They are the kings of college football until someone takes it away from them. The Florida Gators are back and ready to defend their BCS National Championship Title.
2006 was a good year to be a Florida Gator. In Urban Meyer's second year as head coach, UF finished the season with a 13-1 record and as the national champs.
But 2007 is a new season and the Gators will have some new faces mixed in with the old. Tim Tebow will take over the quarterbacking duties full time and he'll have plenty of help on offense according to his head coach.
"Obviously we are celebrating a great year. It's time to move on. Certainly have a lot of issues that you deal with when you lose quality football players like we lost and you compete in the Southeastern Conference."
I am awful anxious to get going. Offensively speaking, we returned some very good players. Returned an offensive line we're extremely excited about, a group that loves the game of football, which is probably element number one when you want to have a successful offense.
Return a group of receivers. If we keep them healthy, we are very, very excited about watching a little bit of depth, athleticism, play making ability of our receiver position.
Tailback. We are excited about Kestahn Moore. We haven't had a lot of production out of our tailback. Hoping this year is a little different. Don't have a lot of depth at that position, but we have a guy that's accountable, a guy I'm counting on to be very productive.
We have a quarterback that obviously has a lot of experience, very talented. He's got the "it." Everybody wants the "it" in that position. That's a competitor, intelligent, a guy that are do anything for the team to help you win.
On defense we have two starters back. We have Tony Joiner, Derrick Harvey, a bunch of other names. Our challenge to the team is, you hear repeat, you hear this, you hear this. The only thing you're hearing at the University of Florida right now is, Can we make it through training camp? Our training camp is going to be really hard. It's going to be really hot, like it always is.
We're going to find out what kind of team we are. Are we able to handle the hard? I don't know that. The hard is the ability to go on the road and come from 10 points down and win that game.
Two years ago we had a football team that couldn't do that. We were 1 3 on the road. Not very tough. As a matter of fact, a soft team. It was not a tough team. Last year Ray McDonald against Ohio State on fourth down and one made a play. In the national championship game the year before, he had two ACL surgeries going on at the same time. That's an element of toughness that we have.
Our middle linebacker last year was extremely tough. He was the apex of our defense. That's Brandon Siler. I don't know this year. A lot of those guys are new. I like 'em. I like the personnel. I like the athleticism. It's just the intangibles. I can't let you know where we're at with that right now.
It's a great time to be in Gainesville, Florida. We start up real soon. I'm excited about it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Meyer.
Q. How difficult is it to develop those intangibles when you're with a predominantly younger team?
COACH MEYER: There's a miss. There's the transition year miss and our first recruiting class, a lot of misses. Whenever that happens, as they grow up you didn't really notice it last year because they weren't playing.
But now that you take away that senior class, they're there. We only have 10 seniors and 10 juniors. How do you teach it? First you try to recruit. Second of all you try to teach it, not now, in January, February, March, throughout with the disciplined hard program we run.
Unfortunately I've seen some chinks in the armor. I've seen some things show up that's not correlated to a tough football team.
However, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. They were awful young. I see it changing. I see our strength coaches doing a phenomenal job. Now I need to see our coaching staff do phenomenal job at two a days and keep development.
So to answer your question, you have to recruit it. You have to develop it. So you recruit it, you develop it. Development of that goes on year round. It's not something you say, Hey, let's get tough during two a days. If you do, you're too late.
Q. I'm sure you had higher priorities than this last year. How aware were you late in the season that Florida was sort of carrying the banner for the SEC with the ongoing arguments about conference strength, making it easier for the next SEC team that has an argument to make for itself to get in the championship game?
COACH MEYER: Well, that statement's unfortunately alive and well. When you start talking about things like that, some people, say, What's important? That's real important. The human element of people voting who goes where, you are carrying a torch.
What role how does that impact us right now? None whatsoever. If we're fortunate to get to that point that doesn't really change your approach, but it puts a little pressure on you. On July 25th of 2007, absolutely no impact whatsoever. We're just trying to get through training camp.
But what you said is a true statement. Every conference is fighting for the same thing. You have to fight for the public opinion. Unfortunately, that's a big part of what happens in December.
Q. You had eight guys enroll early in the spring, Tim enrolled early last year. How much further along is Tim now given two springs under his belt? Will you continue to use that philosophy in recruiting in the future?
COACH MEYER: We try not to push it, because if you have a negative experience my daughter is 16 years old. That's going to be hard for me to let her go. That's six more months at home I get her. It's hard.
Facts are facts. The fact that Tim went through spring practice, all eight of those young men have over a 3.0 as they start their first fall at Florida. Those are all significant issues that are advantages.
Tim's ready to play quarterback at Florida. A big part of that was because he's already had two spring practices under his belt. He helped us last year because he had a spring practice under his belt. So it is significant.
But as a coach, as a recruiter, you can't push that. You have to make it available and say, Here is what you need to do. But it's got to be a family decision.
Q. Could you talk about what you think about the rule changes, especially kicking off from the 30, and if you could also talk about Percy Harvin, all the ways he can impact a game and all the versatility he gives you?
COACH MEYER: First question, I read where Rich Brooks said it's one of the major rule changes in the last 10 years in college football. I agree with that. Significantly is going to impact I think. We're still evaluating. We kind of charted where that kick's going to land. That kick's going to land about the nine yard line now. That's significant. That's when you start talking about the field position, opportunity to score, percentages to score, things that most teams take very serious. It's going to have a major impact on.
I think you might see better personnel on kickoff. You might see more starters. You might see better schemes. You might see a lot of times it's generic and you hope your kicker kicks it out of the end zone and you move on. But you have to have a horse to kick that thing out of the end zone now.
That's going to have a major impact. I know we're spending a lot of time on that. Myself, I'm spending a lot of time on it. I'm also evaluating how we defer, take the ball, whatever we do to maintain the plan to win, which we obviously take very serious.
Second of all, Percy Harvin, that's a great name to talk about. You have six or seven hours I can share with you some ideas we have. We're not going to do that, but Percy is a great football player. He was only healthy for maybe 60% of the season last year and he had tremendous impact on every game he was healthy in. He's one of those gifted athletes that can change a game.
Q. Last year it worked out for Florida and Ohio State to play for the national championship. There's been discussion about a plus one format where one would play four, two play three, winner of those two games play each other. What's your opinion about that?
COACH MEYER: Opinions are strong. At Bowling Green I stood in front of a team that was 8 3, 9 3 and had to tell them they weren't going to go to a Bowl game when they deserved to go to a Bowl game. They were good enough to play in a Bowl game. I think they were better than some teams that played. So did other coaches. That's one of the tragedies of the system.
I think the Bowls should open up and take the most qualified teams to go play. Then I go to Utah, we had a team that on any given day, with Alex Smith at quarterback and the way we play defense, could we survive an SEC, Big 12? I don't know that. That's all relative. But I don't know if we could survive that, be in that situation.
Utah, 12 0. If there's a plus one, you go play that game, you go play for a national championship. Who knows. You have a good day and that's a life changer for a university and a group of players.
You get to Florida, play in a game removed from the other Bowl games. I thought the atmosphere was terrific. If you had to play one more game after that, I'm just glad I'm not faced with a guy that has to make that decision. It's an imperfect system. I think it's the best what we have.
As long as we don't change that whole Bowl I think the Bowl experience is too good for the student athlete to change. But I think continual discussion is necessary, and I think we got the best of what's working. But I think every year that needs to be evaluated.
Pretty good way to not answer your question, wasn't it (smiling)?
Q. With so many young guys, you only have 10 upperclassmen in the junior class and 10 in the senior class. Where are you going to find the leaders, and can you find leaders that can do it among the young guys?
COACH MEYER: If we can do it we'll be a really good team. The difference between year one and year two is significant, not just in athleticism and some other things, but the development of the Siler, of the Ray McDonalds, of the Dallas Baker, the guys that grew up. I always use the they grew the whiskers. They became instead of those young, smooth faced guys, they're weathered. They've been through the storm.
A lot of guys played in that national championship game. But when you study the sideline copy, they're the ones wearing the hats on the sideline doing this to the crowd, not playing.
That's a concern. How you find it, how you develop it, that's the secret. I don't know where we are with that. I have concerns, like I said earlier. I like the guys, I just need to see how they're going to react in tough situations.
I don't feel that on offense. I've seen Tim Tebow in a very difficult situation react to it. I've seen Drew Miller, Trautwein, Medder, Bubba Caldwell a little more comfortable on that side right now.
Q. With respect to your offensive options, what can you do different with Tim Tebow now at quarterback?
COACH MEYER: I think the thing that makes the so called whatever the spread offense is, in our style of play, if that position's a legitimate threat, it changes what you see on defense. I think that's the biggest thing I'm looking forward to seeing.
You see a little more structure. Better make sure that quarterback's taken care of in the run game. Once again, when you have the Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson, Bubba Caldwell, Riley Cooper, Cornelius Ingram, you have a good group of personnel around them, you enjoy working with that style of offense because of the personnel.
Q. How do you view the level of play in the SEC East from top to bottom and how difficult do you think it's going to be to repeat not as national champions but champions of that division?
COACH MEYER: I think it's the most difficult that's all relative. Everybody is going to have opinions. But I think the west is a very tough. We always happen to play the top teams in the west. I think the west is very difficult.
But the SEC East is the one we live in, the one we study. When you see Kentucky go to a Bowl game, do what they did. When you see Vanderbilt, every time you play those guys, it's a war. Then you see the people that traditionally you see South Carolina with a coach that has a record that's as good as anybody that ever coached, some very good players. You see the traditional three the last few years that have had success, have great tradition.
I'm not sure who the weak link is in that side of the conference. I was educated in that conference. Obviously your first year coaching you kind of experience things. The biggest thing I experienced in the SEC East and the SEC is the road games are legitimate. I mean, there's no such thing as going in and (indiscernible) and that's a gimme. There's no chance that's going to happen.
You better be ready for crowd noise in every opponent's stadium, which is not the case in every conference. You better be ready to bring your toughness and bring your A game when you go on the road. I think that's what separates the SEC from others.
Q. How will your experiences with Avery Atkins change you and the way you run your program?
COACH MEYER: That's a tough question there. With due respect to everybody involved, I'm not sure I want to go there right now.
That's not something that we take very lightly at Florida. I think everybody knows that. Players' lives and behavior, those type of issues, are something we take very, very serious.
Q. I know you're a former baseball player. You know how important it is to be strong up the middle. Last year you had that. This year it's unknown.
COACH MEYER: Great question. I think that's the question that's going to determine next year when I stand right here, kind of feeling good about yourself or you feel awful. It's going to be the production of play in the middle.
Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, Joe Cohen, and Steve Harris, pretty good football players. In fact, they're all playing at the next level. Right now you have Kyle Jackson/Dorian Munroe, whomever. You have Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, whoever is going to play that middle linebacker position, or Lorenzo Edwards, a freshman, whoever. Then you have a group of guys competing for that inside spot.
If our coaches can develop that kind of chemistry, if those people are productive, I think we'll be really good this year. If they don't, that's don't worry with the spread. Tim is going to be okay. We're going to work. That's the fun part. That's the part that you really enjoy discussing. The area you just mentioned, unbelievable amount of pressure on that group of people to perform.
In my opinion, in baseball or football, you will fail. At some point you'll give in and fail if those people aren't extremely strong. You take a center, you take a quarterback, they don't love the game of football, they're not good players, you're going to fail on offense. I don't care how good your receivers are, you're going to fail. Same on defense.
Q. You've been an outspoken proponent of text messaging in recruiting. How are you and your staff going to change your recruiting strategy in anticipation of the text messaging ban going into effect on August 1st?
COACH MEYER: I disagree with it. In my opinion, it's wrong. I mean, that's how you communicate nowadays. If you want to go back and use the rotary phone, too, say coaches can only use a rotary phone. Okay. I don't understand that at all.
Kids don't want it. They can't afford it. Yes, they can. We're in a profession. We do it.
Developing relationships with a recruit is how kids make right decisions. Educating them on your kid makes a decision to attend a university. By the way, have you ever talked to the head coach? No, I have not. Have you met the coach's family? No, I have not. You selected that school. That's not good decision making.
I think text messaging helps with all those things, getting to know someone. Our staff is being as proactive as everyone else. I've talked to other guys. Guys are trying to be creative within the rules. You need to communicate with a student athlete. We're doing the very best we can. What exactly we're going to do? We have five more days to figure it out and it's over.
I imagine it will be the traditional way for a while, then some other loophole will come up through electronic way of getting ahold of these guys. As of this point it's just going to be the letters and phone calls in September. That's what you're limited to.
By the way, it's one phone call a week and a letter. So the young person gets highly recruited guy on any given day gets 75 per day letters. He's not opening those anymore. Puts those aside. Waiting for the phone calls. Getting phone calls from all the .com people. A lot of time you talk to him, he's too tired. You get maybe 30 seconds. By the way, we need to make a decision on this kid's future in two months. That's bad. That's not really good for recruiting. That's really bad for recruiting.
Q. Are there any particular battles you're looking forward to seeing unfold for a starting position in training camp?
COACH MEYER: Yeah. I think our right guard position is completely wide open. We have a lot of players with experience on offense. I'm anxious to see a guy like Louis Murphy, Jarred Fayson, Riley Cooper, those talented Deonte Thompson, some of these young talented players compete.
There's only one football every snap. We have some talented guys. You better show up every day of practice or you're not going to get the ball this week. Those guys on offense.
On defense, up the middle I'm really excited to see what happens. I think Brandon Spikes is a very good football player. Does he have the "it" factor? Is he a Michael Jordan or is he one of those athletes that brings down the level of play. If he brings everyone else's level of play up like Michael Siler did, like the Michael Jordans did, then we have a very good chance to be good on defense.
Q. What is the plan if Tim Tebow gets hurt?
COACH MEYER: Ooh. Turn around and punch him right in the mouth, will you (smiling)? Next question. I don't know. Make sure your punter...
No, the first time that I've been on a staff, we have four quality quarterbacks. We have Johnny Brantly from Ocala. You have Cameron Newton. You got Bryan Waggener. We have three guys. That's another battle we're looking forward.
Cam Newton has a bit of an upper hand because he went through spring practice. We also direct snap it to other people. We try to be a bit creative at that position.
That's something that is going for that to happen would hurt our chances significantly at being successful.
Q. When you consider there appears to be some rising programs in the state of Florida, do you feel the state can still produce three teams that can play or challenge for national championships in the same year like it has done in the past?
COACH MEYER: I certainly think so. I think more than ever, I think the population base has moved to the south. It's not by accident that those teams, Miami, FSU, Florida, have really when you look at the history of college football, that wasn't a real strong history back when Ohio State and Michigan because the population base where I'm from was much greater than it is now.
I think more than ever the talent level down in the state of Florida. It's why everybody is going there. It's not just the schools you mentioned. The SEC down there, ACC all over the place. The Big 10 is down there. It's a battle.
We can't lose them out of state. For those three teams, you better get all the top quality players you can. All three of those schools could compete for a national championship.
Q. Would you briefly comment on the perception that some people have of how tough it is to win a national championship in the SEC because of the competition, but as it relates to the Ohio State game last year, if you can maybe talk about the benefits of playing in the SEC and how it prepares you for a big game against another non conference opponent like Ohio State?
COACH MEYER: Well, I think you answered the question with a question. I think there certainly is a benefit of playing in the Southeastern Conference. It also maybe limits your chance of getting that far. I mean, to go play the schedule you play in the Southeastern Conference on the road, then go play in an SEC championship game in Atlanta, make it through that thing.
The biggest thing you deal with, if Florida last year would have lost a couple players to injury, there's no chance that Florida would have made it. That's the same with every school in every conference.
In my personal opinion, making it through the SEC injury free is a secret. That is very difficult to do with the level of play, the speed, the collisions, the number of games, including that SEC championship game.
Q. When you arrived at Florida, the reception from fans was overwhelming. Do you see any similarities between what you experienced and maybe what Nick Saban has gone through at Alabama?
COACH MEYER: I don't know. I don't know what he's been through. I saw the numbers at the spring game. I think we had 70,000. They had 90,000. I imagine it is.
I think it would be I think the Southeastern Conference is so traditional rich, I'm sure at Auburn you're going to get the same thing; I'm sure at Tennessee you get the same thing.
I didn't know that before I got in this conference and you go play a road game. The fans in the Southeastern Conference are unique. I think we've got the best fans in the country. There's some doggone good ones at every other school.
Steve Spurrier going to South Carolina was a big deal too. Any school that has a coach come in with a great tradition and obviously an excellent record, you're going to see that. I'm not quite sure what he's gone through. I have a feeling because, you know, I've kind of witnessed it myself. Maybe not the same level. But that would happen at most schools in the Southeastern Conference.
Q. What was it like for you two years ago when there's this giant fan base, you're carrying their hopes and dreams, you haven't coached a game yet? What goes through your mind when you meet these people, they tell you, Coach, are you going to be the one who does it?
COACH MEYER: Well, kind of shake their hand and move on as fast as I can and get back to what's really important. What's really important is getting around your players. I don't want to undervalue that question, but that's insignificant to what is important.
Somehow our players have to make it through training camp to put a good product on the field. Whether I feel indebted to the fans at Florida, we all do, but we got a job to do. The job is to get that team through training camp, get them to the first game.
Q. Given what you said earlier about recruiting, how important is it for you to have a commitment list of guys for the '08 class at this point in the season? Your list is smaller than Miami, Florida State right now.
COACH MEYER: That's another good question. The thing you have to do is a little study and see how many hold. A lot of these people, some of those names you've said, they've not talked to the head coach yet, but I'm going to go there. I think what happens is, I don't think, I know this, a lot of times people say I need that insurance policy.
I'm going to take that scholarship but still take visits. Probably not a bad way of looking at it. My daughter is 16. I might do that. If she wants to commit, I'll let her do that. That's an insurance policy, put it aside. I don't know if that's right. But that's what happens quite often. I'm going to take that. That's in the bank. By the way, I'm going to go look at these other ones. That's what happens quite often.
We encourage them not to commit early. That's not something we're trying to push very hard. We do not back a kid in a corner and say, I need to know right now because if you don't have it at 2:00 tomorrow, we're going to give it to someone else. That's not right.
I'd rather go have dinner with their family, my family, talk about this. Make sure you understand, Florida is legit. You're going to go to class, get a degree. You need to be honest and develop a relationship. You keep taking that away. An early signing period would be a tragedy of recruiting, terrible, 'cause there goes all relationships now. A kid is picking a school because he likes their helmet. That's not good. That's a recipe for failure when you start making decisions without all the necessary resources.
Q. When you were asked about the reception Saban got in 'Bama, the flipside of that, the reception he now gets at LSU. Have you been back to your home state? Did Ohio State talk about rescinding your master's degree? Anybody give you the raspberry when you went home?
COACH MEYER: I didn't go home. No, Ohio people have too much class for that, I think. I don't know. I'll find out, but we're not playing that. I'm going to be very busy that day, but I'm going to watch somewhere and see how that goes.
I know how passionate these fans are down here in the south. That's going to be a great story line in college football this year. A little bit like when coach came back to Florida this year. What a great story line for college football.
Q. With regards to athleticism, size and speed, with this receiver group, the spread offense, can you give us your thoughts?
COACH MEYER: If we stay healthy it's what you want. We were talking about the last two weeks, just game planning. When you walk in an offensive staff room, there's a lot of communication, a lot of discussion, a lot of X's and O's, that's good.
When you walk in a staff room, you kind of sit there and look at each other, say, We got a little problem here. Who touches the ball? I don't want to say where we're at, but we're darn close to where we want to be.
The number of receivers, the problem is we keep losing them. We lost three last year. Probably lose one or two this year. You have to keep reloading that position.
In this offense, those positions have to be dynamic if you want to have your quarterback involved in the running game. You have to have a threat that someone can take it. I can go through six names right now that are very productive players you want to see touch the ball, which we have not had.
There was a time our first year we had zero. When everybody was hurt, we had zero at the skill position. It's hard to run an offense.
Q. How is it that, considering the text message ban coming up, how is it that the coaches don't kind of get what they want in terms of these rules with the NCAA, whether it be the clock rule, the kickoff? Are y'all not being as clear with your presidents, or are they saying it's going to be better for the game?
COACH MEYER: I'm not sure it's the presidents. I'm not sure who. That's a great question. I'm sure there's coaches involved. I'm not involved in that. I try, every chance I can, to say my piece on that. I try to be, instead of just ranting and raving, try to talk somewhat clearly why and it's all for the good. That's a great question. I don't know that. I don't know that.
Q. After the first basketball championship, Billy Donovan talked with people he talked about after a national championship. Have you talked to anybody or sought any advice?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, Billy Donovan. Also Coach Belichick. I had him speak to our team. I'm very careful. You don't want to water it down. Hey, guys, we have another speaker today. After a while... . You have to command respect when you speak to a group of 85 celebrated athletes. You walk in there, and if you're not a guy that can bring it they're not going to speak to our team because you're just wasting people's times.
Obviously Billy Donovan will speak again. That's a tradition now. We'll show a video. He's going to speak. Did it last year. Phenomenal. He's going to do it again. I think he's I don't have to pay him much, he can come in and speak. He does a good job. He knows directions to get there. He's right there.
Coach Belichick is someone that I think is as good as there is . He did a good job. We're very cautious about that. Have another speaker come in and talk to them. I think it's even more important, national champions. This is not something I've said yet. I think championship teams, any team I've been around, they are great practice teams. They of love the game of football.
Football is the most difficult, combative sport there is. If you don't love that game, your team's going to be really bad and you'll lose on the road. You'll have situations come up where, yeah, it's hard. This is too hard, coach. Yeah, then don't play this game. Go do something else.
I don't know if our team is a great practice team yet. Last year's was a great, great practice team. So was the 12 0 team. Not a good one, a great one. The year before, very poor practice team, very poor, and it showed when it got real hard.
Q. Because of your success at your previous stops you haven't really had a third season at a school. Is there anything new or surprising that kind of came up that you didn't think about?
COACH MEYER: I keep hearing that. We haven't changed. I don't have like a year three book that I read or something like that. We're just trying to do the same thing we did. I'm excited to be at a place my third year, though.
Q. Most of the pre season magazines and such have you pegged as a top 10 team. Given your inexperience on defense, what is your kind of feeling about that, those predictions?
COACH MEYER: Most people in this room Pat, you know the answer to that, right? I don't. I couldn't tell you where we're picked. It means nothing. Just got to make it through training camp, man. It starts in a little over a week.
Q. The conference and the networks moved the LSU Auburn game back. How do you feel the placement of the Florida Tennessee game in the middle of September?
COACH MEYER: I don't know that question. I didn't understand.
Q. It's one of those games that seems to factor into the division championship every year. It's placed where it is in the schedule traditionally. Do you like that it's when it is?
COACH MEYER: The Tennessee Florida game?
COACH MEYER: I think that's one of the great advantages of coaches in Florida. You have three of them. There's never a lull in your schedule. One of the worst things a coach deals with is complacency, a team getting lazy, a team that loses their sting. That can't happen.
If you keep an eye on the target, it moves each week. To have Tennessee early, obviously Georgia in the middle, FSU at the end, there's no other school in the country that has three rivals like that evenly spaced out. I'm not sure if it just worked out that way. That's a tremendous advantage.
It's difficult, but as far as momentum, as far as attention to detail, as far as keeping focus, you can't have a better situation than that.
Q. How have you addressed the off season arrests with the team?
COACH MEYER: Oh, disturbing. Every year you're dealing with something. That was maybe a few more than we'd like. The one common theme was they were all freshmen and sophomores, young players that need to grow up and grow up real fast. Just like most coaches, we deal with it. You educate, you correct.
Discipline is not dismissal, in our opinion. Discipline is education and correction, then do what you got to do. We're in the process of doing a lot of educating, a lot of correcting, and putting a product on the field.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH MEYER: Thank you very much.