What Meyer Needs Is A Blue Collar Summer

It seems so silly when you first hear about it. When the Florida Gators line up to stretch prior to practice, everybody's feet have to be BEHIND the white line. Not in front of the line. Not even touching the line. BEHIND the white line. As if it really matters that someone's foot is touching the line or someone has a foot over the line? Was anyone harmed? Did it cause permanent psychological damage? Does it really matter?

Urban Meyer says it matters and he says that's the way things are done on his watch. It's done that way because he says so although there is a deeper and more meaningful reason behind the gesture.

What does it really prove other than that's the way Meyer wants it? Exactly what does lining up behind a white line have to do with anything that has to do with winning football games, which is precisely why Meyer was hired to be the football coach at the University of Florida?

Well, nothing, and yet everything.

Lining up with your feet behind the white line in practice won't necessarily win a football game, so you could say that nothing is actually accomplished. However, it might just prevent a football game from being lost at some point in the future. Line up BEHIND the line enough times and it becomes habit, almost instinctive. Late in the fourth quarter when you're dead tired and the outcome of the game may be determined by one silly little mistake, you instinctively line up behind the line and NOT offsides. The fact that you do it instinctively goes back to those times in practice when you caught hell from the coaches for being so careless that you had your toes over the line.

Lining up with your feet behind the line simply because the coach says that's the way it's done won't necessarily win a football game, but late in the game, when your coach says to win the game we have to do it this way, you instinctively do it the way the coach says to do it. Why? Because you've gotten in the habit of doing it the way the coach says to do it, that's why.

Ever since he arrived in Gainesville, it's been well reported how Urban Meyer uses that psychology degree from the University of Cincinnati. He's been accused of playing head games with his players to more or less beat them into submission. It is true that he will uses a variety of psychological ploys on the Florida football team, but one thing you should know about Meyer is that he does nothing without a reason and a purpose.

For instance, there's that bit about how if one guy in the unit --- let's say the offensive line --- does things the wrong way in a drill or before practice, the first time the offending player does the drill all over again … but the second time it happens, everyone in the unit does the drill until everyone in the unit gets it done right.

Some folks have openly questioned why Meyer does things like this, calling the methods authoritarian and outdated, the kind of thing you would expect from a Woody Hayes or a Bo Schembechler but certainly something that's out of touch with today's game and today's players. Yes, those are the kinds of things that Woody and Bo used to do, not to mention coaches like Shula, Lombardi, Wilkinson, Bryant and a whole host of others whose success was measured by years not by one stroke of good fortune. All those coaches understood the principle that football games are won by teams, not by individuals, and teams that are successful require trust, accountability and discipline.

Study Meyer and you'll see a bit of all the old coaches in him. Yeah, he's hip enough to relate to today's kids, but he's also old fashioned enough to realize that team building hasn't changed all that much over the years. Team building begins at the top with a coach who raises a high standard and demands that everyone raise their level to that standard. Team building begins with team leaders who understand that they have to not only raise their level to the standard set by the coach, but they have to be accountable to their teammates by encouraging and leading them to do the same thing.

In Meyer's well thought out plan of team building, peer pressure is a dynamic and useful way of getting everyone on the same page and pointed in the same direction to a worthy goal. By creating peer pressure on an entire unit, he makes everyone in the unit accountable to each other. By making everyone in the unit accountable for each other, it becomes ingrained that it's not you that you're letting down if you're in the midst of a bad hair day or a crisis. It's the entire unit. And if the unit suffers, the entire team suffers.

Accountability also means trust. Meyer says that he can spend a few minutes watching any football team and tell if there is such a thing as trust. Watch how the quarterback gets rid of the ball too quickly when he's got receivers capable of beating defensive backs, for example, and you might just have a case where the QB doesn't trust his left tackle. Or watch how the kickoff return specialist always goes a certain way because he doesn't trust the people blocking for him on the other side of the field. When teams are accountable to each other and there is trust, they make plays and they win games. When there is no accountability and no trust, wins are fewer and further between.

Meyer calls the next two months the most important offseason in the history of football at the University of Florida. It's his first offseason and his first opportunity to see if the principles he's tried to instill into a very young and immature team take or if there's still some pounding to do until everyone's of the same mindset.

At the Gator Gatherings, he talks about things like "earning" and "investment." He's not talking about his 401K, he's talking the way you would expect the son of working class people from a very working class town in Ohio. Ashtabula, Ohio is about as blue collar as it gets, so it's not surprising that the town's favorite son, Urban Meyer, applies his blue collar principles to the Florida football team.

In blue collar America, nothing is ever given to you. You earn it.

In Urban Meyer's world, you earn the right to be a Florida Gator by going to class, doing the best you can to succeed academically at the University of Florida, living your life right on and off the field, treating others with dignity and respect, and giving 100 percent to the team in the weight room, the film room, on the practice field and in the game. In Meyer's world, a scholarship is an opportunity to earn a free education and a chance to compete for championships.

On opponents' internet message boards, Meyer's Champion's Club is a target rich environment. It's all show and no substance, they'll tell you. Just another head game played by a coach who thinks Pavlov's dog was named Spot. What they don't understand is the Champion's Club is not a head game although there's a lot of psychology involved in the concepts.

The Champion's Club is about making a commitment to doing things the right way. To be a Champion means you show up to meetings, drills and practice on time. You don't make excuses. You accept responsibility. You go to class. You give maximum effort in the classroom. You give maximum effort in the weight room and at practice. You treat others with dignity and respect. You don't have off the field issues that embarrass you, your family, your teammates and the University of Florida.

The Champion's Club serves a dual purpose in that it is a way that Meyer can measure who is fully committed to making the team better and who is taking him and the coaching staff for a free ride. It's also a way for the players to measure the commitment of their peers. If a Champion sees players who are slacking or finding it difficult to get it all together, then he's expected to do what leaders do, which is find out what's at the root of the problem. The Champion is expected to push and encourage those teammates who aren't champions to invest fully into the program.

The players who earn Champion status are fully invested into the program. Sure, they get a nice banquet at the end of each quarter and they get lots of free stuff like new shorts, t-shirts, caps, shoes and the like, but let's remember this --- all that gear isn't given to them. They earned it. They earned it by investing into the program. They earned it by doing things the right way. The goodies are a small return on that investment but they are also symbols to the players who haven't achieved the Champion status that there is work to be done. Once again, it's that peer pressure thing. Get everyone committed to being the best and make everyone on the team accountable to each other.

There is a full summer ahead of the Florida Gators before the first game is played against Wyoming, September 3. In the past three years, the summer months have been hold your breath time. Meyer says at the Gator Gatherings that if we're holding our breaths again this summer, we're in for a very average fall football season. He qualifies that by saying that if we hear those words trust, accountability, earning and investment to go along with words like work ethic, then the 2005 season could be very, very special.

It is during this summer that we'll really get the true measure of what Meyer has done. This is when we're going to find out just how much the players have invested into the program and just how hard they have bought into the Meyer way of doing things. A blue collar summer is what's being called for and if the Gators get it, don't be the least bit surprised at how far this team could go in the fall.

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