It’s arguably the most powerful friendship in football – Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick – unless Nick Saban and Belichick’s bond surpasses it. The Meyer-Belichick connection is back in the headlines with the New England Patriots’ recent signing of Tim Tebow.
When Meyer was in the early days of his time at Florida, the phone rang and Belichick was on the other end. Meyer, not believing it, said, “Yeah, this is Pete Rose.” Once Meyer realized he actually was talking to the three-time Super Bowl winning head coach, the two coordinated a visit to discuss football philosophy.
Belichick wanted to talk X’s and O’s with Meyer, who was the author of a still foreign and mysterious offense at the time. Meyer also didn’t own a national championship, so he picked Belichick’s brain on how to create a winning culture through a strong locker room. Four years later, Meyer owned two national titles.
Belichick’s fingerprints were sprinkled throughout those championship runs, and still today at Ohio State.
“What I admire about him more than most is that it’s always about getting better,” said Meyer, ahead of the 2009 SEC championship game. “Whether it’s an offensive play or team chemistry or special teams. Our conversations are about that.”
The Patriots have had a history of selecting Florida players in the NFL Draft. Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, Chad Jackson, Jeremy Mincey and Jermaine Cunningham have all been picked by New England. Hernandez, Spikes and Cunningham were all part of the Patriots’ 2010 draft class.
When NFL front office personnel assembled in Gainesville for Florida’s Pro Day that spring, it represented one of the best groups of talent scouts had ever observed at one university. Nine Gators were taken in the first 159 picks.
“I felt like we were working out half of the first and second round,” Belichick said. “Those kids are very focused on football. Football’s important to them. They’re in a good program. It’s important for them to win. They know what they are doing.”
“What I admire about him more than most is that it’s always about getting better.”
Ohio State fans are eager for the same reception in Columbus when Meyer’s Buckeyes start advancing to the NFL. The three Florida players taken by New England in 2010 remain there, and they were joined last week by Tebow.
The relationship between Belichick and Tebow dates back to 2008. Following the Gators’ second national championship in three seasons, Tebow was contemplating his future. He became an instant sensation his freshman season and won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. Now the NFL came calling. Torn on what to do, he discussed the situation with Belichick.
“Anytime I can talk with him and get advice from him and ask him as many questions as I could, I do,” Tebow said. “He’s just someone that I respect a lot. He was someone I really wanted to talk to and Coach Meyer felt comfortable with me talking to him.”
Five years later, it was Belichick who threw Tebow an NFL lifeline, along with Josh McDaniels, the coach who boldly selected Tebow in the first round of the draft. Belichick was asked at a press conference last week that had all the makings of an E! reality TV show whether he talked to Meyer prior to the acquisition of Tebow.
“No,” Belichick sternly stated, before adding, “Whatever conversations I have with anybody would be between myself and that person anyways. I don’t think that’s anything that would be shared publicly.
“Tim is a talented player that is smart and works hard. We’ll see how it goes.”
This isn’t the first time Meyer or Belichick have taken chances on the other’s former players. Soon after Meyer was introduced as Ohio State’s head coach decision time came on which staff members to retain. Meyer pledged to have the best group of assistant coaches in America.
His search for a defensive line coach centered on an already-occupied office inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That’s when Meyer phoned Belichick to discuss Mike Vrabel. Belichick gave Vrabel, a former All-Pro and Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, a ringing endorsement, prompting Meyer to keep him on staff.
The decision had paid off for Meyer and the Buckeyes, as Vrabel has developed the defensive line into a top unit and worked tirelessly with positive results on the recruiting trail.
But Meyer isn’t the only elite college football coach Belichick enjoys a friendship with. He and Saban go back to the early 90s, when Saban was the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator for four seasons. The 1994 Browns surrendered just 205 points under his guidance.
Saban said he learned more from Belichick than any other coach he served under, a list that includes Earle Bruce, Don James, George Perles and Jerry Glanville. Organization, Saban said, was Belichick’s top priority.
“I think that’s why he’s had so much success,” Saban said. “Everyone understands what they’re supposed to do and why it’s important to do it. Philosophically, that’s the greatest thing I learned from him.”
One more championship – possibly over Saban, a fellow Belichick protégé – and Meyer will have equaled his friend’s number of titles. A partnership that includes hundreds of wins and began on what was presumed to be a prank phone call might just represent the most accomplished duo in their profession.