Chandler had every reason to believe he would be welcomed warmly. He expected Meyer to be accommodating, but once he got a few minutes of the coach's time, he found him as gracious as he is inspiring.
"He's awesome, I mean really awesome," said Chandler a few minutes after Meyer spoke to the Jacksonville Gator Club at the Morocco Shrine Temple Saturday night. A crowd in excess of 2500, largest by far of the 20-plus Gator Gatherings that began in April, gave Meyer a rousing reception, and it wasn't the least bit surprising to Chandler, Florida's all-time leader scorer.
"Coach Meyer is the real deal," he said. "Everything about him tells me that he's the right man for Florida in every way. I think everybody here tonight feels that way."
Chandler is Florida's all-time leading scorer with 368 points. He walked on at Florida from Jacksonville Mandarin then earned his scholarship by becoming the most productive placekicker in Florida football history. By the time he finished in 2001, he had nailed a UF career-best 67 field goals to go with 167 points. He's about to enter his second season with the Washington Redskins next Saturday when he reports to training camp.
Because there will be precious little time for anything other than football after he leaves for training camp, Chandler made it a point to get over to Gainesville to meet Meyer in person for the first time.
"I went up to his office and he was glad to see me," Chandler said. "He really made me feel that I'm always going to be welcome when I come back. I had talked to other guys and they all said that he's really open to former players. He really is. I came away thinking this guy is unbelievable."
At his first press conference, Meyer made it abundantly clear that former Florida players will always have a special place in his football program. He has a real appreciation for the standards that have been set by Florida's former players and he feels that ex-Gators should be welcome and present anytime there is a Florida practice or a game. He's also said that ex-players have a right to get in the face of Florida players who aren't performing up to the standards that have been set before them.
"I'm so impressed and so happy that he's embraced the former players to make them feel welcome to come back," said Chandler. "He said you guys are the ones who built this program and you should get eight tickets to any game you want. It's amazing. It's finally good to see someone who opens his arms to the former players and lets you know that you can go talk to him anytime you want."
Chandler said he was disappointed by the split he saw in Gator Nation in the three years that followed Steve Spurrier's 12-year run as Florida's head coach. He sees a healing that has taken place under Meyer that has re-united all Gators in a way he's never before seen.
"I played under Coach Spurrier and it was a great five years while I was there but I've never seen this kind of excitement for one head coach," Chandler said. "It's great to see that everybody is getting back together and you can really feel how everybody is getting ready for a good season. There's an anticipation that this is going to be a season to remember."
In the few weeks since the last Redskins mini-camp he's worked out to stay in great physical condition and he's been kicking the ball well. He's sneaked in a few days just to relax and unwind, too, because once training camp begins days off will be few.
"It's almost time for me to get back up there and win a job," said Chandler, aware that as a placekicker in the NFL, his job is on the line every week. "Physically I feel great. I'm healthy, too. I've been kicking the ball great and my workouts have been good so I'm excited to get back up there to start practicing again."
Just as there is anticipation that the Gators will be much improved under Meyer in 2005, Redkins fans believe that the second year of Joe Gibbs' second stint as Washington's head coach will see marked improvement. Chandler likes the manner in which Gibbs goes about his business.
"He's unlike any other coach I've ever been around," Chandler said. "He's a strong Christian man who doesn't cuss or do anything like that and that's a different style than anything I've ever gotten used to so. He certainly knows how to get the most out of his players."
In a sport where loyalty has been sidetracked by money, salary caps, egos and free agency, Chandler finds Gibbs a refreshing alternative. Gibbs is quite demonstrative about his loyalty and Chandler believes that will pay off in the win column this year.
"He tells every player that he believes in him and that he'll stick by him," said Chandler. "That kind of feeds down and everybody loves that. You want to win for a coach who does that."
In Washington he is teammates with ex-Gator receiver Taylor Jacobs who has has two NFL seasons marred by nagging injuries.
"I talk to Taylor a lot," said Chandler, who played with Jacobs at Florida for five years. "For the first time in a long while he's 100 percent healthy. They're looking for great things from him on special teams and at wide receiver. He has a chance to make some really big plays this year."
The way the NFL schedule is set up, each team gets one bye week during the season. Chandler is hoping to use that week to get back to UF for a game.
"I'm trying to set that up so I can get back," he said. "I really think it would be great to be able to stand on the sideline while the Gators are playing."
GATOR GATHERING NOTES: Prior to the Jacksonville meeting, the largest Gator Gathering had been Orlando where the turnout was a little bit over 1600. Meyer took a look at the crowd and said, "This is big time college football right here."
During a brief question and answer session after he spoke, Meyer was asked if junior college transfer Reggie Nelson will be given a shot to play the opposite corner from Dee Webb?
"We will try him at corner," Meyer said. "If Reggie Nelson can play corner, it will really help."
Meyer was excited and encouraged by what he's seen of tailback Deshawn Wynn this summer. Wynn, Florida's most experienced tailback, had a poor 2004 after a freshman season in 2003 when he gained more than 500 yards. Wynn has dedicated himself academically and in conditioning drills, he's gotten himself in the best shape he's been in since he came to Florida.
The coach was particularly encouraged by a Saturday morning strong-man competition that was held for the benefit of rising senior high school football stars that were on campus for a camp this weekend.
"Deshawn Wynn had his best workout as a Gator," Meyer declared to strong applause by the crowd.
Meyer sounded quite miffed that quarterback Chris Leak was selected second team preseason All-SEC by the league's coaches and that the offensive line was picked as either the fifth or sixth best. He said that there is no question in his mind that Leak is the All-SEC quarterback and said that he "can't believe that they're saying this is the fifth or sixth offensive line in the SEC." His voice implication was almost saying "well, we'll see about that, won't we?"
Meyer said that one of the things he loves about college football is that players hand the ball to the official, then they go hug their offensive linemen and other teammates after scoring a touchdown, unlike the National Football League where every touchdown requires a dance. He said that Saturday morning, Gator wide receiver Chad Jackson told him he wanted to dance after scoring a touchdown.
"I said you to him you better make sure it's one helluva dance because it'll be your last time scoring a touchdown at Florida!" Meyer said, much to the delight of the crowd.
In addition to Chandler, ex-Gators Bobby Raymond and Duane Thomas were at the Gathering.