Meyer Hopes To Mirror Bellichick's Approach

ORLANDO --- Standing outside the exhibition hall at the Central Florida Fairgrounds Wednesday night, just a few minutes before he addressed a Gator Gathering crowd of approximately 1,000, Urban Meyer made no effort to hide how pleased he is that five players from his 2005 University of Florida football team will be competing for spots on the fall roster of the New England Patriots.

If there is one coach that Meyer admires above all others it is Bill Bellichick, who has turned the Patriots into the model franchise of professional sports not only with their three Super Bowl championships in five years but with the way they consistently carry out their mission --- with responsibility, accountability and a deep devotion to team and personal values. That's the way Meyer is trying to build the Florida program.

Bellichick spent time in Gainesville before the draft, engaging in lengthy conversations with Meyer about team building issues and taking the time to talk man to man with Chad Jackson, Jeremy Mincey, Vernell Brown, Jarvis Herring and Randy Hand. On draft day, he took Jackson in the second round and Mincey in the sixth. Monday, he inked Brown, Herring and Hand to free agent contracts. Bellichick already has former Gators Guss Scott and Reche Caldwell on his veterans roster so it's obvious that he finds the University of Florida's football program compatible with the program he has constructed on the professional level in New England.

"You look at the guys he picked up," said Meyer. "They're Bellichick kind of guys. Vernell Brown, Jarvis Herring, Randy Hand, Jeremy Mincey and Chad Jackson are right on the dot. Those guys are going to have great careers there."

Bellichick kind of guys are high end when it comes to character, hard work and taking personal responsibility. When it comes time to draft players or sign them as free agents, Bellichick doesn't rely on spotty information from agents or lawyers, but instead he goes straight to the source where he talks to the players, their coaches and teammates. He wants to know everything about a player before he invites him into the very structured environment he has built with the Patriots where team goals and winning championships are far more important than personal goals.

It's a very similar approach to the one that Meyer uses on the recruiting trail. He spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday watching some of Florida's top high school football players practice in the afternoon. In the morning, he was talking to coaches, guidance counselors, principles and assistant principles and teachers trying to gather as much personal information about each kid he's interested in bringing to the University of Florida on a football scholarship. Character matters with Meyer and he has to be satisfied that a player that he brings to the University of Florida has the qualities and values that will make him a good fit with the goals of the program and with teammates.

When Bellichick came to Gainesville to work out Jackson, Mincey, Herring, Brown and Hand, he also spent a good bit of time talking to Meyer and their position coaches about personal issues, dedication, determination and character. On draft day and the day after, he determined that the five Gators had a good shot to fit in with his team. Meyer admitted that he's a bit miffed that every team doesn't take the Bellichick approach.

"It confuses me sometime that you hear about players being drafted and you never hear from the people doing the drafting," Meyer said. "You go talk to the agent that just met the kid a month ago and ask about his character and his work ethic and all that? The way we like to recruit we're going to go ask the high school coach because they know."

Meyer and Bellichick have become friends in the past couple of years. When they get together, there's not a lot of joking around or small talk. Football is only a part of the agenda. What it takes to make a football player and what it takes to mold and shape a football team to greatness take up the bulk of the time.

"I think we believe in a lot of the right things," said Meyer. "It's a great visit. It's not like 'let's go talk about the Yankees or something like that.' Let's go talk about discipline. Let's go talk about values. Let's go talk about team building and all the things that make the New England Patriots the class of the NFL."

From day one since he arrived on the Florida campus in December of 2004, Meyer has emphasized values, accountability and character as the cornerstones of building a team. It's the message that he continues to preach on the annual tour of Gator Gatherings. The speech he gave in Orlando Wednesday night didn't vary much from the one he gave in Daytona Beach on Saturday or the ones he gave in Bradenton Monday night or Tampa on Tuesday.

At every stop on the tour, he has told the gathering of alumni, boosters and friends of the University of Florida that his first team wasn't a great team for much of the 2005 season. He admits that there was a point when the team could have caved in but a season was salvaged and an agenda was moved forward when Herring, Brown and Mincey almost willed the team to come together before the Florida State game. Florida went from a team on the brink of disaster to a team capable of totally destroying FSU in the final game of the season and then beating Iowa 31-24 in the Outback Bowl. The momentum from that outstanding end to the season carried over on National Signing Day in February and it continues to build on the recruiting trail for the incoming class of 2007.

Florida signed one of the top two recruiting classes in the nation back in February and the Gators are already off to an outstanding start for the next recruiting class with three outstanding defensive line commitments. It is only a matter of time before some of the other top prospects in the southeast make a public commitment to UF. Florida's recruiting is taking off because outstanding athletes are sold on the Meyer approach which has become a virtual mirror of the approach Bellichick uses to administer his team in New England.

Meyer wants potential players to understand that the Florida program is about all the right things. He wants high character players but even kids with high character sometimes have issues and problems. Issues and problems will do one of two things --- unresolved they will tear a team apart or if they are resolved the team can be strengthened. Meyer goes with the problem-solving approach.

"We're going to try to help people," said Meyer. "If you look at our history it's very clear what we try to do. If a kid has a problem we're going to try to fix the problem. We're not going to close our eyes and walk away and hope that it disappears. I think parents appreciate that and the young people appreciate that.

"You look at some of these young guys playing for us now that had major, major issues that cleaned up and they're doing great and they're going to have great careers at Florida and beyond. I wouldn't agree with zero tolerance. I would put us in as much or a better situation as any school in the country as far as taking care of players, as far as teaching them the right thing and as far as getting involved in their lives. That's documented. That's the way it is. Some people probably don't want to do that but those guys probably need to go somewhere else. If you want to get a great education and play great football with a bunch of people that care for you, it's a pretty good place to go."

He said that he is planning to implement some of the things that are staples of Bellichick's team in New England. Meyer already has a leadership committee, something that Bellichick put into place a long ago with the Patriots.

"He has his own little deal that we're going to implement some of it this year," Meyer said. "We're going to do a lot of things the Patriots do. This was a great visit when he came down last time. They're really into development and really into accountability. I'm not sure how many teams are like that any more."

In his conversations with Bellichick, Meyer has often heard the New England coach bring up his first head coaching experience which wasn't successful.

"He went through his issue with the Cleveland Browns and he's the first guy to say I learned," Meyer said. "He reflects on that quite often."

What Bellichick learned from that first losing experience was how to deal with his players in a better, more efficient manner. The Patriots aren't necessarily the most talented team in the National Football League but they are the team that handles its egos better and works the hardest to build team chemistry.

Meyer says, "You never hear about the dealing with issues."

He knows the Gators aren't quite there yet. They haven't gotten to the point that they can handle every problem, every issue with the same efficiency that Bellichick gets the job done in New England but he believes if he stays this present course and continues to recruit character and chemistry first, the Florida program will become a great program. Becoming a great program will take time. Becoming a great team could happen as early as the 2006 season.

"We'll be a better team than we were a year ago," he said. "I can't tell you records but we'll be a better team."

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