Report: Gators program 'out of control' under Meyer
Former Florida football players say that the Gator program had fallen into a state of disrepair late in the tenure of championship coach Urban Meyer, according to a Sporting News story published Monday after a three-month investigation. Meyer came to Gainesville from Utah in 2005 and quickly achieved legendary status among Gator fans. He won two national championships (2006 and 2008) in his six seasons and helped iconic quarterback Tim Tebow become the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman Trophy in 2007. Three of his teams won 13 games, and UF went 16-2 against chief rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State under his direction. But Meyer himself seemed to struggle with the weight of the job late in his tenure. Paramedics were called to his home the night of a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game (he was eventually diagnosed with esophageal spasms), prompting him to announce his resignation before the Sugar Bowl that season before deciding to stay. The Gators then limped to an 8-5 finish in 2010 following Tebow's departure, including a home loss to Mississippi State and their first defeat against FSU in seven years, and Meyer again announced his resignation before an Outback Bowl win over Penn State. This time, UF responded by naming Gainesville native and Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp as his replacement.Even Meyer, now at Ohio State, called the Florida program "broken" late in the 2010 season, and Muschamp, players say, was left to deal with a fractured locker room plagued by a lengthy record of arrests, drug use, preferential treatment for star players and a lack of respect for coaches. One former player, Zephyrhills native Bryan Thomas, said "The program was out of control." Players point to the season-opening game in 2008 against Hawaii as an example of the star treatment typically afforded to established performers. WR Percy Harvin, TE Aaron Hernandez and LB Brandon Spikes all missed the game because of injuries, according to Meyer, but other Gators say the three were sitting out because they failed drug tests, a fact Meyer wanted to keep private. "Over the last two years (Meyer) was there," one former player said, "the players had taken complete control of the team." Harvin, who was part of what other players called Meyer's "Circle of Trust," was also referenced in a conditioning drills incident before the 2007 season. The Gators were climbing stadium steps when Harvin, now with the Minnesota Vikings, sat down and refused to go on. The next day, a former player claims, the team switched to playing basketball for its offseason conditioning. Then, in the 2008 season, Harvin attacked receivers coach Billy Gonzales, throwing him to the ground, but was never disciplined for his actions. Meyer, who spoke with Sporting News for the article, acknowledged there was an altercation between the two. "Something did happen and something was handled," Meyer said. "I don't think it's fair to Percy Harvin or Billy Gonzales to talk about it." Gonzales eventually left UF for LSU, placing his keys, cell phone and a resignation letter on Meyer's desk, according to the report. But Harvin was far from the only problem child for Meyer and the Gators. At least 30 players were arrested during his six-year run, including star defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap, who was found unconscious in the driver's seat of a car in the middle of a Gainesville intersection after midnight the week of the season-defining 2009 game against Alabama. All-American cornerback Janoris Jenkins also failed a drug test and was arrested for his involvement in a bar fight during Meyer's tenure. Sources claim Jenkins threatened to quit the team after the 2008 Hawaii game, possibly in response to the treatment given to Harvin, Hernandez and Spikes. Following Muschamp's hiring, Jenkins was arrested twice more for marijuana possession and eventually transferred to North Alabama. The report says that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke to the team this past offseason, indirectly using former Gators as a cautionary tale about the perils of drug use. "His message was, in essence, don't be like those guys," a source said. Thomas, the Zephyrhills native who played safety for the Gators, claims he was told by Meyer to "move on" after the 2008 championship season because he wasn't part of the team's future plans. He had suffered a knee injury and says he was given a medical hardship letter stating the injury would keep him from being able to play, essentially freeing up an athletic scholarship for another player. "I told them I wasn't leaving," Thomas said, "and if they tried to force me to leave, I was going to tell everyone everything." Meyer claims the problems the Gators experienced were no different from what all major college programs encounter. "I am very proud of our guys that played at Florida," he said. "Are there issues? Yes there are with 18- to 22-year-olds. ... We do the best we can and I think our record has been really positive in the impact we've made on those people."