Meyer Expecting Return on Investments

Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer greeted about 400 Gator fans at the Marion County Gator Club gathering Saturday. At a beautiful ranch south of Ocala, Meyer spoke about his team turning the corner and becoming a great team. He says that the players are starting to see the investment it takes into being a complete unit, and that the individual investments will lead to great rewards.

Meyer spent a great deal of time talking about the senior class that just passed and mainly the three guys he thought were the leaders for the entire team last fall --- Jarvis Herring, Jeremy Mincey, and Vernell Brown. Those three were much of the glue for a team that could have fallen apart late in the year.

Meyer also talked about a new tradition that was started called "the senior tackle." According to him, "it symbolizes their last practice as a Florida Gator. It symbolizes playing the best game in college football, a great academic institution, and playing in a great stadium where some great college football have played."

Your college days should be the best of your life. With the amount of time and energy dedicated to the Gator football program by each individual, this should be a time that is full of great memories. Yet, some are too young too realize just what they should still cherish.

"A lot of times the young guys leave and they don't understand," Meyer said. "It is a way of remembering the guys going out, but it's also a way of showing the underclassmen how important it all is. At 18 years old, I don't think they understand how fast it goes by."

"The senior tackle" is a moment for everyone to reflect on four or five years of service and dedication that the senior players have given to the football program and to each other as part of that program. The player's position coach starts the process by making some good comments about the outgoing player. That is followed by a younger player at the position on the squad. Meyer then adds his thoughts about the player. Finally, the senior player gets to address the team how he sees fit.

It is all done in one meeting and Meyer chooses the order of the players to be put on the podium. For last season, Meyer had a specific order for which the seniors were addressed.

"I put them in order of my opinion of their investment level into the team," he said. "I was a little disappointed in the beginning at our coaches and all, because guys were getting introduced and no one was breaking down. So one by one they went until the last three players. When Jeremy Mincey got up there, our defensive line coach got up there and you could tell the investment level by Jeremy Mincey. He isn't a very outspoken guy, but a completely invested football player."

"Then Jarvis Herring got up there. Doc Holliday gets up and starts bawling like a child talking about Jarvis and how much he changed and helped the team get through some hard times. Then the young guy got up, I said a few words, then Jarvis Herring speaks."

The last two set the stage for the grand finale. As much as the last two players meant to the team, Vernell Brown and his "heart of gold", was enough to make everyone really look inside the team and inside themselves. The effect that Brown had on the team was something that Meyer would bottle if he could.

"The culmination of a great day was when Chuck Heater got up and spoke about Vernell Brown," Meyer went on. "Heater has been through the wars, but bawled like a child, because he introduced Vernell Brown who was playing his last football game. He could not finish his speech because of the investment level Vernell Brown made. If you want to win a bunch of championships, go get yourself a bunch of Vernell Browns."

Next it was the younger players' turn to talk about someone that helped mold them. For Brown, it was Avery Atkins, who had himself a special freshman year. Atkins did not disappoint.

"Avery Atkins stands up and a guy that is too cool for school spoke for seven or eight minutes. He was babbling like a child, and then he finally said that someday, ‘I want to be a Vernell Brown.' There wasn't a dry eye on the whole team." said Meyer.

"Then I spoke my two cents worth and told everyone what I thought of him. Then the man, Vernell Brown stood up there. All he talks about was what it means to be a Florida Gator. Can you believe that? What we need is everyone to know what it means to be a Florida Gator."

Previously Meyer addressed a great Gator in quarterback Kerwin Bell, who was in attendance. Bell was honored by the Marion County Gator Club as the "Gator of the Year" after leading his Trinity Catholic High School football team to the first Marion County State Championship since 1979. After a few good natured shots at Bell earlier, Meyer heaped a ton of praise on him and pointed him out as a true Gator.

"Kerwin Bell knows exactly what it means to be a Gator," Meyer said. "I talked to Alex Brown who is having shoulder surgery but will be back -- he knows what it means."

Meyer also sees the commitment and investment in a team playing out in Minneapolis right now as the Gator Hoops team is trying to make their third appearance ever in the Final Four. Meyer is amazed at what that team has accomplished.

"There are also great teams," he said. "I think our basketball team is a great team. I don't know how good they are, because they are a bunch of sophomores that play their hearts out, but they are a great team. If you want to see a great team, watch them play. They lost a few games in the middle of the year they lost three games in a row and the (media) was just ripping them, but that is a great team. That is the best team I have seen and I am a big basketball fan."

Meyer started to see some of the fight in this year's version of the basketball team, late in the season for his football team. One round ball contest stood out as an example of how the two had similar seasons.

"When the basketball team lost a couple of games and then came back against LSU, that team found a way," he said. "What I can't believe is that it is four sophomores and a junior (leading them) and they came back and beat LSU. They fought back and won and that is the sign of a great team."

"Well, we lost the SEC championship against a team we shouldn't have lost to. Then we came back and made some personnel changes. We had a great two weeks of practice and had the game of the year against our rivals from out west in the Swamp and that is an indication of a great team. Then they come back and have the two best weeks of bowl practice I have been a part of in 21 years in coaching and that's says a lot about their dedication."

Part of that dedication was giving them a break from their leash during bowl week and seeing just how far the dogs would travel from home. Meyer got a real glimpse of that dedication when his team really made him proud off of the field during their week of preparation.

"We showed up (in Tampa) a week before we played Iowa," he said. "We gave them a two o'clock curfew, but we dared them to stay out. We had an administrative assistant check and he told me that every kid was in every night before midnight. That told me a great team is starting to happen. I really believe that is happening."

"I was fortunate to be part of a great team a couple of years ago (at Utah). It was a not a great program, certainly not great depth, but we were a very unselfish team. Unfortunately we were not a great team this (past) year. Certainly not in the beginning and the middle, but near the end, we were pretty damn close to being a great team."

He doesn't want to overplay what is on hand for the Gator nation. This is still a work in progress and one that may still have a few holes. Working as one can overcome many of those holes, but depth is something that is going to have to improve, but that is coming.

"I want to make clear exactly where we are at," he said. "Great programs don't recruit, they select. You reach that point where you are two deep across the board and if someone breaks a chin strap or a shoe lace and when is replaced, the guy behind him is as good as the one that left the game. We certainly are not there yet. We are still a team in transition. We were below in scholarships last year and we will be this year, but that will eventually happen."

The momentum at the end of the season along with a huge win over the School Out West was something that has already paid dividends in the depth department. Citing the great recruiting haul he and his assistants reeled in, Meyer talked about that night and its effects on recruiting.

"After the Florida State game, we had a room full of recruits in the locker room and Brandon Siler got up to sing," he said. "It was a real emotional time and I saw a bunch of hands reaching out to commit, and I had to pick out the ones I wanted. I had to be careful. There were a couple there that I didn't want to be a part of the team, so I stayed away from them," he said in amusement. "But really, that was a big push that got us over the hump and helped us finish with a great recruiting class."

It is something the University of Florida should do every year. Meyer thinks Florida is the school that every top prospect in-state should want to be a part of.

"In state, if you are smart enough and talented enough, you should go to the University of Florida," he said. "I think our guys (assistants) did a great job in state. We also hit Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina. Those are the states that we will continue to hammer, because I believe we can go in there and pull them away. A top five academic institution is a powerful piece. Florida isn't a tough sell. We just have to get them down here to watch a game."

Coach Meyer then concluded his speech with an open question and answer session:

On the starting tailback, Meyer said he didn't know who it would be at this point.

Of course, a question about the gun incident came up and Meyer made it clear that punishment was dealt and it wasn't easy on anyone. "Just because I'm not telling the media everything doesn't mean anything," he said. "For the people involved it was a very powerful thing." (We will have more on this in our next installment of our Hollywood Bob Private Screenings, so stay tuned).

Meyer stated once again that Chris Leak is the quarterback at Florida and that all the criticism heaped his way is unwarranted. "Chris Leak is our quarterback," he said. "By the end of the season he took a lot of heat, but there are some other guys that should have shared I that. The last two games, Leak played tremendous. Tim Tebow is the backup quarterback so he will play. How much? He has to earn that."

Meyer quipped about everyone questioning his methods. It went as far as the SEC officials thinking he didn't know what he was doing.

"I learned a lot about the SEC, Florida football, the passion of college football in the South," he said. "I learned about all the knowledge and lack of knowledge of college football from fans, media and even from officials. At the Georgia game we came out and played well and all of a sudden the game starts to turn a bit in the second half and we needed to make our own break. They were lining up a certain way against our punt team and if they did it again, we needed to take a chance. We were lined up about on our own 24 yard line and I told the official we were going to run a fake punt if we get a certain look and if not I want to call a time out. He looked at me like I had seven heads. He said, ‘You want to run a what?', like he wanted to argue with me. So I started to get a little upset with him, but we ran it and it was a big momentum shift. Only in the SEC will the referees argue with some of your play calls."

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