Jan. 11-- For all of you bitter Florida Gators fans who won't let it go and are still searching for reasons to be mad at Urban Meyer, look no further than transcendent Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"Growing up, Florida was my dream school," Watson told me just a few minutes after celebrating Monday night's incredible, national championship-winning performance against No. 1-ranked Alabama. "I was a huge fan. I loved Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, all those guys, and I just wanted to go there."
Imagine how history could have been different if Meyer's psyche, health and, ultimately, his program hadn't began to fall apart at UF in 2009 and 2010? What if the Urbanator had stayed on top of his game instead of becoming a burned-out shell of his former self who was empty of the greatness he once possessed?
During national championship weekend in Tampa a few days ago, many journalists were working on stories comparing Nick Saban to Bear Bryant. When Meyer was coaching the Gators, I wrote a column comparing Urban Meyer to Bear Bryant.
"The slow-talking, whiskey-sipping fans up (in Alabama) are downright spooked because all these years they've been waiting impatiently for the second coming of Bear Bryant," I wrote in 2009. "And now, finally and frighteningly, they are seeing it happen. Except the resurrection of the Bear is not taking place in Tuscaloosa; it's happening in Gainesville, where Meyer is the closest thing the SEC has ever seen to cloning arguably the greatest coach in college football history."
At the time, Meyer had won two of the last three national championships and his Tebow-led team would go through the following regular season undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Gators were both the hottest and coolest program in the country with no outward signs of letting up anytime soon
Meanwhile, in Gainesville, Ga., Deshaun Watson was only in eighth grade, but already he had visions of becoming the next Tebow in Gainesville, Fla.
"I grew up an Urban Meyer fan, I loved the way he coached, loved the way he did things," Watson remembers now. "So growing up, Florida was the school I was going to."
And then, of course, Meyer's program fell apart. The Gators were destroyed by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game that season and Meyer shockingly announced his resignation before changing his mind a day later.
Still, his mental and physical health were deteriorating. And with Tebow-the great deodorizer-gone the following year, the stench of Meyer's renegade program began to become much more noticeable.
After finishing 7-5 the following season and getting thrashed by FSU in the season finale, Meyer announced his resignation from UF. He resurfaced as the head coach at Ohio State less than a year later.
During all of this turmoil at UF, Watson fell in love with Clemson-the campus, the coaches, the chemistry and the camaraderie. He committed to head coach Dabo Swinney on national signing day-of his sophomore season!
"Deshaun called me on signing day of his sophomore year in high school and said, 'Coach, I'm ready to be your quarterback,' " Swinney remembers now. "I actually tried to talk him out of it. I said, 'Listen, Deshaun, you're just in the 10th grade. Why don't we let this marinate a little while.' You know, because I knew he was an unbelievable and I knew what we were going to be dealing with from all the other schools. I literally tried to talk him out of it. But he said, 'No, Coach, this is what I want to do.' And that's the epitome of Deshaun Watson. He didn't take another official visit anywhere and stayed true to his word."
The rest, of course, is college football history. Meyer tried to recruit Watson to Ohio State and his successor at Florida-Will Muschamp-tried to renew Watson's interest in the Gators, but to no avail.
Watson has gone on to become the greatest player in Clemson history, quarterbacked the Tigers to back-to-back championship game appearances and just led the program to its first national championship in 35 years. Ironically, he led Clemson to a 31-0 shutout of Meyer's Buckeyes in the playoff semifinals and then threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns to beat Nick Saban and the Alabama program that began Meyer's downfall UF.
Meanwhile, Florida has had five starting quarterbacks since 2014.
Six years after his departure, the Gators are still suffering from a chronic case of Urban blight.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mike Bianchi is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.
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