GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Urban Meyer remembers sitting in a hotel ballroom in Detroit in 2001, willing to talk about expectations and his upcoming debut as Bowling Green’s head coach.
He waited for questions.
He didn’t get any.
“Not one interview,” Meyer said Tuesday at Florida’s media day. “Do I miss those days? Sometimes I do.”
Meyer might miss them even more this season. After all, the Gators are an overwhelming favorite to win their third national championship in four years. Although Meyer acknowledged that he has “extremely high expectations for this team,” he vowed not to use words like “repeat” or “dynasty” while trying to manage all the hype.
“People’s expectations aren’t what drive the program,” he said. “What drives the program are players and the expectations that coaches put on the players. We have them now.”
Media day offered some insight, too.
“With the team we have right now, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t (repeat),” cornerback Joe Haden said. “If we just play the best we can play, it’s going to be a reality. We can win three national championships in four years. Our team will go down in history. ... You can’t forget a team like that.”
Meyer ripped his players for talking about anything beyond getting to the Southeastern Conference title game. He also sought help in keeping them grounded and focused.
He had former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz speak to the team Monday, and has former NFL coach Tony Dungy and Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan lined up to do the same.
The players might have an easy time relating to Donovan. Three years ago, just across campus, Donovan faced a challenge similar to Meyer’s. Donovan essentially returned his entire national championship team, and his top priority was keeping Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and their teammates motivated and playing on edge.
Meyer used to sneak into the basketball locker room before, during and after games to get a feel for how Donovan handled the situation.
“I just thought the way he managed it, especially when they hit a little skid in the middle of the season, the way he pulled that team back together,” Meyer said. “I learned a lot. That was one of the best basketball teams of all time.”
There’s already been talk, at least in Gainesville, about Florida’s football team having a shot to do the same. Can the Gators go undefeated? Is Tim Tebow the best quarterback of all time? Will the defense be the best in school history, maybe the best in SEC lore?
“You can’t avoid it with the fans, the media,” linebacker Ryan Stamper said. “It’s definitely a great feeling knowing that, with all the guys we have this year coming back, we definitely have a shot to be undefeated and things like that. But right now, our goal is the SEC championship.”
Donovan couldn’t ignore the hype, either.
He talked all season about Florida playing with a target on its back and getting every opponent’s best shot. He even took extreme measures to motivate his team. Remember “Officer Billy?” Donovan showed up in before a game wearing a police officer’s uniform that included a baton, a badge and handcuffs.
His message was that the Gators should be like police shutting down parties, an analogy for the defending national champs playing on the road.
Meyer might be even more creative.
He has used countless tactics to motivate players, from putting BYU stickers in urinals when he was at Utah to amassing newspaper and magazine articles that either glorified Ohio State or seemingly criticized his Gators before the 2007 national title game in Arizona.
“One thing about coach Meyer is he doesn’t have a problem motivating his team,” Stamper said. “He’s going to find a way to motivate his team, whether he brings in (former NFL receiver) Cris Carter like he’s done before or Billy Donovan like he’s done before. Even though we motivate ourselves, coach Meyer brings that kick to it just to do something to make us get even more motivated. I feel something coming this camp. I don’t know what it is, but I feel something coming.”