ESPN released an extensive look at the rise and eventual fall of the Florida Gators under former head coach Urban Meyer.
ESPN senior NFL writer Jeremy Fowler, who covered the Gators for the Orlando Sentinel during Meyer’s tenure, interviewed former Florida players and coaches for the story. We dug out some interesting details from the story and listed them on this blog post.
* Defensive line coach Dan McCarney on competitiveness within the team: “Did players have to be separated on occasion? Hell, yes. Did coaches have to be separated on occasion? Hell, yes. But it never left the locker room, and it was always out of respect.”
* Moments before quarterback Tim Tebow delivered his “Promise” speech after Florida fell to Ole Miss at home in 2008, wide receiver Louis Murphy consoled a sobbing Tebow and assured him the Gators would win the rest of their games. (They did, capping off the season with a national title)
* Cornerback Jeremy Brown told Fowler many players considered Spikes the team’s emotional leader and wide receiver Percy Harvin its best player.
* The Gators athletic department scheduled a meeting with Harvin and his mother to discuss a possible Heisman campaign and how he felt about all of the attention Tebow was getting. But Harvin and his mom never showed up to the meeting.
* Meyer played favorites with a group of players referred to as “Ballers.” Players in this group “got first dibs at team meals, front seats on chartered planes and were often excused from practice.” Guard Jim Tartt on Meyer’s favoritism: “It pissed off a lot of people.”
* Apparently Spikes was known as a trash talker. “He did his research on guys,” defensive end Will Green told Fowler. Spikes once bothered Ole Miss left tackle Michael Oher by taunting him with his middle name, Jerome.
* Spikes disappeared from the team for almost two weeks following the 2008 season.
* According to an eye witness, wide receiver Riley Cooper got into a “physical altercation” with wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales. Harvin is also reported to have been in a physical altercation with Gonzales.
* After throwing two pick-sixes in a 29-19 road win over Mississippi State, Tebow was confronted by Spikes. According to Fowler, the “two players got in each other’s faces and had to be separated twice, once in the locker room at halftime and once after the game.”
* Florida players did not get rings for the team’s bowl victory over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2010. According to Fowler, the reason for this was because “coaches had deemed the season championship or bust.”
* Two anonymous players told Fowler that cornerback Joe Haden threw $100 bills in a New Orleans strip club after the Sugar Bowl and it made them worry about agent influence. But Haden denied part of the story to Fowler: “I was throwing a lot of ones that equaled up to a lot of hundreds.” (Haden went on to be the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.)
* “Several” anonymous former Gators players told Fowler they “believe the team has struggled in part in recent years because the school tried to recruit high-character players as an answer to public relations problems under Meyer.”
* Florida’s highly touted 2010 recruiting class was known for “routinely [challenging] upperclassmen and coaches.” Freshman linebacker Ronald Powell once confronted strength coach Mark Campbell in front of teammates, forcing guard Jon Halapio to get in Powell’s face in the locker room. All of this led to a fight between Powell and linebacker Lerentee McCray.
* Each player in the 2010 recruiting class received a card with a promise that they would do great things if they stayed together. But when they found out Meyer was resigning, “some freshmen burned those cards and shot a cell phone video of the act.”