Photo: Urban Meyer; Credit: Zach Goodall, AllGators.com
It had been a long time since former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer stepped foot back at The Swamp. While the former head ball coach of the Gators has been around the team over the years, he hadn't attended a home game, and certainly wasn't on the sideline since he retired due to personal reasons in 2010.
Since his retirement and subsequent unretirement in college football, Florida fans and observers have not taken kindly to Meyer. Their head coach walked out in their eyes and then later joined the collegiate ranks again with Ohio State University just two years later, as if nothing happened.
On Saturday, Meyer, now the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach in the NFL, returned to The Swamp for the program's home opener against Florida Atlantic University, sharing space with former Florida head ball coach Steve Spurrier and speaking with current Florida head football coach Dan Mullen on the sideline.
With a lot of chatter revolving around Meyer's departure, there were valid questions as to whether or not the fans would engage, or speak ill about their former head coach. On Saturday, it didn't seem like there were many, or any, fans that booed or said anything negative towards Meyer, business as usual.
Today, during his Week 1 press conference with the Jaguars, Meyer was asked about his return, telling reporters that he wished he had left the program differently, in hindsight. It would be the first time Meyer has ever publicly stated such.
"I love Gainesville, I love Florida. I wish I had left differently," said Meyer. "But, that was a deeply personal situation, but I'll always be respectful to the Gators and I'll always be a Gator fan. My former coach is a coach there and I support them and, shoot, I even pumped up a recruit when he walked by me."
His former coach, of course, is Mullen, who had coached with Meyer from 2003-2008 with both Utah and Florida.
Whatever the outside noise has been surrounding Meyer and the Florida football program, none of it has created a negative dialogue within the organization itself. In fact, Meyer says, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin has invited Meyer and his wife to events, with Mullen inviting the former head coach to speak to his team.
"Mr. Stricklin has been fantastic," Meyer said speaking about the university's athletic director. "The last two years, three years, or however long he's been there. And he's reached out several times, he invited Shelley and I to a game in Orlando and invited us back. [Gators head coach] Dan [Mullen]'s had me speak to the team. So whatever's out there it's not within the organization."
It appears everything has been cast behind Florida and Meyer as both parties have changed significantly since over a decade ago. The change has been so dramatic around Gator Nation that Meyer has been re-accepted among the elites, at least in the eyes of some fans and observers.
While the way Meyer left was unceremonious, there is no question that the coach still holds the program near and dear to his heart, always a fan of the program that sent him over, and likely helped him get into the position he is today as an NFL head coach.
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