FOOTBALL: Fisher Likes Meyer's No-Excuses Approach

MELBOURNE --- Robin Fisher was always one of Charley Pell's favorite players, probably because the two had a lot in common as football players. Fisher was an undersized nose tackle who just refused to be blocked. He played with the kind of heart and toughness that only a former 165-pound offensive lineman like Pell could appreciate.

Charley Pell played football for Bear Bryant with a take no prisoners, make no excuses attitude, and that's the way Fisher did it during the three years he started on the defensive line for Pell.

Though he was constantly battling players who outweighed him by 30-50 pounds, Fisher made 348 tackles in his Gator career, still the best total ever by a down lineman in Florida football history. Fisher was the kind of player who never took a play off. He had what coaches like to call a "motor" and his RPM gauge was always red-lined. The fact that he wouldn't allow lack of size to be an excuse endeared him to Pell.

"I went up to Alabama to see Coach Pell just before he died," said Fisher Monday night at the Brevard County Gator Gathering. "When I got there, Ward (Charley's wife) told me 'well, you're finally big enough to play' and I had to laugh about that."

Fisher would still be undersized by today's defensive line standards, but he looks solid and comfortable although packing a few more pounds than he did as a player. Now in his sixteenth year as a State Farm Insurance agent in Titusville, he says his greatest joy is coaching his kids. He spends most of his time in Brevard County these days, although he's got the yearning to return once again to Gainesville. You see, like all the former Gator football players, he's been invited to come back home.

The invitation has come from Coach Urban Meyer who has made it a point to welcome home the former Gators.

"First of all, bringing back the former Gator players is the right thing to do," Meyer said Monday night. He's said the same thing at all of the previous stops along the spring tour of Gator Gatherings. At the Brevard gathering, attended by more than 500 and the sixth consecutive sellout crowd that has greeted the new Florida coach, Meyer met Fisher for the first time. Fisher waited patiently in the autograph line to get Meyer's signature. When he was introduced, Meyer stood up and greeted Fisher warmly. The two exchanged a few words and when the brief encounter was over, Fisher was grinning ear to ear. Later on the podium, Meyer said that it is on the hard work and sweat of players like Robin Fisher that Florida football is what it is today. He insists that the former players should be honored for their contributions and accomplishments.

It is not simply that Meyer has reached out to the former Gator players it is the way he has done it. This has become a public issue for the coach. He began speaking of this idea when he first took the Florida job back in December and he continues to share it with the sold out crowds at each Gator Gathering.

By making this a public issue, there has been a huge groundswell of support from a fan base which obviously shares Meyer's belief that this is not just the right thing to do, but something that is long overdue. When he introduces the former players at each Gator Gathering, the applause is loud and enthusiastic. Fans and boosters are heard talking about how great it is going to be to see the sidelines at Florida games packed with ex-Gators the way the sidelines at Florida State and Miami have been packed with ex-players for years.

Robin Fisher and Franz Beard at the Melbourne Gathering

Doing it the way he's done it has given the ex-players a sense of pride that perhaps they haven't felt in quite awhile.

"You know what, this is the first time since I've been gone in 20-something years… first time since Coach Pell's staff welcomed us back … and it's kind of great to be asked to come back home and the fun thing is I'm going to take him up on it," said Fisher. "I went to the spring game for the first time in I don't know how many years and it was really fun."

Fisher was recruited to Florida by Doug Dickey, a time when the football program was in freefall. Florida wasn't winning football games, its facilities were among the shabbiest in the entire Southeastern Conference, the fans were apathetic and the boosters were in total disarray. When Charley Pell replaced Dickey in 1979, Florida was in need of a total program makeover.

Pell started with the fans and boosters. "Give'm Hell Pell" bumper stickers became the rage of the state. Pell went to one booster gathering after another and came home with pockets bulging with checks. Although it didn't show in the 0-10-1 record of 1979, Florida football was on the mend in a big way.

"Charley Pell brought toughness to the program," Fisher said. "He was a tough guy and he was a no-excuses guy. He didn't want to hear why you couldn't do something. He wanted to hear what you were going to do about getting the job done."

Fisher got the job done. He didn't let his lack of size stop him from becoming a tackling machine as the Gators turned the football program around. Fisher wasn't about excuses, just about getting results.

The no-excuse approach has been preached by Meyer since the day he arrived on campus. He's a demanding coach who has unique ways of getting his point across. If a player makes a mistake in a drill, he's made to do the drill over again but if he makes the same mistake, his entire unit has to do the drill, too. When he asks a player why, if he hears an attempt at an excuse, the coach is in the player's face.

This is the kind of approach to football that Fisher enjoyed during the Charley Pell era. When he hears Urban Meyer speak, Fisher can't help but think of Charley Pell.

"It's remarkable," he said. "I see a lot of Coach Pell in Coach Meyer, the way they are both very tough guys who just don't accept excuses. I think Coach Meyer is what we need here. Something was missing before. I like the future with this guy in charge."

Not only does Fisher admire the toughness he sees in Meyer, he loves the willingness to innovate.

"There's a Charley Pell-toughness to him and the innovation of Mike Shanahan," said Fisher, who remembers when Shanahan was given the reigns of the Florida offense by Pell. "Don't get me wrong, I loved what Steve Spurrier did with the Gators and with the offense. I'm a Steve Spurrier fan all the way, but there's something in the way this guy (Meyer) is a combination of Coach Pell and Shanahan that is really different and unique. You see the best of both of them.

"I'm excited about what I see. I'm excited about the future of Florida football. I think we've got the right guy in the right place at the right time."

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