Commentary: Urban Meyer is still a coach, even as an ESPN analyst

By Dave George

Cox Newspapers

Published: Friday, July 22 2011 7:57 p.m. MDT

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Caught Urban Meyer on an ESPN college football bit the other day. He was interviewing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and trying, apparently, not to overstress himself or anybody else in the room.

Among the probing questions that the former Gator coach asked Luck was, "What advice would you give young athletes, male and female, from what you've learned along your journey?"

Mixed in, too, were a couple of soft stabs at defining leadership. Eventually, Meyer wished Luck luck and signed off, though not nearly soon enough.

TV, to put it mildly, is not Meyer's game.

His interviews, including a spring-practice series with coaching peers at Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oregon and Utah, provide little of the unique insight one expects from a two-time national championship coach. His generalizations on the hot topics of the day leave viewers wanting more but rarely getting it.

Take Meyer's comments on ESPN's "College Football Live" concerning the one-game suspension of USC's Marc Tyler. He's the running back who decided to show off in front of a TMZ camera by saying that the Trojans pay their players, at a time when the USC program already is on probation for its royal treatment of Reggie Bush.

"What's damaging is the non-stop," Meyer said. "We're sitting here talking about it now and it happened a day or two ago? I have a problem with people who keep reporting and reporting on it. It's not that big a deal. The kid made a mistake. Plenty of people make mistakes. Don't do it again or you'll miss a game. He's going to sit a game. Move on."

This is probably how Urban always wanted the media to handle his Florida program, asking only the easy questions and agreeing that the uncomfortable stuff is best left for another day, when hopefully everybody will have forgotten about it altogether.

That's the way a coach operates, and a coach is what Meyer is.

Even during this lively experiment with broadcasting, a commitment that reportedly will occupy him for 60 or 70 days a year, Urban resists having the word "retired" attached to his coaching resume. He prefers that everyone say he "has stepped away from coaching."

If he steps back in next season at Ohio State, would anyone, including the doctors who have tried to help him deal with chest pains and blackouts through the years, be shocked?

In May, when Jim Tressel resigned as Buckeyes coach, Meyer issued a statement saying, "I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall."

Fall 2012, in other words, is TBA, and it doesn't take TMZ to figure that out.

Maybe he'll get better, much better, in front of the camera. Urban's always been a fast study. He's only 47, and kicking around lucrative career options as a result.

There's no reason, though, to expect he will live in Gainesville forever and amuse himself with occasional commutes to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

Urban needs to get back to work. New Florida coach Will Muschamp needs him to get back to work, too, and in another zip code.

This TV gig is a hobby, just enough to make Meyer's family feel better, and just enough to make him feel worse.

Asked during a visit to Utah's spring practice about life outside of coaching, Meyer said, "I guess it's been great. I don't know. I've got a knot in my stomach right now. Missing it awful bad."

Shall we keep talking about this or should we just move on? Urban prefers the latter, but you know what's coming between now and the day when ESPN gets the exclusive on Meyer returning to the sidelines.

Lights. Camera. Friction.

Dave George writes for The Palm Beach Post.

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