It seemed like an interesting possibility for a conversation. It turned out to be quite enlightening.
LV: How has it impacted on your son getting ready for play his fifth season of college football with his third head coach?
TB: Well I tell you the hardest thing about it is that every coach recruits kids to what they want. And when a new coach comes in, he may not be the type of kid that he wanted or have the style of play he wanted. I remember with Coach Spurrier, Guy Morris of Kentucky offered Lance as a junior and he told me if your son was two or three inches shorter I would even be offering him. When Steve Spurrier came to my house he talked more about golf than he did football. My parents are from Ireland and I have a lot of picture of Ireland on my walls. So Coach Spurrier was looking at them and said, "I played golf there!" And I was thinking, hey, you came here to recruit my kid. But Spurrier convinced him to come to Florida. We had Chuck Amato over to the house the week before and he said if Lance went to state he'd play right away and Spurrier said if he told you Lance wasn't good enough to play at Florida then he insulted you. Steve had a way about him.
When Lance got the call over Christmas that Spurrier was leaving Lance didn't know where he was gonna be. That's the hardest part of it when a kid is thinking this coach recruited me, but what is the new coach going to expect from me? I think the first time I met Ron Zook was at the practice field, but they were looking for different kind of offensive linemen than Jimmy Ray (Stephens) was looking at so Lance had to make that transition and it was very difficult for him. Spurrier wanted finesse and these guys wanted mean guys.
The toughest thing that happened for Lance that year was he didn't dress for the Georgia game. Then after the season Zook came up to him and said we really don't want you to leave, we just want you to get meaner. And I think Lance got the point, but he's a great kid. The last thing he says to me after every phone conversation is, " Dad, I love you." I just talked to one of his high school coaches who saw him last week and he told me he couldn't believe that Lance was exactly the same kid he was five years ago. The same attitude, respect and demeanor. He hasn't changed that much, but he is meaner on the field.
LV: So how has it gone with Coach Meyer? He has made a big deal of saying he wants the assistant coaches involved with the kids on a very persona level on an every day basis, knowing where they live how they live and so on. How has Lance responded and how do you respond to that?
TB: Well, you know what? I approached him one time at a Gator thing and told him he's the kind of coach I want my kid with because Meyer wants the same things I want from my son. I want my son to live right. I want my son to respect women. I want me son to stay out of trouble. I want my son to get a degree. I've told him, Lance I don't care if you ever play pro football. And he said, "Dad I just want to play for Florida. I'll worry about the other stuff later". He went there for an education because I don't want to worry about him being able to take care of himself. I think what Meyer's instilling them is great.
I think the greatest thing Meyer has going with recruits is parents. That they are seeing in a coach, a person who wants the same things for their son as they do.
LV: Having seen Florida have a good summer without any off-the-field nonsense what does it say to you about the program.
TB: Well it tells me I wasn't doing as good a job as a parent because I let him get away with a lot more than Meyer will. (Laughing) I went to the parents meeting during spring practice and I loved it when Meyer told us, if your kid doesn't go to class and get his degree you (the parents) will be paying for it. I like the idea that he tells guys, you go to class. He's firm about what he's going to.
I really didn't have a lot of conversation with Meyer because talking to the head coach about your kid is sorta like asking his boss about the job he's doing. You don't want to hear the bad things. So the best thing to do is wave and say, hello and let the coach say your kid's doin' alright. Meyer told me, "your kid is giving a hundred percent and he's doing everything we asked him to". And I said thanx.
LV: So how do you feel the rest of the team is adjusting to their coach?
TB: I've been going down there for four years and – I hate to say this -- the thing I always got from the kids is they didn't believe in the system. Now, they believe. I mean these kids really think they can go all the way. Before I got the feeling they did it, but they just didn't believe they were really going to have a great season. For some reason there was something about it there was no real belief in it.
I'll tell you something. When Lance was being recruited by Tennessee we were sitting in Phil Fulmer's office and he asked Lance what he wanted. Lance told him he wanted to go to a team that has a chance for a National Championship. He took off his ring and tossed it to him and said, "try this on". And we were at the Florida game that year (2000) and Florida was winning and I said to Lance, "I really hope Florida wins". And he said, "so do I" and I knew he was going to be a Gator.
Not only is Lance Butler the kind of hard-working, good-behaving player every coach wants. But Tom Butler comes off to me as an ideal football dad. Someone who has not let the vicarious enjoyment of his son's athletic success distract him from his primary role.
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