People watch sports to get away from the stress of real life. Sports are simple. One team wins, one team loses. Good guys are celebrated, and bad guys are exposed. It works and makes people happy.
The truth, though, is that it is not that simple. People don't fit exactly into the role of hero or villain, no matter how much we want them to. In college football, Urban Meyer has become a villain in his new conference, but why is that the case?
The easy answer is that Urban Meyer wins. It’s easy to hate a guy who wins all the time. It’s why people hate Nick Saban and Alabama. His resume is sterling: Two undefeated seasons. Two national championships. Four conference championships. He has a career .835 winning percentage. The worst season of Meyer’s career, his team finished 8-5. Wherever he goes, he wins. However, there’s more to it than just winning.
Urban Meyer is not a colorful personality. He doesn't give the rest of the world a lot to work with. Meyer’s not Les Miles, speaking in tongues with a knowing wink and a smile. He’s not Steve Spurrier, putting 50 points up without a care in the world. Very rarely does Urban Meyer say interesting things, and when he does, sometimes it ruffles some feathers.
Meyer’s job is to win football games, not make friends, and he is very, very good at his job. Just because he makes an easy villain does not actually make him a villain.
Urban Meyer put work before his family. This happened. Meyer worked himself to the bone while he was at Florida, and the Gators’ success came at the expense of his personal health and his relationship with his family. He’s not the first person to put work before family, and he won’t be the last. However, it would seem that things are different now, which is more than you can say for most workaholics.
Urban Meyer isn’t a cheater. When someone in college football sees success at every stop in his career, people assume that they’re cheating. It’s a natural reaction, and to be honest, an understandable one. However, other than silly secondary violations like telling a recruit "good luck" before a high school game, he maintains a program that’s just about as clean as any other major college program.
There was a lot of hand-wringing about how things ended for Meyer at Florida, with a significant list of arrests and some players reportedly getting preferential treatment. Is there some valid criticism there? Sure. However, I suggest that college kids doing dumb stuff and getting put in the back of a cop car is not particularly uncommon, and the significance of those events is overblown.
College kids - college football players included - are not saints. Expecting perfect discipline from them is naive. He could have imposed more serious penalties on players that got in trouble, but that doesn’t exactly fall into the realm of cheating.
Some people still think the spread offense is a gimmick. These people should be ignored, because they are dumb. Meyer’s version of the spread may not ever take the NFL by storm, but that’s irrelevant. It’s an outstanding college offense that puts pressure on defenses to make plays in space. If that’s a gimmick, then I’m not sure what to tell you, other than college football may not be for you.
He’s changing the Big Ten. Prior to Meyer’s arrival in Columbus, a lot of programs in the Big Ten have gotten very comfortable. Everybody more or less got along, and nobody really stepped on each other’s toes. That changed when Meyer came to town, especially in terms of recruiting. He, like much of the rest of the country, has no qualms with recruiting a player committed to another team, and this greatly displeased other coaches in the conference, who had long relied on a so-called gentleman’s agreement that prevented intra-conference poaching.
It’s understandable. Meyer and his staff have turned up the difficulty, and I’d be upset too if my job suddenly became tougher. However, instead of complaining, I suggest that these coaches should do their damn jobs. The one coach who has the most reason to be upset with Meyer, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, hasn’t complained once about Ohio State’s recruiting techniques. Instead, O'Brien is working incredibly hard to make the best of a difficult situation. That's probably more productive than complaining.
Meyer works hard to win. This is apparently a problem. God forbid, a team busting its ass to win something. The horror.
Some consider this the insidious creep of the dreaded SEC, which to stodgy old Big Ten fans, is a fate worse than losing. It isn’t. This is how college football works now. The rest of the country works hard. Meyer isn’t unique in this respect, he’s just extremely good at turning that hard work into lots and lots of wins.
So really, what's the problem?