This is his third year on the barbeque and beer circuit, also known as the Gator Gatherings, and it is a different Urban Meyer than the one that was greeted in rock star fashion in the spring of 2005. He still gets the big crowds and folks still stand in long lines for pictures and autographs. That much hasn’t changed and never will as long as the Florida Gators are playing football at such a high level. What has changed is that Urban Meyer no longer has to sell himself to Gator Nation. The confidence is both evident and fitting.
Watching Meyer work the crowd Friday night in Kissimmee at the Central Florida Gator Club’s big soiree, it was evident that the success Meyer has had in his first two seasons at the helm of the Gators has transformed Meyer from a slightly nervous coach into one that just oozes confidence and success. When he spoke of watching the film of the national championship game “787 times” you somehow got the feeling that he wasn’t kidding, that he really has watched it that many times and that he almost breaks into a giggle every time he sees Jarvis Moss nearly decapitate Troy Smith.
When he recalled halftime of the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona, it was as if he was describing something that happened an hour ago, not something four months removed. The crowd could almost feel Meyer’s adrenaline rush as he described seeing his players, helmets on, ready to take the field again — and there were still 18 minutes remaining until the half was over.
Two years ago on his first tour of the Gator Clubs, Meyer was part salesman, part faith healer. Salesman because he was trying to sell himself to a Gator Nation that really, really wanted to believe that this young coach hired away from Utah was the answer. Faith healer because the three years of the Zooker had resulted in a Gator Nation divided. The crowds that came to the Gator Gatherings were hoping, almost praying that Meyer had all the answers, and he was doing his part at the Gator Gatherings to assure everybody that there would be changes made — the right kind of changes — and that there would be a return to the glory days of Florida football.
A year ago, on this same circuit, Meyer was still selling. The 9-3 record of 2005 was an excellent beginning but nobody knew what a struggle it had been until Meyer hit the circuit and began telling the stories of what it took to get his team to finally buy into the way things are done, Urban Meyer-style. He told the stories of how Vernell Brown, Jarvis Herring and Jeremy Mincey forever earned their place in the Gator history books with extraordinary feats of leadership. He talked about that bitter loss in Columbia and what happened on the plane on the way back. He didn’t have to mention the fact that a few malcontents from that first team left the program in the offseason.
Meyer was selling then, trying to keep the faithful focused and believing that things were about to change and that the Gators were about to make the quantum leap from a program reduced to one on the verge to one that’s back at or near the top where it belongs.
He doesn’t have to sell anymore.
Now that he’s delivered a Southeastern Conference and national championship in just his second year on the job, Meyer doesn’t have to sell the crowd on the virtues of his way of doing things anymore. They know. They believe. They believe he is everything he was cracked up to be when he was hired. They believe he is the kind of coach that can inspire kids to greatness. They most definitely believe he is the right coach at the right place at the right time.
Because he has won a national championship, he doesn’t have to sell crowds that things will get better at Florida. They already are better in everything from the wins on the field to the academics of the players — in the most recently completed semester the football team had the highest collective GPA of any football team ever at the University of Florida. Because he’s won a national championship he doesn’t have to convince everybody that his ways will work. There is a Waterford crystal trophy with the words national champions engraved on it to prove his methods work just fine.
No longer does he have to sell a crowd at a Gator Gathering, but best of all, no longer does he have to sell his way into a recruit’s front door. At Utah, and before that at Bowling Green, he had to be 100 percent salesman 100 percent of the time just to get recruits to pay attention long enough to answer the door. Getting in the front door required a whole lot more selling. He had the name recognition of Florida to help when he first got here but now he has a national championship ring. Now he doesn’t have to sell himself to get in the front door. Instead the kids are trying to sell themselves to him. Kids are calling him and almost begging him to come visit and offer a scholarship. He’s coming off two recruiting classes that are the envy of the nation and there is every indication that the recruiting class of 2008 is going to be every bit as good and perhaps better than the last two. When the best kids in the country are clamoring to get to your camp to prove they are worthy of a scholarship — and that’s what’s going on at Florida now — things are indeed quite different.
Friday night in Kissimmee Meyer told the crowd that he almost didn’t take the Bowling Green job six years ago. Bowling Green offered him the job but before he said yes, he made a call to his mentor, Lou Holtz, the coach that had brought him to Notre Dame as an assistant.
“I told him I wasn’t going to take the job,” Meyer recalled.
When Holtz asked why not, Meyer responded that Bowling Green wasn’t very good.
“He told me that if Bowling Green was very good they wouldn’t be interested in hiring me as the coach!” Meyer said.
Meyer got the message, took the job and spent six years on the stump as a salesman, two years at Bowling Green, two years at Utah, and now two years at Florida. Nobody questions that he’s a good coach anymore.
As he gets ready for year three at Florida, he doesn’t have to sell himself anymore. Oh, there’s a sale being made, but it’s not because he’s trying to sell something. You don’t have to sell when you can ooze the kind of confidence that he has and you can flash that national championship ring. It’s not an arrogant kind of confidence, either. This is the kind of confidence that is created by accomplishment.
Meyer doesn’t sell but there is a sale being made because he has the Gators right where he wants them to be. He’s got the hottest program in the country and even though this will be a year in which the Gators have to replace a lot of outstanding players from a team that scaled the highest mountain and planted a Florida flag on the summit, there is no shortage of outstanding talent to pick up where the last guy left off.
There is also a sale being made because Florida has a graduation rate of 80 percent, best of all the schools that made a BCS bowl, and easily the best of the Division I schools in the state of Florida. That’s the kind of thing that mamas and dads pay attention to. You want to get in the front door without having to sell your way in? Graduate 80 percent and see what happens when you come calling on working class parents that know what a struggle it is to keep a family sheltered, fed and clothed. You graduate 80 percent and you don’t have to sell parents that you have their kid’s best interests in mind. They know without you telling them.
This is when you have it good — when you’re at the point where what you are doing sells itself and doors open automatically, as if there is a motion sensor.
Urban Meyer has it good right now but he let the Kissimmee crowd know under no uncertain terms that while he intends to keep the Gators standing on the top of the mountain, guarding that flag they’ve planted at the summit, every day is about getting the job done better than it’s ever been done before. The football program he’s established at Florida will only continue to sell itself if he and his staff keep things moving forward.. If you’ve watched the hectic schedule they have maintained on the recruiting trail in the past three weeks of the spring evaluation period, then you know there is no complacency, not on Urban Meyer’s watch.
That was the message Friday night and it wasn’t just a message so that 1,200 or more Gator faithful could share that championship feeling with the coach that delivered the goods. This was a message that should pack a wallop with every recruit in the state of Florida or wherever Urban Meyer and his staff go looking for the best talent in the country — Florida football is at the top … the best football, the best academics and the best chance to stay at the top for a long, long time.
No sales job required for that message, but what a sales job that message delivers.