You could indeed say that there is a new sheriff in town who has wasted no time whatsoever making his presence felt, and with this coach, the summary of being a Florida football player begins and ends with one word: accountability.
With Meyer there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. He doesn't see many gray areas out there nor does he see a place on his football team for players who want to push him to the edge of his tolerance levels. Do things the right way and good things will follow. Do things the wrong way and what follows will not be good. Do things the wrong way often enough and it won't be long until you're thumbing through college football's yellow pages looking for a new place to play.
He made that perfectly clear with his opening statement Tuesday morning when he said, "Without giving you too much insight into things that people don't have to know, we grade them as champions. Champions get graded each quarter and we'll have a champions' banquet at the end of each quarter. For example, in this first quarter, if you lived your life the right way off the field, you go to class, you have no discipline or academic issues and you make the proper gains as recommended by your strength coach and position coach, you're a champion. Champions get treated pretty good around here. Non-champions get treated very poorly. So we have a champions' banquet and that will be taking place in the next few weeks to reward the champions and encourage the non-champions."
Translation, you will be held accountable for everything you do and if you do things the right way, you will be rewarded. If you choose to do things the wrong way, the price will be heavy and you might not be around here much longer.
With Meyer it's not only about performing on the football field where he expects excellence, it's about performing in the game of life. He sees football as this wonderful laboratory of life where a player can receive a free college education in exchange for living life the way it was meant to be lived, going to class and reaping the benefits of an education, and giving 100 percent both on the practice field and in games.
Although it may sound fairly complicated when you listen to the tales of mandatory pre-spring sessions where players are flipping tires, lifting bales of hay, barfing into trash cans, working in small group and buddy sessions as well as other inventive and interesting approaches to strength, conditioning and mat drills, it's really very basic. Urban Meyer is letting this football team know that he's in charge, that he has a plan, and that the path of least resistance is to do things his way. By following the path of least resistance, success is assured. The only assurance of resistance is that it won't be long till you're learning a new fight song and working your way up the depth chart of another school.
There is only one way to do things here and that is Urban Meyer's way.
When he took the job here at Florida after ultra-successful two-year runs at both Bowling Green and Utah, there were predictions that the attrition rate would be high. Under the previous administration, rumors that this wasn't a tightly run ship exploded into the hard core reality of too many players caught up in off-campus and on-campus incidents that resulted in arrests, too many players on the cusp of academic disaster, and far too many players whose lives away from the playing field were spinning out of control. The players loved Ron Zook and Ron Zook loved them, no question about it, but in the last months of his tenure at UF, it became far too clear that Zook spent too much time trying to be the players' buddy and not enough time being the man in charge.
There's no such issue with Meyer. He'd prefer if the players like him, but he's the boss, not their buddy. Because he's not the buddy-buddy type, it was thought that Meyer would view house cleaning and Florida football as a target-rich environment. Predictions of a loss of as many as 15 or 20 players who wouldn't toe the line were not thought of as an unreasonable.
But once again, a funny thing happened on the way to the guillotine. The players that some thought were too loyal to Zook to toe the line of anyone else bought into it.
"One way to evaluate the attitude of a football team and evaluate a group of people that have just gone through a significant change, is to see the level of resistance that you have," Meyer said Tuesday morning. "We've had very little and I'm proud to say that. I think it's well-documented, sometimes too documented and blown out of proportion, at Bowling Green and Utah where there was a lot of attrition and some other issues that we had to deal with, but there's been very little here. That's a positive and we need to continue that trend. I'm very proud of our guys. I don't usually say that after the first quarter, but I am. That's unique with what they've been through."
They have taken to the mat drills with energy and enthusiasm even though the drills are probably tougher than anything they've ever experienced. The drills are there to build toughness, both mental and physical, and they're there to build a sense of togetherness among teammates. It's not necessarily an us against the world mentality that he's trying to build, but a mentality that we are in this together and by working together to become better individually and as a team, we will become champions, and that there is no obstacle too tough for us to overcome if we work together.
Once again, it is all about accountability. Players have to be accountable both to themselves and to their teammates. The way that mat drills are run has made that perfectly clear. By making the seniors the most accountable, he's creating leadership. In Meyer's ladder of leadership, the seniors are the first ones who have to learn the right way and the wrong way. If they do it right, the juniors, sophomores and freshmen will follow. Mat drills are where that leadership ladder begins.
"Once again, I don't want it to get blown out of proportion, but it's a combination of intensity, discipline and accountability," Meyer said about the mat drills. "For example, you've got a group of guys and they go seniors, juniors, sophomores and so on and if they make a mistake, they have to go back and do it again. The first couple of mat drills, the freshmen didn't really go through it because the seniors had to keep going back and doing it again. They learned that when we ask you to put your foot behind the white line, it's not a request, you have to do it. And then you have to do it over again until you do it the right way. I thought they responded as good as I've ever been around. The first day was tough but the next four were terrific."
He also made it perfectly clear that accountability also includes performance on the football field. He doesn't blame players for getting hurt because injuries are part of the game. What he does expect however is maximum effort to overcome the pain and suffering to get back on the field to contribute.
There are players who spend more time looking at themselves in the weight room mirrors than they do looking at film to see how they can improve their game. Body by Tarzan, game by Jane has no place on the Florida Gators football team.
He also let it be known that there is a short leash for those who are living on a reputation that was created in high school or by some recruiting guru. In other words, don't show me your resume', show me what you can do on the field. Show me you want to get better in practice and then take what you do in practice to the games and show me there that you have improved.
"I had the discussion down in Orlando yesterday about this whole recruiting process where so-and-so has him ranked number six," Meyer said. "Well, the person that's ranking them number six is trying to make money off those people reading that. They are not sitting there studying the film. What happens is I think sometimes coaches start reading those rankings instead of doing the film evaluation. I just coached a quarterback that wasn't on any of those top 100 lists but he's probably going to be the NUMBER ONE draft pick in the NFL – one or two. So I think you have to be careful and we're going to be really careful from here on out not to read the lists and do a good job analyzing. Like you said, there's a couple defensive ends that have the word Parade in front of 'em, or so-and-so's five-star, nine-star or twenty-seven star, whatever that means, that haven't played a down. And there's a bunch of other guys that didn't have a bunch of stars after their name but they're doing well. There's going to be some pressure on those guys. It's time to put up or shut up as they say."
In other words, it's time to be accountable. That's not a request. It's a demand.
What makes all of this talk about accountability so refreshing is the comfort that Meyer has with the way he's doing things. He's supremely confident that this is the way to do things. He's totally at ease with the notion that if things are done his way, Florida football will rise to the top. He's so comfortable with this because with him, accountability starts at the top. Above all else, Urban Meyer holds himself accountable.
It's a process that has worked beyond the wildest of imaginations at both Bowling Green and Utah, where expectations weren't nearly this high. In his way of thinking, the high expectations are better and to match performance with expectation, he has better players and better players. He has better everything to take this from scheme to reality.
The results will be better, too. No question about it.