A few minutes after Urban Meyer won his second national title in three seasons, I asked University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley a question that left him momentarily speechless.
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Foley paused for a long few seconds, considered the question and then answered it as you would expect him to.
"We've had two great coaches at the University of Florida — Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer."
That's a predictable and political answer, but we're not here today practicing politics. We're here to settle the argument that rages throughout Gator Nation:
Is the new ballcoach greater than the old one?
Just the fact that we're debating the issue only four years into Meyer's tenure is a testament to what a tremendous coach he is. He is, in my opinion, the best coach in college football.
But not the greatest coach in Florida history.
Give me Darth Visor over the Urbanator.
Give me Steve Superior over Pope Urban.
Yes, I realize Meyer has an .830 winning percentage to Spurrier's .817. And I also realize he has two national titles in four years at UF, which is one more than Spurrier had in 12 years. But I don't think you judge magnitude of greatness just on national titles. If that were the case, Dennis Erickson would go down as the greatest coach in Miami history because he has two national titles and Jimmy Johnson and Howard Schnellenberger only have one. Nobody in their right mind would say Erickson is greater than Howard or Jimmy. (Random thought: Shouldn't Sam Bradford's Heisman Trophy have Tim Tebow's face on it?)
Building something gets you more credit than inheriting it. Boeing engineers make a great airplane these days and have come up with many new aeronautical innovations, but they don't deserve more credit than the Wright Brothers.
Spurrier was the first to win a conference title and a national championship. He didn't just win games; he established a tradition and revolutionized a sport. That's why he gets bonus points. He turned Florida football into the type of program that could lure a hot, young coach of Meyer's caliber. If not for Spurrier putting Florida football on the map, Meyer would be the head coach of Notre Dame right now.
"I don't think Urban Meyer is coaching at the University of Florida if we didn't have the type of program Steve Spurrier created," Foley says.
That said, Meyer has certainly taken Spurrier's legacy and built upon it. He's a much better recruiter than Spurrier and a better all-around head coach. More organized. More disciplined. More involved in all aspects of the team. Spurrier was a great play-caller; Meyer is a great program-builder. (Random thought: Bobby Bowden officially announced Friday that he will back as coach of Florida State next year. Yet another reason for the Gators to celebrate this week.)
"Right now, I think Spurrier and Meyer are side by side," says Marty Cohen, who's been chronicling UF sports for a quarter-century at Gator Bait magazine. "But the longer Meyer stays, the more Spurrier's shadow shrinks."
Even if you subscribe to the theory that Spurrier and Meyer are equals, you cannot deny their reputations are headed in completely opposite directions. Meyer's standing is rising faster than a Toyota hybrid's; Spurrier's is falling like a Chevy Suburban's.
If Spurrier had simply retired after leaving UF, we probably wouldn't even be having this debate, but it's hard to ignore how tainted his legacy has become. In what may be the worst career move since David Lee Roth left Van Halen and recorded "Just a Gigolo," Spurrier left UF for forgettable stints in the NFL and now at South Carolina. (Random thought: Florida's Percy Harvin said after the national championship game Thursday night that "nobody gave us a chance." Considering the Gators were favored by 5 points, is it safe to say Harvin flunked the math portion of his SAT?)
Here's all you need to know: Spurrier has a losing record (40-42) with his last two teams (the Redskins and Gamecocks); Meyer's last two teams — Florida and Utah — finished 1-2 in the Associated Press poll's final rankings Friday. It's hard to say Spurrier is greater than Meyer when Meyer has thrashed Spurrier by a combined score of 107-37 over the last two seasons.
Still, I stubbornly stand by my original premise.
Urban Meyer might be the best coach in college football, but Steve Spurrier is the greatest coach in Florida history.
Mike Bianchi's Open Mike blog can be read at OrlandoSentinel.com/openmike, and his radio show can be heard every weekday from 9-11 a.m. on 1080 AM.