When things started heading south in the midst of the 2010 season, there was no one there to pull the rudder back in the right direction.
The 2010 Florida Gators have been a very normal example of what college football has become today—a microwave oven compared to a stove or crock pot. Coaches move on, players leave for the NFL draft, recruits leave if they don’t like what they see. It’s just the nature of the game today, and no one is immune to it. Not even Urban Meyer.