Meyer's culture shock

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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.

51 COMMENTS

  1. This goes to show just how important the mental aspect of the game is. It also goes to show how important a coaching staff is b/c UF was plenty talented under Zook, however, we were not a very good football team. Well done Urban Meyer.

  2. I am sure there is going to be a re-buttle of some sorts when this gets across the AP lines from Zook. I am also sure if the attention that it gets that the University of Illinois will ask if it is still being done. No wander the program was in disarray. Wow! This is incredible information, but will Urban get into trouble like the comments that the Bozo in tennessee made about him? Interesting.

  3. When I hear things like that about Coach Meyer, I firmly believe that he is the greatest UF football coach in our history. I can’t recall a coach that is more invloved with his team and teaches our kids the values that will prepare them when they leave UF. Its an honor to have Meyer as our coach and I hope he stays for a very long time. Go Gators
    Bob “Class of 98”

  4. I’m sure all of this is true. And very sad. I’m glad CM is here and has changed the culture at uf. But I must say, what purpose does this serve? Yes, I’m sure we will respect CM even more and many will probably loath zook more but it kind of strikes me as airing dirty laundry. In the end, zook will be vilified even more as if being fired and watching CM win wasn’t punnishment enough.
    Listen, we all have faults, we all have a dark side, we all do things that seemed reasonable at the time, but its time to move on. This is like picking at a scab. Time to move on imo.

  5. Robbie, you were spot-on. As much as the Zook apologists may disagree with you, what took place on 10/25/04 was necessary in order to keep our football program from sinking to rock bottom. For so many other reasons besides the hazing of freshmen, the decision made by Machen and Foley was the right one.

    Meyer has not only installed a different culture in the Florida locker room, he also boosted morale and has instilled a will to win in his players that seemed almost absent during
    the Zook years.

    I had read a quote from Gator alum Drew Miller on another site that the family-type, “brotherhood” atmosphere of Urban Meyer’s program and the culture surrounding it seemed like “home away from home”. You know, I’m glad he said that.

  6. Urban’s the coach, so everything before him was garbage? I will not defend abuse, but making incoming freshman “earn” their way onto the team is an oft-used motivational ploy; removing a helmet stripe is one example. What bothers me is the lack of respect Urban has for folks who do things differently, and that the lack of loyalty he displays by airing this publicly. What is to be gained by showcasing these embarrassing episodes? Most programs handle internal personal stuff quietly, behind closed doors, among the people involved. That’s a team-first attitude, not tearing someone down through the media. More facts may come forth, but right now this move by Urban looks pretty self-serving.

  7. Wow! I wonder what the scene is like in the Illinois locker room these days. Are we to believe that Zook sucks up to these kids and fills their ears with his BS then treats them like dog doo on a shoe after they report in their freshman year? I Never could understand why Zook couldn’t win big with the talent he had other than to think he just wasn’t a good coach. And, I guess he isn’t too good of a coach since Meyer won big in ’06 with Zook’s recruits. Zook is where he needs to be, at a school where 7 or 8 wins every other year will keep you off unemployment.

  8. Mike Plant – the current scoreboard of NC reads as follows:

    Urban 2
    Zook 0
    Kiffin 0

    So to answer your question on whether or not Urban will “get in trouble,” I don’t think he will because he’s proven he knows what it takes to win.

  9. I disagree with those who wrote such comments should not have been said or printed. Yes, it is the past….but so important to know where the Gators have been…in order to appreciate where they are, thanks in large measure to UM. “That which is past is but prologue….” Go Urban, GO GATORS!!! (I disagree most with “John” who says this was all self serving for UM. You are so, so wrong. Again, GO GATORS.

  10. John, the point Robbie’s trying to make is that Meyer’s methods of having freshmen “earn” their way onto the team is less humiliating and more positive than what Zook was doing. Meyer was being forthright and honest, and if that rubs others the wrong way, too bad. Meyer doesn’t sugarcoat things because that’s what others want to hear.

    Team unity is an essential element in building a championship program, and if Meyer’s way of doing things is helping build just that type of atmosphere in the locker room, then more power to him.

    Zook got what he had coming to him in the end; his methods were not working and Florida football was headed downhill. What had to be done had to be done to stop our program from deteriorating any further, and as far as I’m concerned Zook brought everything all on himself. He had plenty of opportunity to prove the pundits wrong, but he couldn’t deliver the goods. In the end, the right decision was made to fire Zook in the best interests of UF and our football program. Ron Zook was not UF head-coaching material, plain and simple. Enough was enough.

    Call it “picking a scab” if it pleases you, but what took place from 2002-2004 is ingrained in Florida football history and can’t be erased.

  11. I think this was an ingenious mind that put these words out there.
    What better message to send to all the 5 Star and 4 Star Blue Chip recruits considering where they will commit.

    Think about it…

    Say No More!!!

  12. On the face of it, Zook’s rules seem wrong, but one should remember how much his players liked him including the freshmen and former freshmen he recruited. I have felt since the ’06 National Championship Coach Meyer should have acknowledged the great talent left for him by the Zook regime. One of the class things about SOS was his unflagging respect and praise he had for Coach Hall’s contribution.

  13. Blame Zook all you want, but the truth is he was hired by our athletic director when the man clearly was not qualified to coach at that level. Zook does not seem all that smart a guy. UF had even demoted him from defensive coordinator in the recent past. It was an abysmal hire and most of us knew it at the time. Aside to PikeUF, journalists are not in the business of sending messages to recruits.

  14. urban has done more for our program than anyone ever has, he was asked the question and he answered it honestly. Peole always look for a reason to bash um, zook couldn’t do his job and was in way over his head. if head coaching was just recruiting then he would be the best ever, but it’s not. What you do on the field that matters. Zook never could do it on the field so it doesn’t surprise me he couldn’t do it in the locker room either. Go Gators!!!!! National Champions again under UM!!!!

  15. > What do we accomplish by continuing to tear down Coach Zook?

    We show the Athletic Department that hiring unqualified fools with no coaching prowess is not to be tolerated, and will not be glossed over lightly. We make a statement to those who would dare toss a resume towards UF that you either dedicate yourself to winning, or you prepare yourself for an onslaught of deserved criticism well past your tenure as a Gator coach. Sure, it makes us look arrogant and self-righteous…and the result…2 MNCs + 1 Heisman in 3 years. I’ll take a continual Zook beatdown to prove the point that greatness must be earned, not tossed around on a frat-house front lawn rugby punt style.

    > I have felt since the ‘06 National Championship Coach Meyer should have acknowledged the great talent left for him by the Zook regime.

    Then we should also acknowledge Zook for failing to do anything with that very same talent. Why must we shout out praise covered in rainbows and chocolate, but supress the very qualities that got him fired. How exactly should Meyer praise a coach who accomplished nothing of notable success…while Zook himself can’t share the same type of praise to UF for giving him a gift-wrapped job as the head coach of the Gators, and ultimately Illinois. Praising Zook for brining in talent is like giving thanks to a dentist for buying top-level tools and machines…nevermind the fact that he just amputated your leg when you went in for a cleaning.

  16. Have any of you taken the time to think that this might be a very effective recruiting tool??? How many prospective student athletes (and their parents) will read this and know that at Florida freshman are not hazed, at Florida the veterans look out for the younger players like big-brothers, at Florida everyone is a part of the family. Urban Meyer knows exactly what he’s doing, which is why he makes $4 million per year and we don’t. Everything that man does has been well thought out. We are so fortunate to have him as our coach.

  17. Look at all the great things Urban has brought to our proud Gator culture. I love the Gator walk and the singing of the fight song and alma mater at the end of games. The students love our team and our team loves our students and it wasn’t always that way. He is a master motivator and a great representative of our great university!!!

  18. Hazing freshmen etc is nothing new. It goes on in sports, in academics, at jobs. Why are people bashing Zook for this? He didn’t invent it and he certainly isn’t the only one practicing something which can be considered to be common, and for many, an accepted motivational practice.

    The years when Zook was head coach at UF were very painful for me to watch in football. However, I will never chastise a person who loved UF and WANTED to be here so much.

    He didn’t win as many games as I had hoped he would but that is water under the bridge. At least he has the Ron Zook Field at Doak Campbell.

  19. Zook is pretty much in his last year with IL. He had one good year. Until we witness otherwise, Urban is the ultimate coach. It will be fun to watch this year and see how prepared they are after winning it all. I personally think this will be a record year–but what do I know…

  20. I’d like to thank half of you for engaging in a well-reasoned discussion. The other half might consider taking off the Gator-goggles– sit quietly and think. As a fan and alumnus, I want what most Gators want: a topflight program that conducts itself with dignity and sets a good example. Enough with the Meyer-worship already. Is a he more sucessful than Ron Zook, and a better coach? Probably in a lot of ways. Is he without fault, and his program above criticism? Absolutely not– and he doesn’t care much for criticism. Hazing is generally rejected as childish and destructive, so why pile on? OF COURSE, Zook was an idiot for allowing such (alleged) behavior. I just get sick of Gator fans who rabidly accept everything that’s handed to them and shout down dissenting opinion. I remember Pell’s 107 recruiting violations, and feeling betrayed when Galen Hall made the same mistake. I expect the best from my school, and these comments by Meyer seem a little cheap. Your opinion may differ.

    “Only false gods are easily laughed off their pedestals.”

  21. Hey Matt G and Steve,
    Both of you guys are correct, however NCAA rules state that you are not to publicly criticize another coach in public, although names I don’t believe were mentioned. I think everyone knows who he was talking about and I guess Robbie mentioned Zook’s name. But then again Coach was talking about the acceptance of freshman on the team. So I guess it is not being indirectly towards anyone but the handling of players. See if just talk it out, you can solve your own problems, LOL and save yourself $95 for an hour session. LOL

  22. The obvious ingenious message was sent by CM to all the ELITE athletes during this time of recruiting decision making. If an elite athlete feels he can walk into a program and be treated with dignity he is more apt to go to that first class program. Get it.

    The rest is just using an example to get his point across and to imply that many OTHER programs conduct themselves in a fashion that an Elite athlete would rather not experience. In other words, come to Florida where you will be treated how you would want to be treated. Your Letter Of Intent is Welcome.

  23. I do believe we have beaten the long past dog enough.Looking back is a problem we as a Society seem to like to hang onto.Let’s appreciate what we have accompolished with UM and continue to move forward.I remember when we said “wait til next year”.
    by lady bch g8or

  24. I can understand how some would think this was meant for recruiting purposes but I don’t buy it. Not saying it’s impossible, but I don’t buy it. A pop up question was asked, no way could CM have known this would be asked regarding the situation at miami. It just seemed to me he spoke his mind and kept going maybe in retrospect saying too much. It happens. I’m convinced if CM had to do it all over again he would have said things a bit differently. I think CM gets upset when he hears any talk of players abusing players and it struck a nerve. One last saying, “This too shall pass.”

  25. He wasn’t expecting the question but CM is a quick thinker. I agree with you, John, in the sense that it struck a nerve. CM could have just said, “that’s awful” and gone to the next question. He didn’t do that. He saw the opportunity to express to everyone how he ran things and how the “older guys” are taking care of the younger ones. Family, team. These are words that ring true and are extremely important to an elite recruit. Either way, let’s all be thankful that our University has more class, as it always has, and continue to support our teams with their endeavors. GO GATORS!!! GO GATOR NATION!!!

  26. I agree that there may have been some under achieving during thye Zook era,however, that is in the past good, bad or indifferent nothing can be gained by bad-mouthing the the pervious regime. I am thankfuil that Coach Meyer has bought in some very talented players he and his staff have coached them well. Let’s just keep at that because and not look back we are only one key injury from being and the middle of the pack in the SEC. So let’s just enjoy the great success that the Gator Nation is experiencing right now. GO GATORS

  27. I agree that there may have been some under achieving during the Zook era,however, that is in the past good, bad or indifferent nothing can be gained by bad-mouthing the pervious regime. I am thankful that Coach Meyer has bought in some very talented players he and his staff have coached them well. Let’s just keep at that because we are only one key injury from being in the middle of the pack in the SEC. So let’s just enjoy the great success that the Gator Nation is experiencing right now. GO GATORS

  28. You Zook apologists just make me want to laugh and shake my head in disgust.

    Why do we keep talking about it? In part, catharsis. The Zook years were a bitter pill for some of us to awallow, and it was not only heartbreaking, but SICKENING to see a football program we’re proud of go into a state of demise because of the head coach’s poor decision-making and lack of initiative from 2002-2004. “Fratgate” only exascerbated an already bad situation, and in a way the Miss. State loss later on was a mixed blessing because it was a call to Jeremy Foley to finally take necessary action.

    For those of you who think “hazing” freshman is OK, you need to rethink that line. What Zook failed to realize was that, even though he tried to run an NFL-style locker room, was that he was dealing with KIDS at the college level, not the grown men of the NFL. Two different cultures.

    John, I still need to call you on your “stripe” comment. More than anything, it’s meant to be a motivational tool and not a mark of shame on our freshmen – they have a goal to strive toward, and once they reach that then the mark of achievement is having it removed. Along the way there’s positive reinforcement from teammates and coaches, and more than anything the current system wants our freshman to succeed and feel like they belong.

    Roght now I’m just grateful that we have somebody in charge like Meyer who has his ducks in a row and has a definite plan for how Florida football should operate and win games!

  29. As a lifetime Gator now transplanted to frigid Chicagoland, I often remind Illinois fans they have our ‘leftovers’ (Zook). Now, it’s not quite so funny…ya’ gotta wondering if he’s utilizing the same, um, leadership skills down in Champaign.

  30. If there is any downside to this, it is that Urban Meyer is teaching our rivals how to run a football program. Meyer is a MASTER program builder. He completely understands the importance of it and how to most effectively build a championship program. His ideas are working, and unfortunately, other coaches will probably copy many of those ideas. But hopefully they’ll not be able to execute the implementation.

    Urban Meyer will leave UF with a greatly upgraded football tradition. If part of that is pointing out how his staff has corrected ineffective ideas that have been in place in the past, so be it. The football culture at a school is one important part of the program and he has improved UF in that regard. It will pay off now and for years to come.

  31. I am no Zook hater, nor Zook apologist. And regardless of whether Meyer’s comments were intended toward Zook or the players, let’s not forget that along with some real lowlights (Miss State, Bowl Games) Zook had some real highlights while in G’ville. Beating FSU at Doak Walker, ranks highest among them.

    To me Zook is a very good coach, not a great coach, but a very good one. However, he is missing that little “something” which would turn him into a great coach. Maybe he has problems disciplining players, or teaching them self-discipline, or maybe it’s simply his organizational skills in managing so many moving parts, but it’s something.

    On the other hand, he’s a great recruiter; he also seems to get his players fired up for the big games; and he won a handful of very noteworthy games over our SEC rivals, doing things even the ol ball coach couldn’t do in his 12 years.

    It’s just too bad that people hated him from the get-go because of the shoes he had to fill. I think it’s better to just appreciate what he did do, rather than carry on a simplistic and childish hatred of a guy who worked his butt off. I can say this, there is no way Florida wins the 2006 championship had Zook not done such a fantastic recruiting job at UF.

  32. “The person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument.”

    CM is the epitomy of this truth…and has 2 NC’s to show for it.

    Grace and mercy always triumphs over shame and blame….

  33. I have commented on this subject twice and now three times and after reading the article and everyone’s response, I believe it was a little of all your responses. Recruiting? I think sub-consciously Meyer plugged the scenario without knowing. Everything is going pretty good when that happens. A dig at Zook? I don’t think so, He later called Zook and wanted to make sure that he didn’t take it that way. Not many coaches with their altered ego will do that. I just believe it was a question that was asked on the fly and Coach just told it like it was and how he corrected the mentality and promoted a family and team atmosphere. He was comparing the environment and translating the difference in the records since then. He inherited a time bomb and in a few years (2) turned a program around and yes with allot of Zook’s players, but why couldn’t Zook do the same with the same players? I’ll tell you why, because there are some coaches that can talk a good game (salesmen), but there are those who can complete the deal and deliver what they are saying. That is the difference in what we had and what we have now. Meyer is the complete package. He sells, he delivers and he cares.
    There is a big difference in the college and pro atmosphere. Zook tried to bring the pro sound and it just didn’t work. It would be like bringing in a freshmen in High School into a college atmosphere. Most freshmen are in awe that they are just in High School much less throw and adult environment at them. That’s why it might look attractive at Tennessee right now to have all those coaches who have pro experience, but if you cannot adapt to your kids (Which Meyer is a champion at doing) then your program is going to struggle. Just my opinion.

  34. I think those who are defending the Zooker are taking the comments out of proportion. Meyer never said or implied htat the team lost just because of how Zook ran his locker room, only that it appeared to hurt morale at a time when the team wasn’t winning their games on the field. He just points out the positives of his own approach to team and how everyone chosen to be a Gator is chosen because he believes they have the ability to be on the team. Meyer is just contrasting his approach and you know what–he’s winning with it. I agree the Zooker was a much better recruiter than the Ol’ Ball Coach and his players loved him very much, but you still need to win games to stick around as head coach. Zooker lost two very important games during his last season here (Miami, Michigan) that showed he didn’t have the right stuff to win with incredible talent. Add to that the frat house incident, he just didn’t act grown up enough or demand enough grown-up behavior from his players to warrant staying. Go Coach Meyer!! GO GATORS!!