GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The day Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley walked into Urban Meyer’s living room in Utah six years ago was the first time the two had met.
Foley was impressed and shortly after hiring Meyer, it didn’t take Foley long to understand why Meyer had been so successful in stints at Bowling Green and Utah.
“I watched it with admiration every day as he built this program to what it is today,’’ Foley said Wednesday evening at a press conference to discuss Meyer’s resignation. “We had a great run. In this business, when you have a coaching change, it’s a divorce and it can get ugly.
“That’s not the case here.’’
The news of Meyer’s resignation created ripples throughout Gator Nation and in the college football world on. At one point late Wednesday afternoon, Meyer was the second-highest trending topic on Twitter.
Former Gators defensive lineman Trace Armstrong has gotten to know Meyer over the past six years and considers him a friend. In Armstrong’s view, Meyer’s tenure at Florida rates as one of the best in the game’s history.
“It’s an amazing and unprecedented run,’’ Armstrong said. “We hired the right guy. That sentiment has not changed from the moment I first met him. He is going to go down in history as one of the best that ever was, at any place or at any level.’’
When Meyer first stepped on UF’s campus in December 2004, the shadow of Steve Spurrier still loomed large over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Spurrier had left after the 2001 season for the NFL, and after three seasons under Ron Zook, Foley turned the program over to Meyer to see if the Gators could return to the top of the SEC and compete for a national title.
Three SEC East crowns and two national championships later, Meyer leaves UF with a legacy that is safe an unmatched in the 105-year history of Florida’s football program.
“His impact has been tremendous,’’ said UF Board of Trustees vice chairman Carlos Alfonso said. “ He has done things that no one has done at UF. He gave us the best he had, and that was awesome.’’
Former Gator defensive back Vernell Brown has the unique perspective of being recruited by Spurrier, playing for Zook, and then finishing his career with Meyer. Brown was one of the players Meyer looked to for leadership during his first season in Gainesville.
Brown didn’t disappointment, becoming one of the team’s captains and a Meyer favorite. Brown said Wednesday that Meyer was unlike any other coach he played for.
“First and foremost, as a coach, he is not only your coach, he cares about what is going on with you off the field,’’ Brown said. “He wants to be involved in what you have going on away from the field as far as family and stuff like that. I think that’s what separates him and makes him the type of coach he is.’’
As for Meyer’s legacy, Brown points to Meyer’s record and prefers that to do the talking.
“He is the first coach [at Florida] to win two national championships and he did it within four years,’’ Brown said. “That will be his legacy. He came in and brought a different style of football to the University of Florida and obviously had success with it.’’
Meyer not only made an impact on the field. Away from the sideline, he created a culture that celebrated Florida’s tradition and invited players from other eras back to campus to remain involved with the program.
Former UF linebacker James Bates was blown away by Meyer’s work ethic and passion for coaching as he got to know him.
“Here’s a guy who put his heart and soul into what he did more than anybody in any profession that I have ever been around, and it showed in the amount of success he had,’’ Bates said. “I’ll forever be grateful to him for what he did for football and what he did for the University of Florida.’’
While Meyer’s resignation surprised most Wednesday, those who know him understand his decision.
“It’s a tough job. To go at the pace he was going for six years, that’s just almost inhuman,’’ Alfonso said. “He is dedicated to excellence.’’
Bates has worked closely with Meyer in the past year on producing a documentary about Meyer’s career and the roots of his competitive nature. He was in New York on Wednesday discussing the project with his editor when news of Meyer’s departure broke.
Bates took an instant liking to Meyer and views him as one-of-a-kind.
“We all found out in a hurry what he was about. It was about winning and coaching great ball and making these kids into better young men,’’ Bates said. “And he meant it. He worked 25 hours a day to see that it happened. That’s why he can’t do it for the rest of his life, and I get that.
“He did it his own way and it was a pretty special way.’’