Football Writers Association of America 2011 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | BEAT WRITER

FIRST PLACE: COLUMN
Peter Kerasotis, Florida Today

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The University of Florida football team won its 60th game Saturday under head coach Urban Meyer.

It capped a week where the 30th player during Meyer's five-plus year tenure had a run-in with the law, the latest being Chris Rainey, whom police charged with felony aggravated stalking for threatening to kill is on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Peter Kerasotis
Age: 53
College: Florida
Background: The bad news is that, three days before learning I'd won this award, 22 years at Florida Today newspaper ended with another bloody round of layoffs. The good news is that, on the very next day, I got an email from a gentleman in Nigeria who needs to funnel $26 million to this country. He needs my help to do it; and he's willing to split the sum with me. So I should be set. If not, I WILL NEED WORK. So what is my résumé? I've been writing for 33 years. I've worked at the Dallas Times Herald, the Los Angeles Daily News and Florida Today, where I was the columnist the past 18 years. As a beat writer, I've covered the Los Angeles Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Gators. Keep all that in mind, because if that Nigerian dude doesn't come through I WILL NEED WORK. I've won numerous writing awards, including first place finishes in APSE and the Florida Sports Writers Association for column and feature writing. The past three years in the FWAA writing contest, I've finished third, third and honorable mention for column writing. And now this – a first. Which is good, because if that big payday from Nigeria doesn't come through, I WILL NEED WORK.

It makes you wonder: What kind of program is Meyer is running?

Or not running?

And does the university and its fans care? Which number, pray tell, is more important to UF and Gator Nation – 60 or 30?

I can tell you what appears to be most important to Meyer. Better yet, I'll let him tell you. When asked Thursday if he was concerned about a growing perception that he's running a dirty program, Meyer replied, "I don't care. We do our best to win games."

Yes, win games.

Sixty of them now, thanks to Saturday's 31-17 victory against Tennessee.

You'd better believe it's the 60 wins that are most important.

Never mind that one of the jokes spreading across the country is that UF stand for University of Felons.

Gator fans, though, are no different from other fans. They pretend to care, but really don't. Not as long as the wins keep coming. If the ratio is one arrest for every two wins, so be it. If it's 15 arrests per national championship, then bring on the squad cars. Outfit the team in orange and blue prison pinstripes, and be done with the charade.

And it is a charade.

It's all as phony as Urban Meyer's cocky words at his 2004 introductory news conference. That's when Meyer said he was going to recruit "only the top one percent of the one percent."

Of what? Thugs?

"We are the felons from ol' Florida ..."

Again, UF doesn't care, because the team is winning. Just like FSU didn't care about Bobby Bowden's Mr. Magoo act whenever his players got into serious trouble, until the mediocre seasons started piling up. The frat house incident/confrontation that ultimately got Ron Zook fired from UF never would've mattered had Zook taken care of business on the football field.

That's why Meyer is safe.

He should care, though. So should the university and its fans and alumni. Perceptions are hard to shake. Some people still think of the University of Miami as Thug U, even though the Hurricanes have had only one arrest during head coach Randy Shannon's three-plus years there. Which, by the way, also dispels the idiotic notion that all major college programs have these types of problems. They don't. UM is proof of that.

Meyer also said this on Thursday:

• "If there's something we can improve on, we're certainly looking into that."

• "If there are other issues in a program, that's our job to get it better."

Did you notice the word that started those two sentences? If.

Hey Urban, there is no "if." Your program has a serious problem, and the growing perception around the country – whether you care or not – is that you have a bunch of outlaws. By the way, in case you haven't noticed, you no longer have Tim Tebow to deflect attention away from the thugs you have on scholarship.

This is what else Meyer said Thursday:

• "Some guys make mistakes and we've got to correct those mistakes."

• "We have to do a better job with correcting some of the people making mistakes."

That's what he's calling this – mistakes.

Keep in mind that according to the police report, Chris Rainey texted a woman, "Time to Die (expletive) u and ur." What did he mean by "u and ur"? Did he mean her and her family? Were any children threatened?

But it was just a mistake. Evidently, Rainey meant to text "time to diet." But his fat thumbs, not his fathead, got in the way. A mistake. Just like when he threatened to "bust out the window" at her apartment. When told she was calling the police, Rainey said, "Wait and see what happens when they leave."

In his five-plus years at Florida, Meyer has had players tasered while trying to flee police, arrested for being passed out drunk at a traffic light, stolen a laptop and then thrown it out the window when police arrived, fired an AK-47 into the air, stolen the credit card of a teammates girlfriend after she died and used it 70 times.

And that's just a handful of the 30 times his players have been arrested or faced charges.

"The top one percent of the one percent."

Words. Empty words.

Just like what Meyer has stated as his program's core values – No. 1 is "Honesty" and No. 2 is "Respect Women."

Honesty from a guy who released a statement, endorsed by UF, saying he went to the hospital after last December's SEC Championship Game because of dehydration, which was a lie.

So does he really care if his player's respect women? Does he really care when one of his starters threatens to kill a woman?

He cares about as much as his university and its fans care.

Which is to say, not much.

Just as long as he keeps winning football games.

•

Comment by the judge, Mickey Spagnola: A very difficult category to judge this year, but this column makes a succinct and sustained argument that Florida coach Urban Meyer cared more about his 60th victory than the 30 players who had run-ins with the law. Nice job of combining fact, passion and emotion that in the end made you wish for even more.

• Second Place: Pat Forde, espn.com
• Third Place: Bud Withers, Seattle Times
• Honorable Mention: Gene Wojciechowski, espn.com; Stewart Mandel, si.com