Throughout Urban Meyer's career at the University of Florida and Ohio State University, one of his biggest critiques was how he handled off-the-field issues. From arrests to partying, Meyer was viewed to be laid back and too lenient on his players, but this was not always the case.
In his first year as head coach of the Florida Gators in 2005, Meyer had heavy expectations to get the program back to national prominence which meant installing a new culture and new ways of doing things within the program.
The Gators had plenty of talent go through that program during Meyer's tenure there, and with some of that talent came off-the-field problems. Players drank and partied heavily, and even some were being arrested, but a majority of them remained on the team. Except for one player, who would change Meyer's mindset on punishment for the rest of his life.
On the new Netflix docuseries "Untold: Swamp Kings," Urban Meyer explained that "criticism started coming because people felt I should start kicking players off the team. I'm not doing that. I saw what happened to a player we did throw to the street. And that'll haunt me for the rest of my life."
This is the story of Avery Atkins.
Avery Atkins' Time at Florida and Tragic Death
Thank you to Swamp Kings for showing the story on Avery Atkins! Bro was the best I ever seen at CB! RIP! If you ever met him and hung around him you always seen him smiling or laughing! ?? pic.twitter.com/03F7Ta281l
— Coach Darry Evans (@DEvans345) August 23, 2023
Avery Atkins was a four-star recruit who was talented on both sides of the ball as a cornerback and a running back. After a solid freshman year that saw Atkins start three games, expectations were high for Atkins going into 2006.
Meyer said that Avery Atkins was "one of the top players in America."
"He is so good...he's cat quick, tough as nails, beautiful smile, beautiful player. We all loved this kid," he said.
However, just three games into the 2006 campaign, Atkins was kicked off the team after being accused of felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor domestic battery. Meyer would go onto explain that despite his talent, at the time they had a "core value" that "if you hit a woman, you're gone."
"I teared up," Meyer said. "I couldn't believe I had to do this but I had to do it...I kicked him off the team."
And just less than one year later, Meyer got the phone call that Atkins had died due to an overdose on MDMA (ecstasy).
Here's a a paragraph from the Gainesville Sun regarding Atkins' death:
Atkins, 20, was found dead in his car Thursday morning in his aunt's garage in Port Orange. His death came only three days after he was arrested in Ormond Beach for possession of crack cocaine. It was his third arrest in the past three months.
"I took football out of Avery's life, and it was terrible. And that's on my plate," Meyer said.
Tim Tebow said that he and Meyer would talk about Atkins "many times" and that Meyer would ask what he should have done differently.
"Should I have encouraged him more? Should I have been harder on him?" he said. "We'd talk through all of it."
Added Tebow: "We'd pray through it, we would, honestly with a lot of tears."
After the passing of Atkins, things changed in how Meyer would view disciplining his players.
"From that point forward in our staff meetings, I'd say 'There's a couple options we have here. Number one is fix the issue. Number two is turn your back on that player and quit on him.' And I would take an eraser on the board and actually erase that one. So that's not an option anymore."
It is a very tough and bold thing to challenge someone and say how you would have done things differently without walking a mile in someone else's shoes, but it is clear that Meyer to this day still feels like he shouldn't have turned his back on Atkins.
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