Drayton Defends Meyer’s Tenure at Florida
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took exactly three months, and a total of zero games, for Urban Meyer to come under attack as the new head football coach at Ohio State.
In fact, it really happened a lot sooner than that.
He had barely signed his first recruiting class—one that was started by Jim Tressel, monitored by Luke Fickell and finished by Meyer—when his integrity came under attack from Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.
Meyer was understandably furious with Bielema’s decision to mention Ohio State’s new coach in the same sentence as NCAA violations, but that was only the beginning. After an apology from Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who hired Bielema as the school’s defensive coordinator in 2004, it seemed like the issue was settled.
Only it wasn’t.
Not for The Sporting News, which had launched a “three-month investigation” into Meyer’s tenure as the head coach at the University of Florida.
Putting aside the fact a Gators fan living in Orlando conducted the investigation, the story itself focused around Bryan Thomas, a seldom-used safety and special teams player under Meyer who felt he was forced out.
Thomas received a medical hardship in 2009 for chronic knee injuries, but went on to start 23 games for North Alabama. He recently blasted Meyer for losing control of the locker room and running the Florida football program into the ground.
Photo by Jim Davidson
None of that came a surprise to Stan Drayton, the current running backs coach under Meyer at Ohio State.
“You know, it’s not uncommon at all. That one just so happened to make The Sporting News,” Drayton stated.
“Every program I’ve been a part of, a kid who didn’t contribute a whole lot or may not have had the experience he thought he would, they try to find a reason why.
“Bryan Thomas’ reason, I guess, was Urban Meyer,” Drayton said.
If anyone would know the situation in Gainesville, it’s Drayton. Though he is in his second season with the Buckeyes, Drayton was on Meyer’s staff at Florida for the BCS National Championship win over Ohio State in 2007.
He spent three years with the Gators, from 2005-07, before leaving to coach the running backs at Tennessee and Syracuse before returning to Gainesville in 2010. Drayton was with Meyer during his final season as the coach at Florida, and he wasn’t aware of a program out of control and on the way to ruin.
“All I know is he won two national championships down there,” Drayton said of Meyer.
“They won the national championship in 2008 with a 100-percent graduation rate. You have guys who are walking around with degrees, guys who are raising families and living in society the right way. I would like to think the program we ran down at Florida had a lot to do with that.”
Thomas was the only former UF player quoted on the record in The Sporting News article, but a number of Meyer’s former players have since come forward to defend their coach.
Wide receiver David Nelson insisted he had never heard of the “circle of trust.”
Defensive lineman Terron Sanders spent more than 1,600 words defending Meyer as a tough coach, who showed favoritism only to those who earned it by buying into the program and buying into their own academics.
“Urban Meyer didn’t treat us all like dirt and praise our big name players,” Sanders wrote.
“We were all equal if we put in the effort to succeed. Coach Meyer never treated a man on his team a certain way unless he was deserving of it.
“Some kids come into the program with a sense of entitlement because they were highly-ranked recruits out of high school and weren’t ready for the cruel reality of ‘college,’” Sanders added.
“Just like normal students, some students thrive with the freedom college brings, and some fail miserably.”
That’s the part that bothered Meyer the most.
He wasn’t exactly thrilled to be focusing on his past, even a place he and he his family cared for as much as Florida. He brushed it off during recent interview sessions with the media here in Columbus, but Drayton saw first hand how much it affected the team’s head coach.
“Of course, because he loves kids. Any time there’s a kid who has something negative to say about an experience under his watch, that bothers him,” he said.
“No question, but again, we can’t make everyone happy. We can try, but we have a system in place and it’s structure and it’s discipline. Some people like that and some people don’t. That’s life.”
And that’s college football, the Urban Meyer way.
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