This was the fourteenth stop along the way, and just like most of the stops recently, Meyer arrived late to sign autographs. He's using the better part of the day to make the rounds at the area high schools. He's said all along that the best football players in the country are within four or five hours of Gainesville so he's making his presence known to the players and coaches.
The fact that he's late has yet to faze a single crowd along the tour.
They wait patiently for Meyer to arrive, the autograph line well formed in advance. They stand with their footballs, visors, caps, shirts and other paraphernalia that they wish to have signed and they talk in excited tones. There is a sense of anticipation long before the main event and when he arrives, they applaud and cheer.
Sitting behind a desk where he signs autographs, Meyer doesn't have time to pal around. He sits, signs, smiles, poses for pictures and snaps off a quick line or two to everyone. He's probably signed 5,000 autographs by now along the tour but if he's getting a permanent case of writer's cramp it's not evident. He is an autographing machine.
Before Meyer left the autograph room to speak at the main event Monday night, a Mr. Two Bits lookalike complete with yellow shirt, orange and blue tie and saddle shoes, had blown his whistle, held up his sign and led the crowd in a cheer. Meyer's entry into the room was greeted by a pair of trumpeters playing the Florida fanfare. Meyer seemed genuinely pleased when he heard the fans rattle off "get up and go."
There wasn't much different in this speech than in any of the 13 speeches that preceded this one but the crowd hung on every word, absorbing all that the coach has to say. He talked about what makes Florida a better school and a different school and how a degree from the University of Florida only gains in value each year as the university's stature among the nation's elite schools grows. He hit on the familiar one percent of one percent theme and talked about how he wants a team that is committed to going to class, getting degrees, living right off the field and winning championships on the field.
Because of the press coverage that he's gotten all spring, the crowd pretty much knew in advance what to expect but Meyer doesn't have to change his speech to be effective. People come to these events for reassurance that the past three years are indeed a thing of the past and that Florida football is once again back on track. They come to these events needing to hear in person what they've read and they leave feeling good about being a Gator again.
The speech gets the job done even if it is the same old speech because of a couple of basic reasons. First and foremost, it's easy to read into Meyer's delivery that he has personally bought into everything that he's talking about. This isn't some phony read it and get done with it speech. Yeah, it's the same speech, one that he's practiced and delivered 14 times already this spring but each time that he's given the speech, there's no question that it comes from his heart and that he believes every word he's telling the crowd.
There is no substitute for a coach who buys into his own speech.
Secondly, the crowds are ready to hear speeches about getting things done right. After three years in which each season ended with a loss in a bowl game … three years that each wound up with five losses … three years that saw some great wins against great teams tempered by unexplainable losses to teams that had no business beating the Gators … three years in which you held your breath every day when you opened your newspaper because you never knew which Gator might be in trouble … after all these things, the crowds are ready to hear the coach give his assurances that there will be no rest until the Gator ship has been righted and all the holes in the bow have been patched up so there are no more chances of sinking.
Meyer doesn't spend his time talking about what went wrong the past three years. Instead he just talks about the way that things are going to be, not the way he hopes they will be. He believes in the University of Florida, believes in his coaching staff and believes in his players, but more than anything else, he believes in himself. If you are looking to find a reason why it is that Urban Meyer has Gator Nation ready to run through the nearest brick wall on his behalf, it is that self-confidence.
Stevie Wonder had it and that self-assured attitude helped define Florida football for 12 years. Florida became "the mighty Gators" and it was Spurrier's attitude that shaped the team and the Gator Nation.
Urban Meyer's got it, too. He's confident and he's got attitude. He's supremely assured that if the players buy into his way of doing things, the ride is going to be a blast for everyone. He's also believes firmly that if the players decide to jump off the bus that it won't be the end of the line, just a temporary setback that will require more time invested to pull off his grand vision of things. With Meyer it is not a question that the job will be done, just a matter of when. It could be this year if everyone stays on the bus and the planets align, but if not, it will be soon. He believes that with all his heart and he has no problem getting everyone in a crowded room believing that at each Gator Gathering.
So even if the speech is the same one everywhere he goes, remember, it's not the speech he's selling. It's the attitude. It's the swagger. It's the confidence.
He's got it and he's sharing it with everyone who will listen at every stop. They listened Monday night and they bought into it. They will be listening in St. Petersburg Tuesday, Sarasota on Wednesday and Fort Pierce on Friday. They will buy into it at those whistlestops, too.
You can bet the ranch on it.