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Urban's legend status is fading

Remember the good old uncomplicated days, when all a guy had to do was win the Mountain West Conference, beat BYU and shake up the BCS system?

Urban Meyer does.

That was Easy Street, relatively speaking. As coach of the Florida Gators, he now has to work for a living. Boy, is he working. Tennessee. Georgia. Alabama, LSU. Even Vanderbilt — Vanderbilt! — scared the cover off his playbook. Saturday he's playing arch-rival Florida State.

Nothing like a blood rivalry to get the old heart pumping. Or stopped.

Ah, for the days when people sang your praises for simply beating New Mexico and Colorado State. When you're coaching at Florida, there's just one goal: win the national championship. All that other stuff is just for regular people. Which explains why Meyer's first year at Florida has been only slightly short of excruciating. Talk about impatience. The Gators are a respectable 7-3, yet already there's a FireCoachMeyer.com Web site.

"FireCoachMeyer.com continues to harp on the notion that Urban Meyer is not the mighty coach we need to lead us back to dominance, and today was another fine example," said the Web site after a recent loss.

Meyer has already been called "Urban Cryer" and "Urban Liar" in the press. He lost to South Carolina, led by ex-Florida coach Steve Spurrier, who only enhanced his legend — and damaged Meyer's — two Saturdays ago. Spurrier, who calls himself "just an ol' ball coach" was the inspiration for one writer to christen Meyer the "Ol' Bawl Coach."

You'd cry too if your mandate was perfection.

Perfection actually seemed possible a year ago. After making the University of Utah the first outsider to play in a BCS (read: big-time) bowl game, he became the hottest coaching candidate in the country. Notre Dame flew officials into Salt Lake to talk to him. A charismatic family guy who had already coached there as an assistant seemed a natural choice. But Meyer surprised many — Notre Dame included — by taking the Florida job.

So Meyer was off to the Southeastern Conference with a plan to win it all. If he could get the Utes to the Fiesta Bowl, he could do wonders with Florida's talent, right?

Not so fast, Gator Breath. Things went well enough with wins over Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, Tennessee and Kentucky, but from there the schedule got tough. He lost 31-3 to Alabama, beat Mississippi State but lost to Louisiana State. After the LSU game, Meyer got emotional talking to the press, prompting some media to label him Urban Cryer. When someone asked about quarterback Chris Leak, Meyer responded, "You know, I got to watch . . . "

That was as far as he got before choking up. One columnist timed the silence: 24 seconds.

Twenty-four seconds isn't long when you're driving or watching TV. But when someone is crying and cameras are rolling, it's an eternity. A few minutes later Meyer had to stop to gather himself again.

"Crying?" wrote Mike Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune. "There's no crying in SEC football."

Along the way, Meyer was accused of misleading the media about two injured players. Florida Times-Union columnist Mike Freeman wrote that Meyer was "just another coach willing to lie to secure victories."

The pressure subsided somewhat after beating Georgia Oct. 29. Meyer told the media, "I'm sleeping a little bit. I'm sure (some of the criticism) is still out there. I'm not worried about that."

Maybe he should have been. The next weekend produced the near-disaster against Vanderbilt, when the Gators blew a 14-point lead late in the game and needed two overtimes to win.

It has been pointed out ad nauseam that Florida has no chance to win the SEC title, much less the national championship.

All of which makes the Utah job seem like good work indeed. Meyer is making $2 million a year, compared to the $675,000 Kyle Whittingham is pulling down. But at Utah, winning Mountain West championships and going to low-level bowl games is good enough. A year like last season isn't an expectation; it's a gift from heaven. There are no FireKyleWhittingham Web sites. Ron McBride lasted 13 years at Utah without winning a championship outright.

The Gainesville Sun ran a story this week noting this year's UF senior class is the first since 1990 not to win at least one championship. Meyer has resorted to talking about the chance to complete a sweep of rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State.

Yes, it would be nice for him to beat FSU and complete the sweep. It might even end the regular season on a good note. But it won't make things right in Gainesville. And it won't buy Meyer much time.

Sometimes it takes a new job to realize just how good you had it.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com