Urban Meyer SEC Press Conference

Florida head coach Urban Meyer addressed the media today in Atlanta. Meyer discussed the distractions the Gators have faced this season, the spotlight on the SEC, his prior relationship with Nick Saban and more.

THE MODERATOR: Coach Meyer, a couple of opening comments about his team's preparation for the game.

COACH MEYER: First I'd like to thank the City of Atlanta. It's great to be here again on behalf of the Eastern Division of the SEC. And it's hard to put in words the gratification that our team has to make it to Atlanta. That's very simply our goal every year is to compete for a championship with the greatest conference in America and to have our guys arriving in a plane in a few minutes and get ready to go practice and play a great team in Alabama. We're honored to be here.

Q. With the distraction, obviously many distractions, what else is new, but with the distraction of Dunlap earlier in the week, how has your team been able to regain the focus the rest of the week? Were you able to get it where you needed it to be?

COACH MEYER: The only way to evaluate is when you go to watch a practice tape, and we're operating at a very high clip. I think what happens is when you flip on the film of your opponent and you see what you're getting ready to go play, your focus immediately is on the task at hand.

That's to get a little better each day and to move forward. And that's what we've done. So I'm very pleased with our practice and our ability to focus this week.

Q. Speaking of that, the season distractions, you have really endured, maybe the toughest season you've ever had as a coach in all you've had to overcome, the illness and all the controversy. Comment again on what we don't know about what went on inside the team. You had a really tough time getting here, and for that reason this accomplishment is pretty significant just being in Atlanta?

COACH MEYER: I think when you say the toughest season we've ever had, I hope next year is a tough one, too, when we're back here in Atlanta and the year after that. At the end of the day, the evaluation is real simple: Did you win the game; did you lose the game, and what kind of people are you dealing with? And we're dealing with a great group of guys that I love to coach. And all our job was each Saturday to do was to somehow find a way to score one more point than the opponent. To be able to do that with the schedule with the league and injuries and other things we had to deal with, it's just a testimony. It's a great testimony, too, to the makeup of what we're coaching here.

Q. You've been around the country obviously out West in the Midwest. Can you just talk about the SEC and what makes -- it's unbelievable what this league has been able to accomplish over the last few years as far as everything on the field, off the field. Just talk about the SEC a little bit.

COACH MEYER: In 2006, I believe it was, 2006, I remember there was a time where we were trying -- we actually met as a coaching staff and Commissioner Slive and the marketing group. You just look at the quality of player, the quality of program, every road game here is I mean amazing the fan support from top to bottom, I can't think of -- and it's not our job to worry about other conferences.

But the strength of the Southeastern Conference I think right now at least in this era is unparalleled. And that's -- there's great ways to evaluate that. And I remember back in '06 where we actually got together as a group of coaches and the marketing people and we put on all these bullet points about all the success from the number of plays that have the opportunity to go to the NFL, the academic All-Americans, the All-Americans, the non-conference records.

I remember looking, we all sat there and went through it and it's amazing that we had to actually battle for maybe the national respect where maybe one of our teams wasn't going to get into the championship game and it's come completely full circle. I think it's great for football. I think it's cyclical. I remember other conferences when they were at that status and I'm sure we just gotta keep maintaining -- not keep maintaining it -- but keep building. It's like the program. Florida, Florida right now we have to keep building and recruiting and working the South Eastern Conference, the minute you sit and sit back and reflect on how great things are, there's another conference that will pass you in a minute. I watched that at Oregon state last night. There's nothing better than that as far as passion. There's some great conferences. SEC's getting tagged as the best. And I know our commissioner and all our coaches and fans are committed to keep it the best. How to do that? Keep grinding, keep working, keep bringing in great players.

Q. I was thinking if you keep that spotlight on the SEC, have you ever lifted up your gaze, thought about how for so long Alabama was the king of southern football and Florida has really supplanted it and how tomorrow's game will be who is going to be the king, long live the king?

COACH MEYER: I won't go that far. I'm a self-proclaimed great historian of college football. I love it. I loved Coach Bear Bryant. I watched him. I idolized him. Junction Boys, to the first five, if I remember right, the first five South Eastern Conference games. Florida was in it and they're against Alabama. Birmingham when it started, then moved to Atlanta.

Just the history is phenomenal. And I don't want to say I'm overwhelmed to be a part of it. But there's that young part of me that I am a little overwhelmed, when you start mentioning those names and you start talking about the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Gators playing for the Southeastern Conference for the right to play for the national championship, you're probably lying if you're not overwhelmed by the whole deal. Our job is not to be overwhelmed, it's how to focus on how to win a football game.

Q. Coach, certainly you're here last year. So you have the experience of playing Alabama. Two questions. Just interested in how they're different this year and what match- ups, particularly, give you pause or perplex you at the end of the day?

COACH MEYER: They're better on defense because most of the guys are back. That one safety I thought that was phenomenal last year. No. 49. He's not back. But their back end is tremendous and the giants inside are, there's so many keys to this game.

I've always focused first and foremost on the return game and they're ranked, one is 14th and I believe one is 6th, punt return and kick-off return. So we've devoted a lot of good players and a lot of good scheme and a lot of good time on how we're going to keep this guy in check because he could -- yes, he changed the game many, many times this year and that's Javier Arenas. And then on offense you've got the dilemma you have these, this quarterback who is now playing the best football of the season. McElroy and you have the two backs, the minute you focus on stopping the run, they isolate you with 4 and 8. And the two great receivers they have.

So it's very balanced. And right now they're playing the best football of the year.

Q. We've talked going back to 2006 about maybe a lack of respect helped to motivate your football team before that Ohio State game. It's something we've seen the Patriots use for motivation for years and years. Your offensive line has been called out several times a monster challenge on Saturday. Is that motivation? Is that something that the Pouncey twins and everyone else is talking about, people are saying can we handle their defensive line?

COACH MEYER: I'll say this about the Pouncey twins, there's a lot of pride there. I've not been heard they've been called out but they're facing a very strong defense line. They're very aware. They played against these guys last year. They made the comment to me that it's the best defensive line they've gone against. But we'll do our best, because our offense line is pretty strong as well especially interior and Marcus. And our offensive line has finally found the rhythm and the Pouncey twins are the leader of that group. And it's one of the strengths of our team. So it's going to be strength versus strength, I think.

Q. Nick Saban said this week that you had called him back in the early '90s when you were looking for a job when he was at Toledo and you spoke with his wife for a while. Do you remember that conversation? Bring me back to that time what you remember about him at Toledo.

COACH MEYER: I gave her a big hug. We were at the luncheon together. That story came up again, starting to catch a little bit of fire. It's true.

I want to say 1989 I was a linebacker coach. I made this clear, too, not a very good linebacker coach at Illinois State University. Wanted to move back to Ohio. And somehow some way, there were no cell phones. I got a phone number and said call Coach Saban. Called Coach Saban, and his lovely wife picked up the phone and we chatted for about 10 minutes. I got her; she was sold. She was ready to go. And then I remember telling Shelly at the time -- I think she was my fiancee at the time, "Looks like we're going to Toledo." The phone call never came back. (Laughter) I had her; I didn't get him.

Q. With Dunlap's absence, talk about the role that could increase for William Green and what you like about him as a football player?

COACH MEYER: First thing I like about him is he comes from a great family and has great character. And he's high energy. He's like Energizer bunny. Flip on the switch, he goes as hard as he can. On top of that, he's very talented. And Justin Trattou would be a starter for us anyway. Their roles have increased. Jay Howard, 295-pound guy that we might utilize as well because we have a little bit of depth on the defensive line.

Q. You touched briefly on it earlier but could you talk about what you see different from Alabama offensively under McElroy than you did last year under John Parker Wilson?

COACH MEYER: Not much. I think certainly in the back half of the year, the middle they relied completely on No. 22, Ingram and the great freshman, Trent.

Now I think last week their game against Auburn was classic. Development of a quarterback and confidence, and he took that team down there to go win that game. So I don't see a whole lot of difference at this point in the team we faced last year.

Q. Could you comment on Xavier Nixon's play and just how vital his play is against Alabama's outside rush?

COACH MEYER: True freshman, came in, very mature guy. Does well in school. Good guy. I think it was one of the strategic moves that we had to make. And a lot of it was to strengthen our interior as well.

We moved Carl Johnson, 350-pound guy, inside, stabilized our interior because Pounceys were playing very good football, and Xavier Nixon has performed very well.

Q. Can you step back, if you can, from the game a little bit. As a college football fan, how special is this weekend going to be that Tebow, Ingram and Colt McCoy can probably settle the Heisman on the field?

COACH MEYER: I've not given that a whole lot of thought other than we have great respect for Tim and Colt and Ingram as football players. I think to make those kind of assumptions, I haven't got a chance to see everybody else in the country go play. So I can speak on behalf of the two guys playing Saturday, and they're two of the best players in America.

Q. How do you react to Lane Kiffin saying that Alabama has the coaching edge?

COACH MEYER: There's no comment.

Q. Brandon Antwine is going to play again. This is, what, about the fourth medical miracle you've had with him. Would you comment about that?

COACH MEYER: ACL. He had that traumatic back injury. Now he has a shoulder injury. I spoke with him yesterday and we're going to try to get him in the game. Very good player and even better kid.

Q. Charlie talked about the height advantage they had, the receivers versus your corners, particularly, and I think his comment was to Haden, "They'll be eating peanuts off the top of your head." What are your thoughts about how these guys play with the disadvantage they have in height and what you expect to happen?

COACH MEYER: Well, we have two very good corners. And the thing that makes them good corners is not necessarily height. They're both not bad sized guys, but they're very -- Haden is a freakish athlete, 40-inch vertical jump. Janoris is a very reactive, instinctive player. So we realize the challenge. And we faced some great receivers before. These two might be the two best as far as a group.

But they've answered the challenge on many occasions. And it's tied in with the pass rush. It's not just these two singled up. It's all tied together.

Q. Do you feel like your team is playing their best ball of the season right now in terms of health and everything like that?

COACH MEYER: I think it is. I think we stabilized the offensive line. I think we're getting more explosive plays than we've had this year. Any offense to score points you need to have some chunks. And I think our game against our rival last week was the best we've had. We ran the ball for 300 yards against a bunch of great athletes. We had some explosive plays. I'd probably say we are.

Q. Expanding on the Toledo story. What do you think it would have been to have coached under Coach Saban, how would your life have been different?

COACH MEYER: Boy, I made the comment about Coach Bryant. My feeling about Coach Hayes to Bo Schembechler, I'd put Coach Saban -- obviously he's still coaching, he's not retired from the game, but I think as far as respected coaches in the game, I think anytime you can learn from those type of coaches you're better off.

Q. You and Nick really are good at coaching in big games like this. I'm sure that's an acquired skill. But when did you get past I guess the anxiety that can come in coaching in big games like the one on Saturday?

COACH MEYER: I don't think you ever get by it. If I said there's no anxiety, I can't speak on behalf of Coach Saban. There's anxiety. When you have good players and a strong group of assistant coaches that usually helps you, head coach gets a lot of credit, but it's all the checkers, what kind of checkers you've got and did you prepare all week.

The head coach is not the only lone soldier out there. It's a group of people. I've got to say one of the reasons we've had great success and maybe the big games the last couple of years is, first of all, number one great players, and, number two, we have a group of aligned coaches from our strength coach all the way through our staff that everybody is on the same page. They follow the plan to win. They believe in it and they get our players ready to try to execute it.

Q. Could you talk about Tim Tebow's veteran leadership skills and how he might be preparing the team behind the scenes and knowing much more about the game than he did when he first showed up in the SEC Championship game?

COACH MEYER: Well, Tuesday and Wednesday, it's just preparation. There's not a whole lot of team meetings. There's not a whole lot of discussion about other than who you're playing and how to put a plan somewhat complicated plan in place for a very good team. The next 24 hours is when you start getting together, having dinner together and guys working each other. And Tim has a very good skill at doing that. But we have some other great leaders on this team from Spikes to Pounceys to Joe Haden, Jermaine Cunningham. And I haven't seen it yet because they're still flying out behind me, but I see now more the Tuesday, Wednesday, once again there's not a whole lot of hey we've got to go beat Alabama. No here's what they do, here's how we have to try to stop it or here's how we have to move the ball, try to stop the kick returner.

But the next 24 hours are going to be critical as far as the leaders stepping up and getting everybody to make sure they play at their best level tomorrow.

Q. Did you have to talk to Charlie Strong at all this week with the talk of his name being mentioned with Louisville, and can you talk about the potential of possibly losing a coordinator before a Bowl game for the second straight year?

COACH MEYER: I did talk with Charlie. Charlie, one thing about Coach Strong, our relationship goes much greater than coordinators. Our wives are very close friends. We've known each other for a long time. We lived about five houses apart at a previous stop. And the one thing about Charlie, he's as professional as there is. There's no discussion whatsoever about any possible job change. There's either coaches that I've made this comment, which it's not my comment, you've heard this before, coaches you either want or don't want. And we've been very fortunate. We've had five coaches in two years transition. And the new group came in and we're doing a good job. So Florida is a good place. People are going to try to hire coaches from Florida. And you should be able to hire very good coaches at Florida. So we're very fortunate to be where we're at.

Q. Used to be the school of thought that you needed to run the option all the time to be really good at it. It looks like your option, particularly with Tebow running it, it looks better than ever now. Is there a reason you guys are getting better at the option, if that's a true assessment?

COACH MEYER: I think it is. I think it goes back to the stability of the offensive line. I think Tim's a very good decision-maker, which makes him a very good option quarterback. And he's tough and he can run the ball. I think our backs, we've got explosive backs and obviously Aaron Hernandez has been involved. He's a tremendous player. It starts with the personnel and execution with the personnel. It's either experience or just this time of year I'd like to think that the good football teams are playing their best, and right now we are executing that play very well.

Q. This is a game everybody wants to watch, play in, coach in. How devastating is it for a guy like Carlos Dunlap not to be able to play in this game, and how did he react when you told him he couldn't play in it?

COACH MEYER: I met with his family and Carlos is -- I made a comment he's a 3.0 student, great university. I told you he takes care of his business. This is very uncharacteristic for him. He made a horrible decision. He apologized. I was with his family. I'm very close with his family. And he is devastated. Made the comment he didn't want to hurt his teammates. Very poor decision, but that's certainly not an indictment on who he is the rest of his life at all. We've got to make sure that those kind of things don't happen again, for his future.

Q. Earlier in the week you talked about your biggest concern being Alabama's punt return, and is that still after a week of preparation your biggest concern and could you talk about Javier Arenas?

COACH MEYER: There's multiple concerns. And mine is just, that's where I spend an inordinate amount of time watching, evaluating. I made a comment that guys have a tendency to block. It's not just him. It's the return unit, their wall return, and the effort that they give because they know the guy catching the ball. I've coached punt return for 100 years. And if you have a guy back there that can take it to the house and is tough and aggressive player, they block much harder, and those guys go -- their guys go real hard.

So it's not just the returner. It's the guys blocking for him. And they're playing at a very high level right now.

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