Meyer, ESPN Form Alliance on Their Terms
Meyer doesn't want to criticize anyone. And he doesn't want to formally cut his ties to Florida, the school he coached to two national titles before announcing his departure in December. In fact, he apparently wants to continue assisting the school in raising funds, even while he may be called on to comment on the team and school's doings.
And doggone it if it's all OK with ESPN.
In a 30-minute conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Meyer and Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president for production, discussed the once and almost certainly future coach's role with the Worldwide Leader. Suffice it to say, the terms that were laid out would hardly pass the smell test in any journalism ethics course.
But, then, save for, say, "Outside the Lines," precious little that goes out over the airwaves at ESPN these days bears much connection with solid journalism.
Still, you don't have to be the modern day sports equivalent of Edward R. Murrow to see that allowing a coach who just stepped off the sidelines to maintain any ties with a school, much less the school he just left, raises serious questions about his objectivity and impugns the integrity of the outlet for whom he now works.
Yet, Meyer, with an apparent straight face, said his work with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, presumably in fundraising, would have no impact on what he does for ESPN.
"I'll be very respectful of Florida," said Meyer. "I'll be very respectful of the game. I think we have a great coach (Will Muschamp) and Florida's obviously a great program so I have no problem at all. Plus I'm a Florida fan and I'm not going to be ashamed of that."
And, apparently, Williamson , who was the executive who defended ESPN's outrageous conduct in last summer's "Decision" involving LeBron James' announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami, won't be ashamed either.
Asked if Meyer would be steered away from calling Florida games or commenting on Florida for at least a short term, Williamson said he would not. After all, ESPN didn't separate Magic Johnson from his role as a part owner of the Lakers while he was an NBA studio analyst, so Meyer talking about the Gators shouldn't be a problem.
To the contrary, Williamson said, ESPN would be leaning on Meyer's familiarity with the public as a former Florida coach, seeing him as "somebody stepping out of that program with an unbelievable access and insight to the inner workings of not only Florida, but the SEC."
Williamson added: "It's our goal to mine that and to utilize that and to have those discussions while, at the same time, being very up front with the audience that it is coming from his sort of close oversight of the Florida operation. So we are not going to put any ban or anything along those lines about talking Florida or the SEC. We're not going to sit here and hire Urban and basically say, 'You're not going to talk any Florida,' or 'You're not going to talk any SEC.' We have to be responsible in the way that we do it. We have to be balanced."
Williamson analogized Meyer's connection to Florida and its value to ESPN to that of Lou Holtz and his ties to Notre Dame. Nice try, except Holtz is 15 years removed from the Golden Dome, a lifetime to television viewers, with a five-year stint at South Carolina in between.
Oh, and back to that criticism thing. Don't worry so much about it, says Meyer and Williamson. It's just semantics. You know, a rose by any other name, and all that. What you call criticism, Williamson and Meyer prefer to think of as strong comments.
Said Meyer: "I don't think it's my job to be critical. It's my job to analyze college football. I don't criticize. If that means, I have to give a strong opinion one way or the other, then I'm certainly going to do that."
"People like to latch on to the word criticism," said Williamson.
"That's not where we're going. We're here to bring some of the insight and perspective into the game, into Florida, into the SEC, into the Big Ten, whatever it might be," he continued. "If a certain amount of change and opinion or criticism comes with that, then so be it.
"But we're not out to come from a perspective to create criticism."
Anyone got a problem with that?