“The Wyoming game was very disappointing as far as the crowd,” Urban Meyer said at Friday morning’s press conference. “It was packed and everything. I said all the right things after it, but I remember thinking it was no different than Utah against whoever.”
His mind quickly changed. After blowing out Louisiana Tech, the Gators started SEC play by hosting Tennessee for a night game. That’s when the home field advantage became a reality in Meyer’s mind.
“Then all of a sudden, it’s (two) weeks later and we’re playing Tennessee,” Meyer said. “That’s SEC and that’s when I got a taste. This is the highest level of college football.”
The memories don’t stop there. During the following season, Florida won its first SEC Championship since 2000. Meyer told athletic director Jeremy Foley that he wanted to celebrate with a glass of wine that night. The team returned to Gainesville at 3 a.m. following the win, and Foley assumed the two would celebrate another time.
Meyer had other ideas.
He insisted Foley come over to his house for that glass of wine they promised. There have been multiple memories from the past six seasons that Meyer won’t ever forget, but it will be hard to top that late night glass of wine.
“It was really good wine, by the way,” Meyer said with a smile. “My daughter sat with me, and we were all talking about the fake punt and Ryan Smith. She looked over at me and said, 'It’s three in the morning, and I’m sitting and talking with you guys about an SEC Championship. How cool is this?' That’s one of those once in a lifetime moments.”
A memory from a conversation after the Capital One Bowl following the 2007 season is the timeliest as Meyer heads into his final game as Florida coach this weekend. Lloyd Carr coached his last game as Michigan head coach during that game, and he met Meyer with a message at midfield during their handshake.
“I hope your players play as hard for you some day as mine played for me today,” Carr said to Meyer.
As he walks the sideline for the final time in orange and blue on Saturday, Meyer would love for his players to do that.
“I remember when he said that to me,” Meyer said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Carr. I hope they do (play that hard). I think the older players will play like there is no tomorrow. I’m hoping the younger players will carry the torch. I know the Trattous and A.J. Joneses will play hard because they are invested.”
Meyer doesn’t doubt that the effort he gets from players this weekend will be their best. It’s not just about sending him out a winner. The younger players are also fighting to make a first impression for next season under new head coach Will Muschamp.
The players are the reason Meyer got into coaching in the first place.
“They’ve meant my life,” Meyer said. “I use the word “love” quite often, but I don’t mind that because I do. You spend more time with players than with your family. The coach-player relationship, when done correctly, is second to only that of your family.
“When was the last time you spent eight hours with your son or daughter? Eight hours a day having discussion with your players.”
PASSION FOR FLORIDA: The reason Meyer took the job at Florida after the 2004 season was his love and respect for the school.
“We made a decision as a family to stay in Florida, and that’s for a lot of reasons,” Meyer said. “I think it’s the best job in America. I’ve got the best bosses in America. We have fans that I call Gator nuts, and they are. They are out of their mind, but that’s what makes Florida so appealing.”
Meyer’s introduction to the passion of the fan base came during his first spring practice as head coach. It hasn’t changed since then. If anything, the fan base’s intensity has increased.
“During every first day of spring practice, I get concerned that there’s an unemployment issue in Gainesville because they’re all out at our practice.
“I’ve also coached at places where you had to go out and grab the rail system at 6 a.m. with the mascot trying to sell tickets. I’ve done that at a couple places. I’m very appreciative.”
BRANTLEY POSSIBLE TRANSFER: Meyer isn’t sure what next season holds for quarterback John Brantley. He will be a redshirt senior, but he is expected to wait for new head coach Will Muschamp to hire an offensive coordinator. When that announcement is made, Brantley will evaluate his situation.
It hasn’t been the season Brantley was hoping for, and a potential transfer would have put him in an offense that better suits his skill set. If Muschamp hires a pro-style offensive coordinator, it could be best for both parties for Brantley to stay and run the offense.
Meyer hasn’t spoken with Brantley about the thoughts to transfer, but Meyer expects them to sit down and talk after the bowl game.
“People forget that it’s 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids playing college football with a lot on the line,” Meyer said. “But they pick to play at a place like Florida, and I picked to coach at a place like Florida. Johnny Brantley chose to come to Florida to play football. That’s like being a pitcher for the New York Yankees. You better be really good every day and not have a bad day. Unfortunately, that’s rare. He has handled it as well as you can.”
MOTIVATION: Meyer has faced some unique situations during his coaching career. He took over at Bowling Green where his players only wanted to put together a winning season.
“They would step on your throat and do anything the coach asked you to do to go win a game,” Meyer said. “You talk about enjoying a team like that.”
He moved on to Utah, where the team hadn’t won a conference championship in 57 years. They won it during each of Meyer’s final two seasons.
Meyer took over a Florida team that didn’t have a player on the roster who had won a bowl game. That changed in Meyer’s first season.
Once the goals were accomplished, Meyer and his staff were forced to adapt the motivational techniques to keep the team hungry for more. It was made easier with players who took on leadership responsibilities.
“I remember Brandon Siler - he was like a son,” Meyer said. “He would do anything you asked him to do, including going to rattle this guy’s cage because he isn’t going that hard, and he did.
“Every coach’s dream is to stand in front of a group of hungry, nasty and mean players who will do anything it takes to win a game because they’re embarrassed and angry.”
BOWL SYSTEM: The experience of a bowl week is a reward for each team that Meyer doesn’t think should be taken away. However, there are still changes he would make. His 2001-2002 Bowling Green team went 8-3, including a 4-0 record against BCS schools. They weren’t selected for a bowl game.
“I had to walk in and tell them (they didn’t make a bowl),” Meyer said. “They were just crushed. They were ready to go practice- that tells you how ready they were. We had to tell them there was no bowl to be had. The bowl system as it is, I don’t think it’s the way to go.
“That group I had would’ve saddled up their gym bags and walked to a bowl game while bringing a bunch of people with them.”
DEMPS READY TO GO: Jeff Demps has struggled with a foot injury all season. It started as a foot sprain, but as he continued to try a comeback, the injury got worse. It eventually turned into a stress reaction.
He has practiced this week for the first time in 8-10 weeks.
“He’s good,” Meyer said. “For those that know Jeff Demps as a person, it’s been frustration and just feeling bad for the guy. There’s not a guy who prepares harder for a season than Jeff Demps. There’s not a guy we needed more on the team than Jeff Demps. That was a tough one.”
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