Meyer: 'I see a program that is set now'
Published: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 7:04 p.m.
MIAMI — Bleary-eyed but wearing an irrepressible smile Friday morning, Florida coach Urban Meyer clearly looked like a man feeling good about his team and the future of his program following the Gators' 24-14 victory over Oklahoma less than 24 hours earlier for the school's second national championship in three years.
This is a lot different than two years ago. Meyer said Friday he doesn't remember much about the 2006 national championship because he had so many potential problems staring him down in the aftermath. Like how to replace 22 seniors, a handful of talented juniors heading to the NFL, and almost the entire defense.
Despite the national title in his second season at UF, Meyer said the program at the time was nowhere near where he envisioned it should be.
"We all saw what was coming," Meyer said. "We lost basically the entire defense and the backups weren't ready to play. We had a void in recruiting. I knew in my heart I knew we had a long way to go. It was like, 'Oh, boy, here we go, we're going to have a hard time stopping people.' "
What was coming was a downer of a season in 2007, with perhaps the biggest disappointment coming at the end — a humiliating loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.
Meyer is feeling much better about the direction of the program coming off the second national title in three years, an achievement that has established Meyer as an elite coach (he's the only won to win two BCS Championship Games) and Florida as one of college football's premier programs.
"I'm very confident now, when I wasn't two years ago," Meyer said. "I see a program that is set now. It wasn't two years ago. We're good now. We'll have a good senior class next season and another one the year after that. We had a two-year recruiting void and it showed last year. We feel we have some good young players. I see that recruiting is solid now."
Meyer said the Gators are in a position now to absorb potential early losses to the NFL, which could be significant if quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes elect to leave. Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and return specialist Brandon James also have turned in paperwork to the NFL.
Those juniors are expected to make their decisions in the next few days. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Friday.
If Tebow returns next season (and he has said there's a 50-percent chance he will), the Gators, who finished No. 1 in the final Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls Friday, likely will be the preseason No. 1 and serious contenders to play for a second consecutive national title, in the Rose Bowl.
Even if Tebow, Harvin and Spikes don't return, the defense will return 10 starters and numerous players with extensive experience, and there would be plenty of speed and playmakers to surround new starting quarterback John Brantley.
"The program is much different than it was two years ago," Meyer said. "We should be very good next year (even if some players leave early).
"We'll see who comes back. It's not going to be like last year. It will not be like that. I'll go on the record. As far as the program, it's much different than it was two years ago."
Meyer said he has no indication whether Tebow will return or not. He said he is confident Tebow and the other juniors will make good decisions with the help of their families and with input from some reliable NFL sources.
"With Tim, it's not much different than with my son Nate. I love him," Meyer said. "He's probably one of the best players ever to put on a helmet. We'll put him on the phone with people I trust. I did that with (former Utah quarterback) Alex Smith and some other players that made some great decisions. Tim will make the right decision."
As for replenishing the talent at UF, Meyer said the Gators are on course to have another excellent recruiting class and will get a boost from Thursday night's victory.
"We have only about four or five left (before the class is complete)," Meyer said. "Your recruiting class is usually made with the last four or five you pick up. We were on the phone with top recruits the day of the game, and I've heard from several today. This will be a tremendous boost. We're going to have a great recruiting class."
Meyer said he expects to be around to coach those prospects, and many more in the future.
Despite rumors about other college coaching jobs (Notre Dame in particular) and NFL openings, Meyer said he's a college guy and he plans to be at Florida for many years.
"I don't think so," Meyer said when asked if he might have the urge to one day to seek a new challenge in the NFL. "I really dream about what Florida football should look like, and it's getting close. I'm committed to Florida. I love Florida. More important, I love these players. These players are going to get our best effort for a long time."
NOTES: Although tailback Chris Rainey appeared to sustain a possible serious knee or ankle injury in Thursday's game, Meyer said it is only a sprained ankle and Rainey is fine. "He's just real sore," Meyer said. ... Meyer also said wide receiver Percy Harvin sustained more than a high ankle sprain in the Florida State game on Nov. 29. He also suffered a hairline fracture. Meyer said most of the rehab and concern over whether Harvin would be able to play in the national title game stemmed from the sprain, not the fracture. After extensive rehab, Harvin was one of the stars of the game, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown and catching five passes for 49 yards. "What he did ... that's what legends are made of," Meyer said.
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