"All the Gator Clubs and speaking issues didn't sound so bad back on Dec. 5," Meyer said. "It was real bad and I'm going to have to look that over (before next season). I'm a person that likes to be around my family and around my players
Despite this being his first season in the SEC, Meyer said that he has a long history of football in the South and particularly in Florida and Georgia. As an assistant at Notre Dame and then as the head coach at Bowling Green, Meyer recruited the two states for his teams and said that it didn't take long to realize how great the talent was in the Deep South.
"My respect for the SEC goes much farther back than 2005," Meyer said. "Going back the last 19 years I believe the best conference in football is the SEC. If you watch the tapes and see the personnel and the coaches in this conference. If you would have asked me a year ago I would have said that the SEC is the best conference in college football. The people that challenge that need to watch some tape. Top to bottom it's the best conference in college football."
To help the Gators cope with that Meyer has gone to great lengths in the spring and summer to make sure they become a tougher team. From carrying rocks up stadium steps to being banned from the locker room and training room, the Gators have gone back to the old days of conditioning. Meyer said that is something he needed to do to make sure his team was ready for life in the SEC and he sees toughness and conditioning as important steps to make it to Atlanta.
"We need to finish," Meyer said. "You hear that a lot from coaches, but we need to finish the games. That means you play as hard at the end of the game as you do at the beginning. How do you do that? You do it with incredible conditioning and trust among teammates and the will to win. You have to close the deal.
"Tied directly to that, I'm not sure how tough our football team is. I think sometimes you look at teams as talented as the one at Florida and wonder why they weren't winning more games. I want to see how our players respond in 90 degree heat when the game is on the line. I think that's our biggest question mark. Can we finish the deal and do we have the toughness to hang in there when things aren't going well."
A positive for the Gators is the return of junior quarterback Chris Leak and a group of receivers touted as one of the best in the country. Having coached the first overall draft pick in the NFL Draft, Alex Smith, last season at Utah, Meyer knows a thing or two about having good quarterbacks. He said that he feels like Leak has a chance to be a great one down the road thanks to having some talent around him.
"The first thing that is similar (comparing Leak to Smith) is that he's a high character person," Meyer said. "You saw him sign (with San Francisco) the other day and that was one of the few times I've ever said somebody got what was coming to them. He was the most dedicated human being I have ever seen towards academics, living right and preparing himself. Chris Leak is cut from the same mold. That kid works. He's of high character and comes from a great family. He's also developed leadership skills over the last few months."
Defensively the Gators have talent up front, but a lack of depth is a concern for Meyer heading into the 2005 season. Counting on several freshmen to play at the linebacker position as well as on the front four, Meyer said that his defense must improve in several areas to be ready to face the schedule that Florida has this season.
"I think our safeties are strong, but our weakness on defense would be that we need to make sure we can play man-to-man coverage," Meyer said. "With what we do we have to play man coverage. That's our biggest concern."
Since the end of last season, with the exception of very few schools, the SEC has been hit with incidents of off-the-field trouble seemingly every day. While Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina have been the main culprits several other schools have also had players get in trouble. Meyer said that while he's fortunate that Florida has been clean for much of the summer, there is no certain way to handle things as a coach because it's always a different circumstance for each player involved.
"Our players have behaved," Meyer said. "The media and administration don't recruit the young men and don't know them. I think each issue is different. I would never wish some of the issues I have read about on another person because they deal with young people's lives. I have to know what happened and the issues involved. We do have a set of core values in our program and if they break those core values there's a great chance they're not playing football at Florida."