Urban Meyer & Second Chances: The Marty Johnson Story
After reading a write-up by a journalist calling Coach Meyer out for the number of arrests the Gator Football Team has had under Urban Meyer, I had to write this story. The journalist was trying to make the case that if Meyer had been more strict the first time around with a lot of players (i.e. Wilson, rickerson, and Hornsby), the latter charges that occurred wouldn't have happened. He also made the case that if the team had seen the needed discipline in regards to those players instead of letting them work their way back on the team; the team wouldn't have as many arrests either.
The media and sports bloggers are trying to paint this arrest record over the past three years as if Meyer doesn't care about his players or the trouble they get into as long as they keep winning. They couldn't be farther from the truth.
He routinely talks about recruiting guys with high character and making players better husbands and fathers, rather than just athletes. These aren't just words either. That is his ultimate goal. Urban Meyer is like most other coaches in America that genuinely care and want the best for their players, but unlike most, he's willing to take it one step further.
The reason Urban Meyer seems more willing to hand out second chances to players rather than just kick them off the team is partly because of one player that most people in Gator Nation, let alone the rest of college football, have never even heard of.
Marty Johnson was a running back for the Utah Utes, but had injured his leg during the '02 season and was supposed to never play football the same again. Dealing with the probable loss of his ultimate dream, a professional football career, he began to drink and party a lot more than normal. That eventually led to a DUI arrest in October of that same year, and a probable jail sentence in the future.
In the spring of 2003, a new coach was coming to Salt Lake City and his name was Urban Meyer. Having heard of Johnson's story, the Meyer family reached out to Johnson and they became very close. Marty would attend Gigi Meyer's baseball games, go over for dinner, and basically became a member of the Meyer family.
"(We wanted him to see) life isn't all about night clubs," commented Meyer in an ESPN interview about the Marty Johnson story.
All seemed to be going well until an early morning phone call to the Meyer house from Johnson's girlfriend in September of 2003. He had gotten a second DUI and was in jail once again.
Coach Meyer's first reaction was to cut him from the team, and possibly even from their lives altogether. "I did not want to talk to him and I did not want to see him. My reaction was that I hope he goes to prison for a long time," said Meyer.
Shelley Meyer's reaction was much different. A psychiatric nurse that specialized in addictions, she still felt Marty could change his life with a little help. "I felt like we owed it to Marty to give him a second chance. I never once thought for a minute that we should kick him off the team," explained Shelley.
After spending time in jail and being suspended indefinitely from the team, Johnson entered alcohol counseling under strict supervision. The supervision was none other than Shelley Meyer. He also had to live with a curfew, pass random urine tests, and complete community service in order to have a chance of being reinstated to the football team.
Prior to the '04 season, Johnson earned his position back on the team and was able to start for Meyer's undefeated Fiesta Bowl Champion Utes. He finished the season with 15 touchdowns and 802 rushing yards. More importantly, he graduated college with a degree in Sociology and has been alcohol-free ever since that second DUI.
"We don't get rid of players around here. That's the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is try and correct and change them," stated Urban Meyer emphatically.
Marty Johnson is and always will be appreciative to the Meyer family. Coach Meyer not only made his dream come true (as Johnson is now in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles), but he also gave him a second chance at seeing what life was really all about.
"It's more than just football with him (Coach Meyer). It's about life," commented Johnson.
The point of this article isn't to argue Meyer's good deeds versus other coaches. There are a lot of stories that show another side of these coaches other than just football like Mark Richt's adoption story and Nick Saban's Upchurch story. The point of this article is to show that Meyer has a reason for second chances and it's not due to a player's talent. It's because of a decision early on his coaching career that changed one man's life, and may do the same to many others in the future. At least, that is if the athlete decides to put Meyer's second chance to work.
The giving of the second chance is up to Meyer, but the making the best of it has to come from the player. That's the only difference between a Marty Johnson story and a Ron Wilson story; being willing to put the second chance to work.
Rusty Thompson is one of the founders of GatorTailgating.com