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Meyer Brings Motivational Tools to Gators

3:52 PM, Aug 19, 2005   |    comments
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GAINESVILLE, FL (AP) -- Urban Meyer's list of motivational tactics is more intricate than his playbook. It might be more important, too. The first-year Florida coach uses countless methods to encourage, energize and entice players to improve every aspect of their lives. He has the revered "Champions Club." He has the renowned "Circle of Life." He has hell lifts, rookie stripes and "The Pit." He also has proven results. Although his ways are more reminiscent of a high school team than an NFL program, they helped Meyer turn around Bowling Green (2001-02) and Utah (2003-04). They could do the same for the Gators, who lost 15 games the last three years and most of the swagger and confidence that defined them during the 1990s. "There are no secrets, no gimmicks, no tricks," co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison says. "Players will play hard when they know their coach is giving them everything and is trying to make each player the best he can be. That's all it is." Meyer started changing things when he arrived in January. His first goal was to familiarize himself with players and see if they were "living right." He hosted several cookouts and began dropping by players' apartments and dormitories with little or no warning. Assistants put together detailed lists about their players, something Meyer had to do under legendary Ohio State coach Earle Bruce. Meyer wanted his coaches to know names of girlfriends, friends, parents, majors, grade point averages, projected graduation dates and important phone numbers. "You get so tight with your players that they can't let you down," associate head coach Doc Holliday says. "They don't want to let you down. They're going to play for you. That's why we do all we do." The hands-on approach allowed Meyer to learn a lot about his players early. He even broke them down into three academic categories: scarlet, red and gold. Scarlet players are monitored constantly to make sure they're attending classes. Red players are watched closely. Gold players aren't checked and don't have to attend study hall. He also established a rewards program called the "Champions Club," reserved for players who excel in the classroom, in offseason conditioning workouts and in their personal lives. Four times a year, members of the Champions Club are treated to a steak dinner served on fine china with linen tablecloths. Those not in the club also attend the dinner, but they eat hot dogs and potato salad on paper plates and get stuck cleaning up. "You never have to worry about motivation with coach Meyer," tight end Tate Casey says. "He always has that part covered. He's going to motivate you, he's going to get you going. If he can't, then nobody can." Meyer found out even more about his players during spring practice, when he introduced them to the "Circle of Life" and "The Pit." The Circle of Life stages one player against another in a ring formed by teammates. The players square off in a battle of toughness, with each trying to knock the other to the ground. The winner is celebrated, the loser humbled. The Pit is much more demanding. It's an area of the practice field where strength coaches supervise drills designed to encourage players to practice through nagging aches and pains. Players there sometimes carry rocks and sandbags, run stadium steps and endure seemingly endless repetitions of sit-ups and push-ups. "It's an ugly deal," Meyer says. "Nothing good happens in there." Meyer also implemented "hell lifts," weightlifting sessions that usually begin late Friday night and last into the wee hours, and "rookie stripes." Black stripes are put on the helmet of each newcomer, who gets it removed when he "becomes a Gator." "Joining the team doesn't make you a Gator," Meyer says. "It's much harder than that. You have to earn it." The mind games haven't been confined to the practice field, either. During summer workouts, Meyer kicked players out of the locker room and told them they couldn't wear orange and blue or anything with the Gators logo on it. "That was a big deal to us," Casey says. "It was his way of sending us a message that we were taking everything for granted. This is the University of Florida. It's privilege to be here and a privilege to play football here. Some guys might have lost sight of that, but he has that instilled into everyone now." Nearly as troubling to the Gators, Meyer removed the large replica gator head that was on display between the locker room and Florida Field. Players typically rub the head for good luck before games. Players eventually regained access to the locker room and were allowed to wear Gator gear again. But the gator head is still missing - quite possibly a motivational ploy Meyer is saving for the Sept. 3 season opener against Wyoming. "He knows how to push players' buttons," offensive coordinator Dan Mullen says. "He gets the team to believe in what we do. The offense never puts the defense in a bad situation. The defense never put the offense in a bad situation. The special teams are always leading the country. "He's kind of the puppet master to get all of that intertwined and get that psychological approach to the game." The approach will continue, too. Meyer plans to use other stimulants during the season, like referring to his team's biggest rival only by its locale. At Bowling Green, he referred to Toledo as "the team up north." At Utah, Brigham Young University was "the team down south." He also had players stomp on BYU jerseys before the game and had BYU stickers placed in locker room urinals. Did it work? Utah won both meetings. "We think coach Meyer is going to be the future," center Mike Degory says. "What he demands from us is a lot of responsibility, a lot of time. What he's going to reward us with is a lot of wins. That's a fair trade in my book."

Associated Press

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