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Bud never missed a game Urban played or coached, no matter how far away; when Urban was a lowly football assistant at Illinois State in 1988, he recalls, "we go play Indiana State. There's maybe 500 people in that stadium. My dad and mom drive to Terre Haute, nine hours, watch the game and drive home. How many would do that—to watch you coach?" Gisela was sure her boy was bound for glory. She would tell him, "You're going to be head coach at Notre Dame someday."
Gigi, now Gigi Escoe, 46, says the Meyer household was "warm and loving," but love, like "normal," is a relative term. Gisela's love was unconditional, Bud's cool and flinty, and the pair performed an unending good cop/bad cop routine. Mom scrambled to glue a broken lamp back together or shush a sibling feud before Dad got home. The kids regarded their father with an awe that was growing rare in the Me decade: Bud was God, smarter and more powerful than anyone alive.
"We literally thought he knew everything," says Urban's younger sister, Erika Meyer Jones, 43. "I was probably a junior in college when I realized he wasn't perfect: Wait, he isn't the omnipotent force I thought?"
Such a force, of course, provided a vivid role model for a future coach, old-school division, and if there was a tendency to explain away any inconsistency with the catchall "Because I said so," well, the son picked up on that too. The same Urban Meyer who mercilessly chased off 22 members of his Bowling Green team in 2001 has time and again welcomed lawbreaking players into his family circle in the hope of saving them. The same Urban Meyer who pledged to recruit players whose character was in "the top one percent of one percent" waves off the fact that in his four years in Gainesville, some two dozen Gators have been arrested, and vows to keep giving his players second "or third chances—absolutely. Any human being would. You know why? It's the right thing to do."
Indeed, since 2005 Meyer has been a bundle of contradictions—at times unaffected and warm, at times calculating and smug, at times all of the above. This season, though, the most striking paradox has been the one on the field: Meyer, who made his name with inventive high-octane offenses, owes Florida's 12--0 record during the regular season and its No. 1 ranking in the BCS poll to the heroics of the Gators' defense. "It might look a little different, but deep down when you cut that thing open, good teams are tough," Meyer said after Florida beat LSU 13--3 in Death Valley in October. "That team wearing blue jerseys is tough."
That he cites toughness as the defining element of his best teams might surprise those who don't know that Meyer is a product of classic down-the-throat Midwestern football. It has always been easier to focus on the inventiveness—the breathtaking spread offense, the triple option and that bottomless bag of trick plays—that seemed inevitable in a chemist's son. Bud lectured his kids each Saturday on Latin and ethics and German, and when they hit, oh, eight years old, he introduced trigonometry.
Still, Dad was no absentminded professor. His expectations were "almost unachievable," Urban says: The kids were to get straight A's, skip grades, be impeccable. Any success was greeted with the barest of praise, and any failure, any transgression, with the command to run hundreds of laps around the house or play fierce games of pepper.
Although Urban (Bud) Meyer Jr. was named, like his father and son, for a pope, and spent three years at seminary and would remain a staunch pre--Vatican II Catholic, he cursed like a stevedore. His idol was Woody Hayes. "Some kids in Ashtabula were scared of him because he's no-bulls---," says Gigi, a former economics professor who is a vice provost at the University of Cincinnati.
"He's a nasty ass," says former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, Hayes's successor and an unrepentant hard-liner, who chuckles as he speaks of Bud. "That's what I like about him."
There's a reason, during games, that Florida players rarely find themselves awash in praise. "I tell our coaches all the time, 'Let's not act surprised,'" Meyer says. "These guys are gifted athletes; that's their job. I don't want every four-yard play to be, Ohmygod!"