After a recent practice, Urban Meyer offered up a glimpse of the football culture he inherited when he arrived in Gainesville in 2005.
Clearly, the Gators were a team divided in the troubled Ron Zook era. That was in part reflected by the way the true freshmen were treated.
Meyer said when he got here, the freshmen had a very drab locker room that was separate from the team locker room, and that the veteran players would mistreat the newcomers if they dared to venture into their space.
“The freshmen were in a spare locker room with a bunch of tin lockers and they were not allowed to walk into (the regular locker room),” Meyer said. “Think about this for a minute. This was a big-time college football program and we had some fights and stuff because they treat the freshmen like they were non-people — ‘Don’t walk through here, we’ll kick your tail and shave your eyebrows.’ That’s the great culture we had here. That was tremendous.
“You don’t win many games, but you beat up freshmen and shave eyebrows. I can’t imagine that. That’s absolutely unbelievable.”
Meyer finds it unbelievable because he’s the ultimate team guy. Nothing comes before team. The thought of older players abusing freshmen is unconscionable to him. But that’s what happened under Zook, who try to run a college program more like a pro team (you know, the part where the rookies are hazed in camp, and stuff like that).
“Now, I have a freshman that’s really going through some hard times,” Meyer said. “He stood up in front of the team the other day with tears rolling down his cheeks and he said, ‘I really want to thank the older guys for taking care of me.’ That’s called a team.
“It’s not called some silly nonsense — ‘Let’s go beat up freshmen. Let’s get our brains kicked in by our rivals, but let’s go beat up a freshman.’ ”
Unbelievable. But that’s what Florida football had sunk to before Meyer’s arrival.