| posted by Joe Hice |

Trauma in The Gator Nation as Urban Meyer resigns (temporarily) as head football coach

It’s kind of surreal in Gainesville tonight; Urban Meyer announced he is stepping down as head coach of the University of Florida football team and the news is everywhere.  Every television station, every radio station, every blog, facebook and twitter feed is talking about it.  Heck, I think I heard a loudspeaker in the neighborhood announcing it and my mom even called me to ask if I knew anything more.

“I certainly appreciate what he has meant to the University of Florida, our football program and The Gator Nation,” said UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley.  I’m sure Jeremy will have more to say in the future.

For himself, Meyer said he would remain in Gainesville to help the university, but added that had no immediate plans to return to coaching.  My suspicion is that he’s applying for my old job at UF.   He’d be an ideal candidate to lead The Gator Nation campaign for UF because even though he was the football coach, he understands that The Gator Nation is about much more than football.

I remember when we launched the campaign back in the fall of 2005, Meyer was one of our biggest supporters.  During interviews he would talk about how The Gator Nation was about more than football.  It was about the research and teaching at the university, the support of the community (Gainesville and Alachua County), the students, the legislature, it was about everyone and everything touched by UF.  He instilled that understanding in his players too.  And he focused on academics.  During the five seasons Meyer was head coach, the graduation rate of UF football players has risen to one the highest rates in the nation.

Meyer loves The Gator Nation and he loved one of our main themes,  “The Gator Nation is Everywhere.”  And he was passionate about it.

He instilled an understanding in his staff and his players that The Gator Nation was about UF, not just football.  And it rubbed off on almost everyone around him and around the team.

In December ’05 my wife and I ran into Meyer at a Holiday Party at the UF president’s house and he was the first to bring up The Gator Nation.  He pulled his wife Shelley over and introduced me and Sandy to her.  “He’s the guy behind The Gator Nation campaign,” he said.

Now, you’ve got to understand, the campaign had only been out there for about three months and Meyer had only been in town for a little longer, but he understood what it meant to be a Gator.  He and Shelley repeated the first few lines from the spot:

“Go start a Fortune 500 company. Go write the great American novel. Go cure cancer.  Go to Mars…Go Gators.”  They were grinning from ear to ear.  So was I, and my wife, well, she still tells the story whenever the opportunity arises.  You can check out the spot here:

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Honestly, it was one of the highlights of my experience at the University of Florida;  the coach, Urban Meyer, who was so focused on football, understood that the university was about much more than football and he understood what we were trying to do with the campaign.  He also understood the power of his position.  He was in the newspaper and on the television almost every day.  The president, provost and chair of the Board of Trustees were almost never in the spotlight.  Sure he talked about football and about his players during his interviews, but he also talked about everything else that comes with working at a big public university.  He talked about The Gator Nation.

He used the spotlight to highlight The Gator Nation and all it stood for and I’ll always respect him for that.

We all wish Coach Meyer and his family good luck in the future.

Passion Rules!

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