Meyer Makes Major Transformation

The term "Urban Renewal" has been overused in heralding the presence of Urban Meyer in and around the Florida football program. In light of Saturday's landscape-changing win over Georgia in the Cocktail Party, the biggest story ---other than the win itself --- was Meyer's transformation from a system coach to a guy who just wants to win.

One can't overstate just how significant it was for the Gators' first-year coach to come out and say the following, just minutes after winning the gridiron battle that truly matters most to the Gator Nation: "One thing I've figured out in this conference is that you've got to do what you've got to do to win games."

It's revealing and, moreover, cathartic for Florida football fans to hear that statement.

Up until now, the biggest reason to give Meyer plenty of patience and time--other than the fact that any coach demands three seasons to legitimately succeed or fail on the merits of his abilities --- was the legitimate belief that Meyer needed to fully implement his system. After all, he made a very deep and significant imprint on the college football world with his system and the offensive conceptual framework that accompanied it. The very reason why Meyer is Florida's coach today is the spread option, which catapulted Utah to national prominence and made Bernie Machen feel he could initiate a "Ute Movement" in Gainesville. It was hard to conceive of Meyer --- now at Florida --- not doing everything possible to succeed on his terms. It would be no different for any other coach who had a particularly systemic blueprint for success: you want to try and test your philosophy at the highest possible level of competition. For something such as the spread option, the NFL isn't an option; Florida, though, was and is.

So as this season has progressed, with a lot of pain and an achingly slow learning curve, one has had to realize that Meyer's classic system was never going to fully get off the ground --- not in its normal form, and not with fully productive results. The idea of Chris Leak fitting into an offense made for Alex Smith IN ONE YEAR was ludicrous --- if anyone dared to believe it could happen in the first place. 2005 was either going to be Chris Leak's stepping-stone for '06, or a season in which newer, younger blood emerged under center as the future of Gator football. Either way, however, the thought of the spread option --- even in tweaked, reduced or hybridized forms --- being legitimately shoved aside seemed a longshot.

Now, however, in the wake of another satisfying party that left Georgia crying in its cheap beer, Meyer has --- gasp! --- made a surprisingly bold pronouncement: in effect, he's no longer a system coach. He's all about winning dadgum football games, no matter what it takes.

Now, no one in the Gator program --- let alone Florida fans --- has to live under the burden of tethering the future of Meyer's operation to the success of the spread option. Now, no one has to feel that a system's implementation is the essential component of long-term excellence. Now, no one has to exist in that uncomfortable in-between place Meyer has himself inhabited for so much of this season --- you know, that place where trying to win games sometimes conflicted with the installation of the system. It wasn't fun for any Gator --- coach, player, administrator, ballboy, manager, trainer, or fan --- to comprehend how much Meyer was conflicted in his struggle to balance teaching with tactics, to juggle out-of-the-box risk-taking with safe, simple plays designed to build confidence in his offensive scheme. No, that unique and real kind of football agony is over.

Now, Meyer has come out of the closet in a football sense: with his adjustments in the Georgia game and his telling remarks after UF's victory, Meyer has told his constituency that he will no longer live a lie of believing that his system could be imposed on the SEC. Sure, Meyer will teach the likes of Josh Portis in future seasons to try to be what Alex Smith was at Utah, but if there are ever problems in matching schemes with personnel, Meyer has finally proven--in word and, more importantly, in deed --- that he can and will travel untraditional routes to victory. The talk no longer has to be about "the system." Now, it can simply be about winning ballgames. This has to be a cathartic, turning-point moment in Meyer's young UF career; just as importantly, it's cathartic for anyone associated with the program because it puts the focus where it should be: merely winning games. If Meyer, Dan Mullen, or any other Gator coaches ever become too enamored with a scheme or system at the expense of using specific player talents to exploit particular opponents, colleagues in the coaches' war room can remind the main man that in the SEC, it's all about figuring out ways to win games.

A real and substantial burden has been lifted. A series of perceptions, beliefs and concerns have been eliminated. It's all so much simpler and purer right now: just win ballgames. Analyzing this team --- not to mention Meyer's career --- can now be done in light of the only standard that really matters. Meyer himself has to be relieved that from here on out, his system won't ever face the same level of scrutiny it did before the Cocktail Party. All that matters now are the results, and what the coaching staff does (or doesn't do) to attain them.

How relieving that is to know, as the SEC race comes down to the wire and Meyer's first season winds toward its conclusion. It's a tremendous bit of Urban Development that makes this season --- with or without Atlanta --- a season of growth and understanding. This win over Georgia didn't just claim the number one rivalry for Florida and all its attendant bragging rights --- it also showed a coach what really matters, and that is the biggest thing this program can carry into battle in 2006 and beyond. In the big picture, the lesson learned by Meyer this past weekend --- even more than the outcome itself --- could be the moment when a coach and a program grew up, taking several big steps toward returning to the college football mountaintop.


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