Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Gators and Discipline

Much of the news regarding the Gators this week hasn't been football related but instead has been talk regarding should Urban Meyer permanently dismiss Chris Rainey from the team.

Like a lot of Gators, we too are getting tired of the arrests on the team. But is it all about winning and what is the right thing to do in these situations? Is cutting a player loose the best thing for the player, the program, or even society? Or is giving them another chance and forcing them to get it together the better option? It is almost impossible to know until after the fact.

We've been mulling it over and were very strong in our opinion that enough is enough and that Rainey should be made an example of and dismissed from the team. But last night we saw this tweet from former Florida beat writer Ben Volin:

Here's a long excerpt of the link Volin posted:

Back at Utah, pressure mounted from inside and outside the program for Meyer to cut his losses with Johnson. "A cancer," Meyer recalls people calling his player. The decision was easy. Meyer kicked Johnson off the team. "It was over," the coach says.

But then Meyer plopped down one day and his eyes focused on a story about an innocent victim killed in a DUI accident. That paper sat there and stared at him for days, until Meyer reversed course. Johnson needed help, the coach decided, or else he'd have to flip open the paper every day and have to worry that Johnson's name would be associated with something like that.

Meyer couldn't let that happen.

On prison mail day, inmates around Johnson's cell would hush as guards came around with the mail, their only chance for contact with the world outside all that cement and steel. Many inmates traipsed off without a letter. Johnson usually had plenty to read. Most envelopes had the same name on the return address: Meyer, Salt Lake City. He got tough-love encouragement from his football coach. But a half-dozen came from Meyer's wife, Shelley, who has a degree in psychiatric nursing, specializing in addiction. Even 11-year-old Gigi Meyer took time to pen rousing notes for the 24-year-old running back.

Meyer visited Johnson in prison, too. He saw the orange jumpsuit. Saw a young man in despair, but ripe for guidance. So Meyer said something even Johnson never expected. "We want you back," his coach said. Not on the team, necessarily, he said. Just back. He just didn't want to see Johnson in a jumpsuit again. Meyer laid out a 12-point program for Johnson to get his life back on track. Football? Well, let's stick to life, Meyer told him.

When Johnson walked out of prison last winter, he carried with him a mail pouch heavier than a football. The Meyer family became that rudder he so badly needed. "They took me in," Johnson says. "They could have easily just let me be somebody else's problem."

But make no mistake, Johnson had to earn it. Meyer's a nice enough guy in the media room. Ever heard of Black Wednesday? That's how Meyer weeded out his roster at Bowling Green in 2000. He lined up trash cans along the practice field, then weeded out bad seeds by running players until they returned their breakfasts. Call Johnson's 2004 something along the lines of "Black Most Days." ...

That panel watched as Johnson changed his life. He spent the spring on probation. He dressed but didn't play in the spring game. As summer wound down, Johnson was still off-limits to the media and his fate wasn't yet known. In the locker room, though, he had proven himself. He'd gotten a nod of approval from his peers.

"They based their decision not on football," Johnson says. "It was about wanting to see me get my life straightened out."

So far, Meyer and his players look like saviors. On Sept. 2, Johnson started and ground out 77 yards on 20 carries against Texas A&M. He rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown the next week against Arizona, and two weeks later crushed Air Force with four touchdowns. He leads Utah with 782 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

Getting your life back together is not an instantaneous process. It is slow. It is day to day, and then day to day, and again day to day. Those days add up into weeks, and then months, and even years. Is that the job of a college football coach? Is Urban Meyer paid $4M a year to do whatever it takes to win at the University of Florida? Or do we expect more from our head coach than that? And if so, what does that really mean in practical terms?

And what about Avery Atkins? Here's all that you really need to know.


We don't envy Coach Meyer on making the decision to dismiss or reinstate Chris Rainey. Or the decision whether to invest the time and effort to keep him on the team or to cut him loose. We all love the Michael Oher story, but are we willing to live it? Are we, even as fans, willing to go the long yards and support a player that probably doesn't deserve it in our eyes?

Whatever happens let's be careful in how we judge both Meyer and his motives in making the decision. There is enough of a track record here, both in success and failure, to know that Coach Meyer has the full breadth of experience to make a reasonable decision.