Thinking Out Loud: Buddy Martin to the Rescue?
By Brandon Castel
I don’t know Buddy Martin, other than say that I know what it says in his biography. He’s a third-generation newspaperman from Florida who has written for a number of publications down in the Sunshine State, in addition to his national exposure with the New York Daily News and Denver Post.
I don’t know Buddy Martin much beyond that, but I get the sense Buddy Martin knows Urban Meyer. Martin wrote a book about Steve Spurrier back in the 90s, and he also penned an inside look at the last 55 years of Gators football in The Boys from Old Florida back in 2006. More significant to this conversation, Martin is also the author of Urban’s Way, an authorized biography where Martin was provided unprecedented access to Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators and Meyer’s Plan to Win during his one-year stint inside the UF football program.
Having covered Meyer and his staff for a year in Columbus, I can only imagine how intriguing it must have been to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of how Meyer and his right-hand man, Mickey Marotti, run their program behind closed doors. According to Martin, he was allowed exclusive access to coaches meetings, closed practices, team meals, Family Night, and even the bus ride to the stadium on game day. Martin was in the locker room during Urban Meyer’s halftime speeches and he even listened in on the headset as plays were being called in the heat of battle.
It’s the kind of access any sports writer would dream of, and it came during a time when Meyer was gearing up for his second national championship at Florida – while also chasing down the white whale of a perfect season in Gainesville.
This doesn’t make Buddy Martin the single most objective person on the planet when it comes to Urban Meyer. I can personally attest to the magnetic nature of Meyer’s personality and his program. Having covered much of the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State, it was refreshing to stand face to face with a man, have him look you in the eyes and tell you how it is. No beating around the bush, no secret agenda, other than to build the best football program in America.
If you aren't careful, it would be easy to get caught up in the authentic nature with which Meyer conducts his entire program. Mistakes could be overlooked, minor indiscretions excused or swept under the rug, but it would take a pretty powerful level of hypnosis for most of the journalists I have worked with in my career with overlook some of the accusations being leveled against Meyer since he slipped out the back door in Gainesville three years ago, especially in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez saga.
Here’s what Buddy Martin had to say in his latest blog post.
“If Urban Meyer is undergoing Trial by Media, what are the charges? That he harbored the criminals? That he knowingly coddled renegade athletes and looked the other way at their indiscretions? Or that he was loose with facts about his intentions to leave the job at Florida and therefore hypocritically portrayed his program as clean when it was overrun by the criminal element?
To the well-informed, those charges are almost laughable. If Meyer was harboring criminals or hiding axe murderers in helmets and pads, I must have overlooked them. Now Meyer is being characterized by some critics as someone who recruited troubled players and allowed them to run amok – not at all what I saw or heard.”
Along with his extraordinary physical access to the program, Martin also spoke off the record with school authorities during his research about the off-field problems of every player who had been in trouble with the coaching staff or the law.
Because of his checkered past, Martin writes, Meyer was hesitant to recruit Aaron Hernandez out of Bristol Central High School, but a Florida assistant from Connecticut (Steve Addazio) was passionate about the talented, but troubled, kid from his home state. Meyer and Addazio, now the head coach at Boston College, eventually became convinced ‘their mission’ could change Hernandez, who admitted to ‘feeling lost’ after the death of his father.
“Urban brought Hernandez to early morning bible study. He even assigned Aaron as (Tim) Tebow’s roommate his first year and asked the Pouncey brothers, Mike and Maurkice, to stay close by his side.”
It was actually his relationship with Meyer that seemed to have Hernandez headed back in the right direction.
“I had a little emptiness in me. He kind of filled it,” Hernandez told Martin for the book during his junior, and final, season at Florida.
“(He was) a father figure, someone I could look up to. He was always there for me. Even when I made bad decisions, he always took me through them and taught me the right direction. And he showed me the love I needed at the right time.”
That might sound like a coach who was coddling a burgeoning criminal, but Hernandez also told Martin that Meyer was hard on him when he didn’t live up to the expectations of his head coach.
“Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t like you,” Hernandez told Martin back in 2009.
“He knows how to play mind games with you to make you reach your potential. Not many coaches in this world really care about their players. He cares about his players. Wants the best for them. Wants them to have a great education. Wants them to do stuff out of football once they’re done. He and I have a bond. I love him as a father figure as well as a coach.”
Hernandez left Gainesville after that season and became a millionaire football player in New England. Back in his old neighborhood with a lot of the friends he had left behind to play football a thousand miles away.
“So why couldn’t Meyer and Tebow change Hernandez? Insiders say if he’d been able to play for the 49ers or Cowboys or Packers and avoided going back to his old neighborhood maybe there would have been a shot, so to speak.”
Meyer talked about that in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch.
“At the end of the day, there is free will,” Meyer said in the Dispatch article.
“You can’t change people. You can set the table and try to help them, make sure there is a spiritual component in their life, make sure there is a family atmosphere. And that’s what we try to do — it’s what we’ve tried to do everywhere.”
That was confirmed by Martin, who witnessed first-hand how Meyer and his staff “spent more time mentoring/babysitting their athletes” than any coaching staff he has ever known. According to Martin, Meyer even went as far as to invite the players over to swim in his family pool and eat his wife’s cupcakes.
“Would a man allow ‘criminals’ to roam free in his home with his family? Maybe Meyer could be charged with being naive enough to think he could help rehabilitate a soul in a Christian-like atmosphere where forgiveness is the underpinning. Those who suggest that players with criminal records were held to a different standard should remember that a Heisman Trophy winner who won a national championship for Auburn was run out of the Florida program. Cam Newton was playing behind Tim Tebow when he quit school before he was about to be tossed out.”
Martin goes on to say that Meyer certainly didn’t run a school for Girl Scouts at Florida. He took advantage of permissible competitive edge to win a pair of BCS National Titles with the Gators, but Meyer was affronted by the notion he allowed the inmates to run the asylum during his six-year run in Gainesville.
“Whenever someone attacks your character, our staff — people aren’t aware of all the things we do in terms of being a mentor, dealing with issues and all that,” he told The Dispatch.
“I have been avoiding talking about this because you’re talking about a serious crime; you’re talking about families that have been very affected by this. And to pull something back personal that isn’t true from four to seven years ago, that’s mind-boggling to me.”
We may never know the full truth, but few people have a better understanding of what really went on inside Meyer’s program at Florida than Martin. He’s standing behind Ohio State’s coach 100 percent of the way.
“Bitter fans and a few hardheaded columnists will continue to portray him as Jesse James and Benedict Arnold. But I can tell you first-hand that the Urban Meyer they claim to know is not the one I befriended starting in 2007.
“How do I know? I lived in his world for almost 12 months.”