Deja Vu All Over Again
You'd think he might have learned.
But no. Urban Meyer, it seems, can’t help himself. He can’t stop surrounding himself with unsavory characters.
At Florida, where he won a couple of national championships, his players spent as much time at the police station as on the practice field.
At Ohio State, where he won another national title, he lied about and covered up multiple domestic violence episodes involving his wide receiver coach, Zach Smith. After Smith was finally fired, Meyer was suspended for three games for failing to follow university protocols.
Since retiring at the end of that season he has been enjoying studio life as a commentator for Fox Sports.
He’s very good at it. Meyer’s a charming fellow. I’ve spent a little time with him and you can’t help but like him. He’s also adept at boiling down complicated football terminology to make it understandable.
But now, Meyer has “un-retired” for the third time and is the new head coach of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
So what does he do, right out of the box? He hires Chris Doyle, a highly controversial strength coach who was canned by the University of Iowa after multiple black players alleged he had mistreated them because of their race. There were also suggestions of abuse of white players. At the time, Doyle was the highest paid strength coach in the country at $800K per annum.
And once again, Meyer lied, claiming that he’d known Doyle for 20 years and that they’d worked together at the University of Utah. Problem is, their time at Utah didn’t overlap.
After a huge outcry from players, the media, and the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization named after the first black coach in the NFL and devoted to promoting equal opportunity hiring in the league, Doyle was gone.
As the late, great Yogi Berra might say, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Commissioner Criteria: Former Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill, one of the brightest ADs I met over four decades in college sports, weighed in recently on the Pac-12’s search for a new commissioner.
“You need somebody who has experience in college athletics or somebody who has been on a campus in another position and understands the role the conference should play,” Hill said. “You don’t want the TV piece to be overwhelming.
“If there’s not a connection between the conference office and the athletic departments, you can’t understand how to help them win. Why were we in China doing that stuff? There was a lot of time spent on that. You need to be asking, ‘Am I helping those schools win?’ Sometimes you can get wrapped up in PR things, but PR is about winning. The league needs to be on the schools’ side, to help the campuses, not trying to gain prestige. Because prestige comes from being good. It has been upside down. It needs to change.”
The previous, failed Pac-12 commissioner, Larry Scott, of course, was a former women’s tennis executive who had no on-campus experience, compared himself to TV network suits, and spent a whole lot of time trying to expand the Pac-12’s brand globally.
That approach didn’t work out so well.
The question is, will the Pac-12 search committee follow Hill’s advice, or will they once again look for an out-of-the-box candidate.
Some encouraging words came last week from a member of the conference’s executive committee, Washington State president Kirk Schulz.
“For myself, as one of 12 voices in the room, I want someone with on-campus experience. They need to understand an academic environment, how sports play a role at colleges, the challenges our different campuses face. It is hard to do that coming from a different profession. There are people out there that believe you have to have a commissioner that’s worked in sports media. Fox. ESPN. That is not the case.”
Playoffs and Bowls: As we’ve written on many occasions, while the Playoff has been great for college football, it has diminished all the other post-season bowls, to the point that “Who’s In” is the year-long promotional slogan on ESPN. Seven-time national champion Nick Saban chimed in last week.
“Way back when we decided to have two teams, pick the best two teams and let them play in a championship game, and everybody wanted to expand to four teams, it was my comment then that if we expand to four teams and have a Playoff, everything is going to be about the Playoff,” Saban said. “All the media interest, the shows they do all year, everything is going to be about the Playoff. All the other bowl games and teams that had good seasons but didn’t quite get there, the interest in what they do in the post-season is going to be diminished. And that is exactly what’s happened.
“You just wonder to yourself, ‘can Playoff and bowl games co-exist, or should we just have more teams in the Playoff.' I think that’s the question people need to answer.”
I’ve been a proponent of adding more teams to the Playoff. From this corner, an eight-team format with the champions of the Power Five Conferences, the best team from the other Group of Five leagues, and two at-large teams makes the most sense. The existing New Years’ Six bowls would take care of the quarter-finals and semis.
At the same time, there needs to be a winnowing of bowl games. Last year there were 42 bowls. This season, because of COVID, 18 games were cancelled.
Along with the advent of the Playoff, the proliferation of games and the over-commercialization of the post-season—as reflected in ridiculous sponsorship names—have diminished the stature of bowls.
About 20 years ago, I voted along with most bowl executive directors to limit the post-season to the 26 games in existence at the time. But with conference commissioners pushing for a spot for every “bowl eligible” team, and sports networks pushing for more bowls to provide content, the runaway train was impossible to stop.
And so we have the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, the Cheez-it Bowl, the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl and the Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl.
An eight-team playoff with about 20 additional bowls would ensure that each game would feature a deserving team and each game would have more meaning.