Aug. 13, 2005
CBS SportsLine.com wire reports




GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators have experienced their least eventful offseason in recent years.

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No bar brawls. No assault charges. Not even a frat fight.

It has a lot to do with Urban Meyer.

Hired last December to replace fired coach Ron Zook, Meyer has restored discipline to a program that endured numerous off-the-field issues the previous two years.

"Football is all about discipline. If you don't handle your problems off the field, then you can't handle them on the field," safety Jarvis Herring said. "We were undisciplined. The coaches from last year's staff told us the same things, laid down some of the same rules, but they just didn't enforce them as much as coach Meyer and his staff does.

"That's why we went on about our way and broke the rules."

After having at least seven players deal with legal problems during the last two years under Zook, the Gators haven't had a single issue since Meyer took over.

The scene is quite different around the rest of the country, especially in the Southeastern Conference and in nearby Tallahassee.

South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia alone have had at least 23 football players either arrested or cited since the season ended. Florida State had similar problems, with star linebackers Ernie Sims and A.J. Nicholson getting arrested this summer.

In Gainesville, though, things have been quiet.

"You don't want to waste talent by getting in trouble on the streets and messing you're life away by doing stupid things," linebacker Brandon Siler said. "That's the message: don't go out and do things that can hurt your team. That's what we did in the past."

Herring, linebacker Taurean Charles (twice), linebacker Channing Crowder (twice), linebacker Earl Everett, defensive end Steven Harris, quarterback Justin Midgett and running back Skyler Thornton were all arrested over the last two years.

There also was the well-publicized recruiting trip of Willie Williams in January 2004. The star linebacker was accused of setting off hotel fire extinguishers, getting into a bar fight with another man and hugging a woman without her permission during his visit to Gainesville. Through much of the visit, he was escorted by Florida players.

Even more embarrassing for the program was the infamous fraternity fight last year that played a role in Zook's dismissal.

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Offensive linemen Billy Griffin, Drew Miller and Steve Rissler were injured in a fight with several Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members. Later the same night, about a dozen football players showed up at the frat house looking for revenge.

Zook was then called to diffuse the situation, but he ended up threatening the fraternity members.

"Off-the-field issues the last couple of years killed us, just killed us," tight end Tate Casey said. "It's a trust factor. If you can't trust a guy to do what he's supposed to do off the field, how are you going to trust him when he's on the field."

When Meyer first arrived on campus, he knew the Gators needed to curb the off-field problems before they would have any chance of correcting the on-field ones (Florida lost 15 games the last three seasons, including several to late collapses and a couple to careless plays).

Meyer established strict rules about living right, the same thing he did while turning around programs at Bowling Green and Utah.

He closely monitored grades and class attendance, often dropped by players' dorm rooms and apartments with little or no notice, and empowered the senior class to make sure no one gets in trouble on campus or around town.

So far, the system has worked perfectly.

"I was very proud of what they did this summer," Meyer said. "I would have been extremely disappointed in the leadership of this team if we had issues. It wasn't (the coaches). That was a bunch of older guys saying, 'No, we've had enough nonsense."'

Meyer also established a rewards program called the "Champions Club," which is 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.

"Coach Meyer tells us this is an investment: as much as you invest in it, you're going to get that much reward out," center Mike Degory said. "He talks about our accountability, dependability, responsibility. That's stuff that maybe wasn't in this program in the past, but it's here now.

"I'm glad to see that it's changed, and it's definitely a change for the better."