Tuesday Musings: Joker's fate, Urban Meyer on 2008 being great, and Florida's clean slate

Kevin C. Cox

Tuesday Musings cleans up the pieces of Joker Phillips's tenure at Florida, tackles Urban Meyer's talk about the 2008 Gators, and praises the current bunch of Gators for an arrest-free year.

I'm confident the fate that will befall Joker Phillips will be his own, and not Florida's — because I think that the fault in his "resignation" is his, and not Florida's.

The Bylaw Blog's John Infante wrote on Monday that Phillips is likely to be charged with a serious Level III or low Level II violation by the NCAA, which could get him slapped with a one- or two-year show-cause penalty — which would make it difficult for a school to hire him — and that Florida and Will Muschamp could also be penalized.

But Infante notes that Florida's clean rep will likely be a mitigating factor in any penalties for the school, and that Muschamp "must show that he monitored his program effectively and that he has promoted an atmosphere of compliance." I am, again, confident that Muschamp did that, something Thomas Goldkamp's Monday report ($), in which he interpreted what he was told by a source to mean that there should be "absolutely zero issue" for Florida going forward.

It's also not clear if Phillips was really as integral to this Florida staff as some assumed. Phillips was the guy on the outside last year, as the only new coach on offense, and Goldkamp reports that he wasn't necessarily the hardest-working guy among the other coaches — something I've heard, as well, and something that doesn't quite surprise me given how relatively laid-back Phillips is on the practice field, compared to Florida's staff of grinders. There's undoubtedly a step down from Phillips to Chris Leak in terms of coaching acumen, but given that Phillips was already not beloved, showing him the door was probably easier than showing, say, Travaris Robinson the door.

What seems clear, though, is that this was more than a "bump": Phillips likely would have been able to continue coaching at Florida had he only committed an inadvertent violation. Had that been the case, there would be no worry about exentuating punishments, instead of the minimal worry that exists now, and there would have been a larger groundswell of the "Joker is a good guy and made a mistake" stuff we saw from a couple of outlets.

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Urban Meyer saying words will always make news, because he's still one of just two active coaches with multiple national championships, and he made scores of pages over the weekend by asserting that he thinks his 2008 Florida Gators were the best team in college football history.

I think examining the context helps here.

Here's how Mark Heim of al.com transcribed the relevant quote:

"I've been a part of a couple great teams, I think the best team to ever play the game in '08 (at Florida). And that was (because) animal instincts took over on the field. They protected each other. What he said is, 'Have you ever tried to reason with a wild animal?' Think about that. Think about what I just said. You try to reason with a wild animal ... you can't reason with a wild animal. They protect each other. Have you ever tried to negotiate, evaluate, take a play off? If you're a wild animal, that doesn't happen."

That doesn't explain the "he" Meyer refers to, and it excerpts that quote from a three-minute digression on what a team is, one that also touches on the Special Forces and paying taxes. It is a confusing and wide-ranging discussion, and the specific claim he makes is only a small part of it. Really, Meyer saying that he thinks the 2008 Gators were the best team ever is not the point of what he said at all, given that it's really in service of explaining that "animal instincts" are what he sees as the key to playing football well. (Which, well, that discussion's best for another day.)

And Meyer's obviously wrong about 2008 Florida being the best team in college football history, though there's a grain of truth to what he said. The easy, auto-win retort to anyone claiming that Florida team is the greatest ever is pointing to its home loss to Ole Miss, something Florida State fans did repeatedly on Monday. (They would know all about unexpected home losses; it's not wrong to defer to them on this point.)

That loss, though, had a galvanizing effect on Florida, and I think there's a decent argument that those Gators played the best football in college football history over their final 10 games. Florida won them by a composite 469-132 score, scored at least 38 points while allowing no more than 21 points in every game of an eight-game stretch that featured six bowl teams immediately after the loss to Ole Miss, beat an undefeated Alabama team without Percy Harvin — you may remember that Harvin suffered a high ankle sprain against Florida State, and that FSU fans cheered for this — and beat an Oklahoma team that was the highest-scoring team in college football history without a fully healthy Harvin, while also holding the Sooners to 14 points.

I don't think there are many teams in college football history that could've beaten that team after the Ole Miss loss and before Harvin's injury. It was a juggernaut, and a dreadnought, and as good a team as I've ever seen. Had Meyer said that — "That '08 team is the best I've ever been around, and the best I've ever seen — there would be no discussion beyond "Oh, hey, this is what Urban Meyer thinks, personally," and maybe "Oh, hey, Urban Meyer's saying something self-serving again."

But staking a "best ________" claim without strictly limiting what that means is asking for tendentious discussion about that claim, especially in the dog days of college football's offseason in June. And there are too many candidates that didn't need an in-season loss to find a peerless form for 2008 Florida to rise to the top of that discussion.

Of course, Meyer accidentally starting that discussion means we're discussing it. And Meyer throwing the team and school that are well in his past in that discussion means I have to keep defending it — and, by extension, him.

Defending Urban Meyer gets pretty tiring.

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I first learned that back in the 2009 season, when Florida's seemingly never-ending stream of arrests led me to look up arrests by demographic cohort and conclude that Florida's players really weren't getting arrested at that extraordinary a rate. I had to keep doing it in 2010, when Meyer lashed out at Jeremy Fowler in the name of making his team see that he was still their papa bear, and when Meyer punished Chris Rainey in a way that didn't make much sense to anyone without extensive knowledge of both people. I had to defend Meyer in 2011 and 2012 over his recruits continuing to get in trouble at Florida, and in 2013 over his handling of Aaron Hernandez.

It has been exhausting. Deconstructing the Meyer myths is far more interesting to me, and talking about the Florida program that exists somewhere other than in memory is always more productive.

And so I'm mostly happy that I mostly don't have to defend Will Muschamp's discipline of players or of their conduct, except for when the most moronic of pundits chime in. And I'm really happy that, as of today, June 17, 2014, active Florida Gators football players have gone a full year without being legitimately arrested.

The last arrest of a current Florida player was Antonio Morrison's arrest for barking a police dog on July 21, 2013, but that arrest was always bullshit, and if FSU fans can write off what would have been a legitimate arrest for Jameis Winston on petit theft if not for a Leon County program that got him only a citation, I think we can certainly write off Morrison being arrested and having that charge dropped entirely.

The last legitimate arrest was Morrison's arrest on misdemeanor battery for punching a bouncer outside a Gainesville nightclub on June 16, 2013, one that eventually got him deferred prosecution and a two-game suspension from Muschamp — one I supported — that was essentially commuted for good behavior, like running stadiums in full uniform.

The arrests of Gators since then — Loucheiz Purifoy'sDeonte Thompson'sJarvis Moss's — have been arrests of former Gators. And you may recall that Purifoy was arrested in 2013, only to have that charge dropped: Active Florida players, since the beginning of 2013, have tallied as many legitimate arrests (Morrison's first, and Jessamen Dunker's) of active players, as they have rescinded arrests.

It's not a completely clean sheet, of course, as there are ways Florida players have gotten in trouble and suspended without being arrested since Morrison's "I am Antonio!" moment. (Harrison Bader's DUI that wasn't also means arguing that Florida as a program has had an arrest-free year would require qualification.) And we're technically still about a month away from the "days without legal incident" counter reaching 365, thanks to a cop being a little too protective of his canine partner. But I haven't had to do much defending of Will Muschamp over what his players have done wrong off of the football field of late.

Though it would be nice to have that respite and a respite from defending them for losing football games, I'm not going to forget about those players (and Muschamp) making me proud of them as people, not merely as players.

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