TALLAHASSEE — Pardon Urban Meyer if the ear to ear grin turns into a giggle any moment now. He’s hitting the recruiting trail hard just like he does this time every year, and while he’s used to turning negatives left by opposing coaches into positives, the latest strategic attempt to derail the Florida recruiting express train is almost amusing.
Meyer’s been around the recruiting game a long time, both as an assistant and as a head coach, so dealing with negative recruiting efforts is something he’s used to. Here in the state of Florida where three of college football’s best programs — Florida, Florida State and Miami — go head to head with just about every other top 25 program in the country for almost unparalleled levels of talent, Meyer not only hears it all, he pretty much expects it. The competition is just that fierce.
Since he came to Florida a couple of years ago, Meyer has had recruits tell him all the tall tales planted by opposing coaches like the one about the spread option offense and how it won’t ever work in the Southeastern Conference. Two years ago he heard how Chris Leak would never find a way to thrive as a quarterback with this scheme and last year there was all this speculation that Tim Tebow’s presence would create a schism on the team and that using two quarterbacks would be Florida’s undoing. Then he heard about how the tough 2006 schedule would send Florida spiraling toward a .500 record, mediocrity and a disenchanted fan base that would be all too happy to see the coach packing.
The best way to combat the negatives is on the field where Meyer is 22-4 in the last two years even with an offense that’s still a work in progress. What we saw with 38 points against Arkansas and 41 against Ohio State’s vaunted defense in the national championship game are sure signs that the scheme not only works, but it can thrive, however.
Leak quarterbacked the Gators to 22 wins in two years. The only quarterback in Florida history with more wins over a two-year period is Danny Wuerffel. Maybe Leak wasn’t the perfect fit but he was good enough to get a W in a national championship game back in January. There are 118 starting quarterbacks in Division I that aren’t wearing a national championship ring this spring.
The team division over Tebow never happened because Tebow and Leak became good buddies and did what was best for the team. They just focused on getting the job done.
The schedule? Only a loss at Auburn kept the Gators from going undefeated. The two teams that spiraled toward .500 are FSU and Miami, who had to pull out wins in obscure, insignificant bowl games to go 7-6 while Florida was on the big stage in Glendale, Arizona, taking home all the marbles.
By winning it all, the Gators have turned last year’s live ammo into blanks forcing the negative recruiters to try a brand new tactic, the one that has Urban Meyer giggling.
“Believe it or not, people are flipping a 180 on us,” said Meyer Tuesday night before he spoke to the Gator Gathering at the North Florida Fairgrounds. “This [Florida] is ultimately the place in my opinion you need to go — 80 percent … the highest graduation rate, the national championship, the style of offense, defense, kicking game that you would love to play at and a great academic school.
“Nowadays you can’t attack academics; you can’t attack style of play; you can’t attack scheme; you can’t attack the coaching staff so let’s go after you’re not good enough to play here.”
After the last two recruiting classes — number two in the nation in 2006, number one in the nation in 2007 — the Gators are loaded with great young talent and that’s what is being used against the Florida coaching staff on the recruiting trail.
“Where you gonna play, kid? Their roster is stacked! They’ve got too many studs! You’ll sit on the bench and waste your talent at Florida. Come here and play for us instead. We need you. They don’t need you.”
It’s enough to make Meyer shake his head.
“There’s too much talent and you’re not good enough … believe it or not, that’s what we’re fighting,” Meyer said. “Our public enemy number one … young people are being told they’re not good enough to play at the University of Florida.”
This isn’t necessarily a new tune. Meyer’s heard this song and dance before. Back in 2006, Jevan Snead didn’t think he could compete with Tim Tebow at quarterback so he decommitted Florida and signed with Texas. Of course, he faced plenty of competition in Austin so after one year, he’s bolted to Ole Miss. Percy Harvin’s high school teammate Damon McDaniel, a slippery smooth wide receiver, bought into all the negatives and decommitted Florida to sign with FSU. He sat the bench on a team that barely made it to .500 in the regular season while Harvin was helping the Gators win a national championship.
“I like to recruit the kind like Tebow that he didn’t care who was in front of him,” said Meyer. “Whoever it was, he was going to beat him out. Those are premier players. The kind of guys that worry that we have this many players there … in the long run it’s probably best that you don’t get them anyway. I like recruiting the guys that it doesn’t matter.”
Harvin was one of those guys that it didn’t matter. He was well aware the Gators had veteran receivers like Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and Bubba Caldwell coming back but he never worried about the competition.
“Percy Harvin not once asked me who do you have at receiver because deep down he doesn’t care because he’s Percy Harvin,” Meyer said. “Those are the kind of guys we like to get.”
Meyer would be concerned if opponents were talking down Florida’s graduation rate or academics at UF or support for the players.
“Those are things that I would have major concerns about,” he said.
Meyer doesn’t have a problem that another school will use the truth to gain an advantage. He does the same thing himself. His problem is twisting the truth or flat out lying about something.
“If you said your graduation rate is higher than another school’s and that’s factual … those are decision making statistics that are very important to have on the table,” he said. “When you tell an untruth, that’s just wrong.”
Meyer can point to Florida’s 80 percent graduation rate of football players, best in the state and one of the best in the entire nation. He can point to Florida’s membership in the elite American Association of Universities — only the top 55 schools in the country belong; UF is the only school from Florida in the organization and one of just two (Vandy is the other) from the SEC. He can point to an academic support program for athletes that is lauded as one of the best in the country and facilities that are in a constant state of upgrade (see $28 million expansion of football offices, weight room and training facilities).
So what does Meyer hear?
“The only thing i hear them say is that Coach Meyer and his staff are going to the NFL and that’s not going to happen and that you’re not good enough to play at Florida,” Meyer said. “I’m not sure how to react to that except I hope you don’t worry about that, so come on and compete for a job.”