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July 23, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Coach Urban Meyer.
COACH MEYER: Good to see you. It's great to be here and represent the University of Florida. A couple of quick comments, then I'll take some questions.
First, a year removed from playing in the SEC Championship Game, starting our fourth year in the Southeastern Conference, I got a real clear picture of what it takes to compete in this conference and what it takes to be successful at the University of Florida.
We have a very good team coming back. However, the way I'm breaking this thing down and I'm sharing with our team, you're going to read this quite often, so is our team going to hear it quite often, seven wins comes from talent. You start mixing in a little discipline, up to eight or nine wins. Somehow if you can develop a little leadership on your team, not necessarily seniors, but leadership to get you off the field on fourth down, defense, make a big play at the end of the game to win, that's when you start having great things happen for your program. So talent-wise very solid football team coming back. Some experience. Discipline, much improved outfit than we had a year ago. Leadership is a question mark which probably 117 teams are dealing with right now in America, or however many Division I-A programs are dealing with. So that's the difference.
It's really not much more complicated than that. You mix in a few 40 times, vertical jumps, guys that bench press very well, that's how you put a good team together.
I'm proud of our guys, where they're at, as are most teams in America right now, eagerly await a week from Sunday when they show up.
With that, I'll answer any questions.
Q. I guess you're one of five coaches in the league now that have won national championships. Talk about the coaching competition in this league, what you think about that.
COACH MEYER: Well, I came back from the SEC meetings, I want to say it was in June. I shared with our staff immediately. I walked in that room. The thing that catches your eye, I don't get in awe very often, but I don't want to say I was in awe, but you look around the room, there are some fine coaches in this conference at any given time, which nine, I don't know.
I looked around that room, understand I counted right off the top of my head nine programs that they think they're going to win the conference championship, nine right now. There's others that could do very well because they're very talented. Coaches are obviously paid in this conference. Stadiums are filled in this conference. It's not an opportunity to go blast other conferences, that's not the business we're in. However, it is an opportunity to tell you the respect we have in this conference. Once again, any given nine think they're going to play in a conference championship. I don't know if I feel you see that anywhere else in America.
Q. I'm sure this is an old question for you, but I've never heard you address it. Tim sort of play-faking to himself, was there a point in a practice, in a game, when did that epiphany hit you guys or Tim that this could be something that could be a valuable weapon with this offense?
COACH MEYER: We started it at Utah with Alex Smith. It actually goes further back than this. Didn't quite gain the publicity it guess at Florida. But Bowling Green, we had a young name named Josh Harris, a tailback we moved to quarterback, led the country in scoring for most of the year running single-wing plays like we at times here at Florida. Simply it's low pad-level with the offensive line. It's devastating. When you got that thing coming downhill, to be able to have a quarterback like that that's a threat. We've had great success with that with Josh, with some of the other quarterbacks, Alex, and now Tim, because they're such a threat running.
Q. Would you talk about the difference between this off-season and last off-season. Last off-season it seemed there were Florida players in the headlines on a regular basis. How much more comfortable are you with this group based on what's happened in this off-season?
COACH MEYER: Well, I tell you, as far as the headlines, yeah, I'm with you on that. But there's a lot more things -- I'm worried about what kind of shape we're in, the chemistry of our outfit. I do believe we're an older team, more mature team. So that hasn't been a major issue.
However, I don't measure our football team by that. I measure our football team by the attitude I see on Sunday, the first practice when we get pads, and about the 16th day of training camp. That's when you know what kind of team you're going to have.
Right now our strength coach is really rarely wrong. He is very proud of the -- it's a tough deal now. Down in Florida, heat right now running all the gassers, all the wind sprints that everyone is doing. They've had a really good off-season.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your experience this summer taking the missionary trip. I know a lot of it was about wanting your family to see some different things. Also, could you have imagined doing that, or how much having seen what Tim does with those things, affect your decision to go do that?
COACH MEYER: Well, Tim has done a lot of things that opened my eyes, and that's one of them. To have our children experience that, with three other families, it was a life-changing experience. It's something we're going to, if possible, do every year. In your own little way you made an impact on some people. More importantly, one of my biggest concerns raising a family, that's not what this whole discussion is about, but having a spoiled group of kids. The tendency is to get spoiled sometimes. They weren't spoiled for those five days.
Q. Are there any elements to the spread formation that you have used at previous schools that you have not introduced yet at Florida?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, we have a luxury this year. We have two very good tight ends, two guys that are going to be playing football for a living if they stay healthy. So you'll see two tight ends in the game at the same time quite often because they're both dynamic receivers. That's probably an element we have not done a lot of just because of personnel.
Two years ago or three years ago we introduced a fullback. Everybody said, What a great addition to your offense. Yeah, because we had a great fullback. Our fullback is gone. Now we have these two tight ends. We've been working quite diligently on putting together a little package with that.
Q. I think it was two or three years ago you stood at the podium and said you wanted Florida to be the fastest team in America. How close are you to meeting that goal?
COACH MEYER: That's all relative. However, ten-flat, you know, meters, typical Chris Rainey, whenever he hears a guy runs ten-flat, the fastest 18-year-old to ever run track, his name is Jeff Demps, he's on our campus now, I don't know if he can catch a ball, but he can run like hell. Chris Rainey beat him in a race the other day. Here are these two catting it. We don't condone that. We have to babysit them every second. Everyone saying how fast he is so they said let's go in the back of dorms, let's figure this thing out. They raced. I guess Chris nudged him out. So we got some speed. I'd like to watch that. I wasn't there, but I would have liked to (smiling). Could have probably sold about 10,000 tickets for that. ESPN GameDay probably would have been there as well.
Q. You look around on a day like this, almost like a Hollywood premiere with you getting in here. What are your methods to keep a team focused when expectations are so high? On the same topic, keeping fans' expectations within the realm of reality.
COACH MEYER: The second part, that's not gonna happen. We're in an era to even concern yourself with that, you're wasting brain cells and time. The first part of that question, how do you keep your team focused. The good thing, we've had experience with that. This is not the first run where we've had a good group of players.
The way we do it is just make it really hard. Two-a-days are very hard. I like to think as hard as any in America. If you're worried about the dot com or if you're worried about which magazine and all this other stuff... Right now I'm sure that's going on, but that stops immediately next week. We're not doing a very good job as conferences if we're not concentrating on Hawaii and the next practice. That's how you handle it.
Q. You've had an unusual amount of attrition at safety. What are your plans going into pre-season at that position?
COACH MEYER: Good question. We moved Cade Holliday over, that was not a scholarship player, but played on special teams last year, he'll contribute this year. Will Hill was one of the very highly recruited guys out of high school. He's on campus. I look forward to watching him play. I hear good things from our strength staff about what kind of work ethic he has. Ahmad Black is a guy that had a tremendous spring. Right now Will Hill and Ahmad battleing for that spot. Backup behind Major Wright, you have Cade Holliday and another guy. We already met with a player, I don't want to release it yet, but we'll probably bump another good freshman player over from offense to defense and let him compete for one of those spots as well.
Q. Can you expand on a couple points that you talked about. You talked about leadership being the difference and you also said that you have an older team and a more mature team. Those two things kind of seem imperative for you to have some success, but they also seem to be -- if would be older and more mature, that would necessarily mean you do have leadership.
COACH MEYER: I had the opportunity to work for Coach Bruce. He used to walk by senior pictures in Ohio State, the guys up front in the team pictures, senior class. If you can point to that senior class, they all played their best year of football, you probably won a championship. If you point across that room when there weren't very good players, didn't graduate, didn't play very well, you probably had a very mediocre team. So the tie-in between seniors playing very well and having a successful team is obviously the correlation that's very high.
However, with guys leaving early now and our championship year we had four guys on defense leave as juniors, last year we lost Derek Harvey as a junior, I think the shift of leadership has to go from the young players. That's a big point of discussion with our group, and already has been, that just because you're a senior, that's not entitlement. We had some issues a year ago that weren't very good for our outfit. If you're a sophomore, you walk the walk, talk the talk, do everything the right way, you're a leader. It has nothing to do with your experience or how many years you've been in the school. It's what you're willing to do and pay the price.
It's almost like the leadership -- I didn't understand that when I was 25, 26, 27 years old. The older you get, the more experience you get as a coach. You witness it and see things happen on fourth down five times against LSU last year, we didn't get the guy down on fourth down because we just didn't have a guy make that play. The guy didn't step up. The huddle didn't get together. Some maybe don't believe. Some people feel we called the wrong defense. I don't. I think someone's got to disengage, get off a block and make a play. That comes from a team that's being very well-lead. I never want to undervalue that and I never will.
Q. We know about Tim, what he can do. You have a talented group of wide receivers with Percy and Louis Murphy. Your offensive line is probably one of the best kept secrets in terms of quality. What do you think is the most underrated part of your football team as you see it right now?
COACH MEYER: Offensive line. Not undervalued by the coaching staff. We have five players that actually you could probably put seven guys out there that you feel very comfortable with. I remember at times at Florida, we had a hard time marching three or four of them, major league, guys that could potentially play in the National Football League. Three seniors. Watkins, Tartt and Phil Trautwein here with us, not only very good players, but all on course to graduate. One of them graduated. All very good leaders, all extremely hard workers. Then you mix Pouncey, the Pouncey kids, you got a good group. Behind them you have Gilbert, Maurice Hurt and a couple other guys. That's without question the most under-publicized, which I'm very good with. They're very good players.
Q. In the context of leadership, having to come from younger players, how do you evaluate Tim's leadership capabilities?
COACH MEYER: Tim? I'm sure anybody in here can answer that for you. It's as good as I've ever seen.
Q. Can you update your team's health status, particularly Harvin, and how important is it for you to have other guys leading the team in rushing besides Tebow this year?
COACH MEYER: Harvin is doing good. I'd say he's close to 80, 90%, which is still a little bit ahead of schedule. His attitude has been tremendous. He's bench pressing 400. There's a part that says line 'em up at tailback and let him go. I think he'd be one of the best tailbacks in the country. We also have Rainey. Handing him the football, getting him the ball, is going to be a big part of our offense, as it was a year ago.
How do I handle the second part of that question?
Q. How important is it for you to have other guys leading the team in rushing?
COACH MEYER: I hope that happens. I think Kestahn Moore -- this is the best we felt at running back. This is our fourth season and it's not even comparable, as far as work ethic, attitude and work level at our tailback position. But also included in that group is Percy Harvin because he is a tailback. When he lines up back there, he is a tailback.
Q. You talked earlier about Chris Rainey outrunning Jeff Demps. He said during the spring that you felt Chris would be a dynamic part of the offense. Would you talk about how you plan to use him this year. Purely a tailback or do you see him in the mold of Percy Harvin?
COACH MEYER: We threw the ball, he made that catch in the spring game. He's worked very hard at it. I'm anxious to see him. I have not seen him catch a ball this summer. I understand from Tim and the guys, they say he's catching the ball much better. He is a dynamic player.
I could see using him. I hear that in recruiting, hear is everywhere, the Percy position, that's the hybrid guy that can do both. I'm hoping Chris can give us a little bit of flexibility, as well as the return game. If he stays healthy, Chris will be a big part of this offense.
Q. You had a couple situations with two-minute drills last year that weren't very productive. Can this offense produce in that situation? How do you make it better?
COACH MEYER: That's a good question. Can the offense -- when you say the offense, can the personnel operate in those conditions? They have in the past, they willed the two times I was with you, we had a chance to go down and win a game, it didn't happen. So we've worked hard on it. Someone's got to stand up and make a play, get us in the right stuff.
We've worked hard on it. That's all you can do. We have worked at it.
Q. You talked about the tailback position. Can you talk a little bit about your new coach there.
COACH MEYER: The new coach? Sure. Kenny Carter came to us from Vanderbilt. Very polished teacher. A guy that has great experience. He's doing a very nice job. Glad he's with us.
Q. I believe I read somewhere that you were against the concept of an early signing period. Wanted to get your reasoning behind that. Also just your opinions on the decision by the commissioner not to seek a plus one any time in the near future.
COACH MEYER: The early signing period, there's a lot of young guys committing early, a lot of young guys putting pressure on us to sign them when you haven't watched them. A young guy committed to a school that was a backup last year, a backup tight end. In our camp, a tremendous player, but he didn't play, but he went ahead and committed. He's in state. So we got a little bit of pressure, why didn't we offer. I'm going to say that again, he has not started in high school. So what's happened is everybody is pushing the calendar up. When your job's on the line as far as quality and character of person, you never really met him, I like to do all the recruiting on the way back. I think I live in a different planet if we think that's going to continue.
We bit the bait, we're starting to do it as early as we can invite in '10 and get to camp. I'm not in favor of it, but also it's not my rule. Early signing period will be not a good idea as far as getting to know players.
Q. Plus ones?
COACH MEYER: Plus one? I trust our commissioner. Let's go. Go team. Go beat Hawaii.
Q. There's a bunch of Gator fans in the lobby waiting for Tim to arrive.
COACH MEYER: They're here for Tim (smiling)?
Q. How do you think your popularity relates to him and have you ever seen a player with such a popularity phenomenon, I guess?
COACH MEYER: No, I haven't. That is a good question. How do I feel? I loved it when I was getting pushed in the back by security in Times Square, physically I was getting pushed in the back because they thought I was like hanging around Tim trying to get an autograph or something. I hate to say this, I was. I wanted to get a Christmas present for my son.
He deserves it. He's a helluva guy.
Q. I gather you have said that Tim can go down as maybe the best college football player of this era. Can you expand on that. Is there a chance he can go down as the best college football player of any era?
COACH MEYER: I got to watch what I say. That's maybe how I feel. I'm not going to say that much any more because I have too much respect for Tim and the job he does. The gentleman over here talked about a two-minute drill. That question is much more significant than that. I just get excited about -- I really get excited about great players, I get even more excited about great players that are great people. I love watching Tim play. I believe he's one of the best players I've seen play. Probably enough said from that.
Q. Another Tim Tebow question. I have to imagine the demands on his time, people wanting to be around him in the past seven months since he won the Heisman, are out of control. How much do you get involved in managing that, making sure he doesn't get overextended?
COACH MEYER: On a different scale, we had to deal with that as Chris as well as Alex Smith. Dan Mullens is like a mother hen who really watches that. Our SID department does a super job with that. He's had three breaks. He had spring break. He had the summer break. Between summer A and B, he went out of the country three times on mission trips. That's his spare time. Other than that he's trying to load up on classes in the summer because he wants a lighter load in the fall.
A non-issue as far as him being focused. I do worry about people pulling at him. I try to give my advice and talk to him. He's got his head on straight. And he gets a lot of people. I give credit to people understanding. They back off him because they understand he's not a -- he's a very serious person with his job.
Q. When you said? In the spring you might talk to some other coaches about how they handled it when they had a returning Heisman winner coming back, wondered if you had a chance to do that?
COACH MEYER: No, I haven't. I just spent time with Tim. I think we have very good people at Florida. We've handled it very well. We had a great summer. Tim has stayed on course.
Q. Because of the almost rock star phenomenon that seems to follow this team, have you had to learn how to deal with it differently than you have with past teams?
COACH MEYER: To be honest, I felt it more last year after the year we had. So, no, I just like to go to work, work on football. I haven't had my hands on the team. That's the most discouraging thing in the summer. All the coaches say this, from the end of spring practice until now, other than having them come up to my office, seeing them, talking to them, they don't want team meetings. I'm certainly not allowed to go watch them work out. When I get my hands on them, I look forward to that on a week from Sunday. Now they're ours. We go in a hotel together. We spend three weeks together. That's when you really build a team. Right now they're lifting like everybody else. The true building is going to go on here a week from Sunday.
Q. Is it better that Tim does less this year? Maybe it's okay he doesn't win the Heisman, he doesn't lower his shoulder as much. In the big picture, you guys might be better if he doesn't.
COACH MEYER: Only one way to judge it. On the left hand the column, you get it or you don't. Are we gonna try to -- if Chris Rainey becomes a very good player, he'll take maybe a couple carries away from him. Percy is 205 pounds now. Last year he was 185. We rocked him up.
But the bottom line is that has no bearing on the calling of a game. You have to win that game. One of the great chores I have that I've done for seven years, I sit in my room two hours before that game, right before we get on the bus, every year I've done it. I grab my sheet of paper and I list the ball carriers that need to touch the ball, receivers, quarterbacks, whatever. I put slashes next to who deserves to carry the ball. I carry that with me during the game.
I'm happy to say this year it will be more runningbacks than we've ever had with slashes next to their name if everybody stays healthy.
Q. Which rule changes do you think are the most significant going into the season?
COACH MEYER: Rule changes? The clock rule, it's the third one in three years, I don't want to get started on that, because I don't agree with it. Whether the rule works, I'm not really concerned about that. You keep moving that hat around a little bit. Now the coaches have to relearn a rule. I think that's going to have an impact on the game. How significant? I have no idea. Is it more significant two years ago than last year or it will be the year after? I don't know. It just keeps changing. It bothers me.
Other than that, I think the face-mask penalty, that's not an issue. Off the top of my head, I don't -- what other significant rule change is there?
Q. Coach challenges.
COACH MEYER: When they warn your bench, they throw a flag on you. I have to shut my mouth and back up, I guess. Other than that...
I didn't see anything real significant other than the clock.
Q. And the challenges?
COACH MEYER: I don't know if I ever used a challenge. I think the SEC has pretty good officials. The system is supposed to take care of itself. They replay every play. I like the way we do it.
Q. All things considered, is Brandon Spikes' leadership more important to the team's success this year than Tebow's?
COACH MEYER: That's a great question. I'd probably agree with that. You're asking me the question, I'd probably say yes. I thought about that quite often. That's a big part of our success. It was a void last year. Brandon Spikes is a great player. Could be a great leader. That's going to be a big part of our success, if that happens.
Q. How has he changed?
COACH MEYER: He's had a great off-season. He looks the part now. He's ready to go.
Q. Do you feel better about defensive tackle at this point? Also, if the tackles don't come through as you hoped for, is there a chance you would move Mike Pouncey back to the defensive line?
COACH MEYER: I don't believe we'll move Mike Pouncey. Never say never. Or defensive tackle position, I like our coach there. I like the fact they have improved. I like the fact that Sanders and Marsh have had good off-seasons along with Epps is among the most improved players on our team. Omar Hunter is on campus and Matt Patch, we moved him inside. There are some options that are untested. That's going to be -- I'm going -- every day I'm going to watch them practice. Get down there with individual drills. I think that's a secret to if we have a successful defense or not if they play. But you can't move Mike -- Mike Pouncey, he'll be upset when I tell this. He wasn't very good over there on defense. He thought he was good. He did this a lot, got the crowd going (lifting his arms). But he's not what you need to play great defense. He's an offensive guard, and a very good one.
Q. At some points last season, did you run double-team blocks at both sides of the point of attack for Tebow? Do you have any single wing in your background anywhere, way back?
COACH MEYER: Single wing? No, I don't believe I have seen single wing. I studied it as we just developed it when we were at Bowling Green.
The second part, I'm not sure we got that play. That's a good one, though (smiling). I don't understand the question.
Q. Did you at any time last season double-team on both sides of the point of attack for Tebow?
COACH MEYER: Sure, sure. We do double-team on both sides. That's one of our biggest plays. To answer your question, yes.
Q. When Coach Heater last went to Haiti, he talked about how appreciative he should be. On your trip, were there some things that made you say, Wow?
COACH MEYER: Every day. Every day it makes you feel very appreciative of what you've got. Absolutely. If you've never done that kind of thing, I just can't -- that's a whole other press conference in itself, a whole other time itself. Did we see anything that was a wow and make you really reflect and be thankful? Probably 600, 700 times a day you did that. That's how good it was.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.
End of FastScripts