Monday, December 28, 2009

Half-Assed Thoughts on Urban Meyer's Homage to Bobby Cremins

1. Yesterday, I was running to the gym and reflecting on a conversation that I had with a friend in the parking lot of the Decatur Y in the aftermath of the January 2009 bowl games. The friend and I agreed that: (a) Florida and USC were the premier programs in the country; (b) Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll were the premier coaches; and (c) it was inevitable that we would get eventually the match-up that we all craved: Carroll's defense against Meyer's offense. One year later, Urban Meyer is taking some sort of undefined leave of absence to get his heart back in playing shape. USC is coming off of its worst season since Carroll's first, their previously impregnable defense was embarrassed by Oregon and Stanford (!), and Carroll was reduced to deploying a blind fan as a prop to distract the world from the fact that his team was playing in the Emerald Bowl (Der Wife was in total shock when she realized that USC was playing a nut-themed bowl game in a baseball stadium on December 26) and that his tailback received a Land Rover from an agenty-type figure who made insanely implausible explanations in an attempt to justify the obvious. The point?

This is a comforting thought when one's program just went 3-9 and 5-7 after not having a losing season for four decades.

2. If I were an Alabama fan, Saturday night would have felt like the night the Berlin Wall fell. The SEC has turned into a bi-polar world: Florida and Alabama dominating and every one else flailing desperately to hold on. All of a sudden, that other pole looked like its empire was crumbling. Yes, Florida could have hired a Gary Patterson-type coach, but the last time they were shocked by a legendary coach retiring after a painful loss to an SEC rival, Jeremy Foley gave the world Ron Zook. Bama fans can be irrationally exuberant, but this was one instance in which that exuberance had some basis. To a lesser extent, Georgia fans would have been feeling the same way. Mark Richt won two SEC titles in four years after Steve Spurrier took Daniel Snyder's money. Now, he looked decidedly second-best in an East dominated by Meyer's Florida, punctuated by an embarrassing performance in the 2009 Cocktail Party that featured Georgia wearing uniforms that made them look like the Peach County Trojans. How different would Georgia fans feel about their coaching situation if Mark Richt were opposed by Steve Addazio and Lane Kiffin as opposed to Urban Meyer and Lane Kiffin? The meta-point here: our perceptions of coaches are relative and are determined in large part by the quality of coaches on the schedule. Remember when Mark Richt and Houston Nutt were seen as the two best coaches in the SEC?

3. My kingdom to know what Lane Kiffin will tell recruits when the dead period ends (assuming that the Laner can be bothered to actually comply with the no-contact restriction). Kiffin is clearly obsessed with Florida. He took an obvious shot at Florida's coaches before the SEC Championship Game. He couldn't shut up about Meyer and the Gators from the moment he was hired. Now, Meyer has shown literal weakness. I would imagine that the tone from the head man in Knoxville is not going to be restrained. Please, lord, let a recruit blab the content of the pitch.

4. Der Wife is a Ph.D. psychologist and when I described Meyer's condition and the nuggets that I gleaned from the recent SI profile, she had an immediate thought: panic attacks. It's weird to think of someone so successful as being a victim of intense anxiety, but there you go. Meyer certainly wouldn't be the first successful figure with demons. It's funny that Meyer's image in the blogosphere is that of an unstoppable, unemotional force, an automaton that stares and points his way to domination. It turns out that he's very anxious and capable of impulsive decisions. Who knew?

5. Meyer's weekend is a good reminder that coaches are vulnerable to injuries and decline just like athletes. We like to assume that good coaches are going to be good for decades. However, it's quite possible for a coach to get burned out or overly satisfied with his accomplishments. He can be exposed as a guy who was dependent on one player or a schematic innovation that opponents solved. He can be felled by panic attacks. When I assess a coach, I almost always rely on that coach's track record as the first piece of evidence. Meyer's strange weekend is a reminder that a coach is not always a produce of his resume because coaching ability can wax and wane.

6. Tell me that this description of Ara Parseghian's retirement at Notre Dame doesn't sound familiar in light of Urban's resignation/sabbatical:

In 1973, Parseghian had the perfect season that had previously eluded him, topped off by a thrilling 24-23 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He considered retiring on top after that game, but later decided to stay on. The Irish would have most of their starters back in 1974 and were favored to repeat as national champions. Then six players were suspended for violating school rules and several other key players were injured. An upset loss to underdog Purdue all but derailed the team's hopes to repeat as national champions. All of this, combined with the ever-present pressure to win took its toll, and he privately decided after the eighth game to resign at the end of the season for the sake of his health. However, his resignation was not publicized until mid-December. Notre Dame's 13–11 win over Alabama in a rematch in the Orange Bowl enabled Parseghian to go out on a winning note. He was succeeded by Dan Devine.

Parseghian planned to take one year off from coaching and see if he still "felt the itch" to return afterwards. He ruled out taking a sabbatical leave from Notre Dame, feeling that it would be unfair to have an assistant run the program, only to have to step aside after one year.

I assumed when the Meyer news broke on Saturday night that he would take a year or two off and then return. Then, I remembered that Parseghian left and never came back. One day later, it turned out that Meyer's departure had lasted a day. So, to sum up, who the hell knows?

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