HOOVER, Ala. — The culprit has yet to step forward. One coach did not vote Florida’s Tim Tebow to the preseason All-SEC first team, an act treated as sacrilege at the conference’s media days, where reporters have eliminated suspects one-by-one.
“How could I not vote for Tim Tebow?” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. “We couldn’t stop him the last few years.”
“You could tell him it wasn’t me,” Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson said.
“I’m not crazy,” Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino said.
“Before I open it up for questions, I just want to go ahead and tell you that I voted for Tim Tebow,” Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt said in a preemptive strike. “I voted him first team. I think my SID will verify that.”
Publicly at least, everybody is singing Tebow’s graces. And why not? You’ll only come away looking like the villain otherwise.
He’s idolized by almost everyone, including one youngster decked out in orange and blue who held up a sign in the Wynfrey Hotel lobby that read plainly, “Tim Tebow is my hero.”
New Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, Florida’s former offensive coordinator, got choked up when talking about his former pupil Wednesday, almost wistful that he won’t be spending more time with the quarterback.
Off the field, Tebow’s a person of deep faith who does missionary work in his spare time. On the field, he’s established himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history, the winner of two national championships and a Heisman Trophy, both feats he could accomplish again during this, his senior season.
“I think he’s one of the most outstanding leaders I’ve ever seen in my coaching career,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, whose Crimson Tide lost to Tebow’s Gators in last year’s SEC championship game.
Even when he loses — and it’s only happened six times during his college career — his legend only grows. After the Gators lost 31-30 to Ole Miss last season, an emotional Tebow spoke from his heart during the post-game press conference, vowing that he would be the hardest-working player anybody would see during the rest of the season.
Florida didn’t lose again. The speech is now engraved on a plaque outside the Gators’ football facility.
“A lot of players, after a big loss, they’ll say, ‘I’m going to work as hard as I can. I’m going to do this.’ Make all these promises,” Nutt said. “What you love about Tim Tebow, not only does he make the promise, he carries it out and he puts his team on his back.
“I have those words on my desk. I read it to my team once. It was awesome. I have an awesome respect for that.”
Tebow has grown accustomed to the spotlight, knowing millions of people pay attention to his every move.
“I don’t look at it as bad,” he said. “I look at it as a blessing. I can wear something under my eyes and 90 million people will Google it. … Football gives me a tremendous platform to reach people. Sometimes it all can be overwhelming, but I’ll deal with it every time if I can walk into a room, make a kid smile and make a difference in his life. All the attention is definitely worth it.”
Already, though, there’s been some Tebow backlash. Some fans are sick of the constant praise from what they consider a fawning media.
Critics of his football skills liken him to another Meyer product, former Utah quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, a player proficient at running a shotgun spread attack who flopped in a more traditional NFL offense. Meyer, along with Petrino and Saban, two coaches that worked in the NFL, don’t think that will be the case with Tebow.
“If you want Tim Tebow under center, teach him to get under center,” Meyer said. “He’ll probably do it better than anybody else.”
That’s a concern for next year, however. For now, the pressing question is which coach left him off his SEC ballot, an issue that seems to be more of an interest to the media than Tebow himself.
“Someone asked me if that’s going to motivate Tim,” Meyer said. “Whoever asks those questions, don’t know Tim. Tim has a lot of things to motivate him. That’s not one.”