Gators' new general keeping tabs on, off field
July 29, 2005
By Dennis Dodd
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
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HOOVER, Ala. -- In a league that seemingly has many knuckleheads as All-Americans, Urban Meyer has become the lord of discipline in the SEC.
Let's just say if the touchdowns scored by Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia this season can match the number of arrests, that would be a good thing. Meanwhile, Florida's new coach is walking the walk.
All eyes will be on Chris Leak to carry the Gators. (Getty Images)
Unlike a portion of his SEC brethren, Florida's new coach is proactive when it comes to The Discipline Thing. It almost seems like he wants to catch wrongdoers.
Seniors are dispatched to local clubs on weekends, sort of like hall monitors, checking to see if their teammates are staying in line.
"It was after one workout, one Thursday night," said free safety Jarvis Herring who was rousted off the couch by one of Meyer's duty calls. "He'll call you in advance."
Herring has been transformed. He told the New York Times that last offseason (under former coach Ron Zook), he and teammates would start drinking in the morning and not stop until late at night -- or until the booze ran out.
Zook, a masterful recruiter, was largely criticized for the team's lack of discipline off the field.
Now Herring is a decorated hall monitor. Meyer chose him to come here as one of the Florida players to speak to the press during SEC preseason media days. While the surveillance might make some Gator upperclassmen uncomfortable about informing on their teammates, it does install a sense of responsibility.
"When I worked for Earle Bruce, he told me discipline is 90 percent anticipation," Meyer said before departing here for Gainesville. "I really believe that. (When we get home) I'm going to drive over and walk through some of the dorm rooms and see how they're doing. I want to meet their parents. I want to know if their mom and dad say they should be at church on Sunday."
Once-a-semester "champions dinners" have been established to honor those players who have achieved as citizens, students and athletes. Those who have get special Florida gear and eat gourmet food in a white-tablecloth setting. In the same room, though, the slackers get hot dogs on paper plates to be reminded of their underachieving status.
"We think that Coach Meyer is going to be the future," senior offensive lineman Mike Degory said. "We're ready to buy into it right now. 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."
Meyer is not as hard as he looks. Last year's starting tailback at Utah, Marty Johnson, had about as bad a rap sheet as it gets.
Utah was Johnson's third school. Injuries and scrapes with law had limited his performance to the point that 2004 marked his seventh year since enrolling at Utah in 1998. Meyer inherited this miscreant in 2003. Two games into the 2002 season, Johnson had been leading the NCAA in rushing before tearing up his knee. During the down time, he was arrested twice for DUIs.
That's a background that might not even cut it in Knoxville, Columbia or Athens.
"The biggest thing I learned about me? My body doesn't react well to alcohol," Johnson told CBS SportsLine.com last year. "I lose control of myself."
Meyer could have easily cut Johnson loose but instead gave him a thread of a lifeline -- a list of 12 things to accomplish to get back on the team.
"I put (the odds) at 90 percent he would not come back," Meyer said.
Johnson gave up alcohol, completed Meyer's 12-step program, led the Utes in rushing and, according to Meyer, graduated earlier this year.
"The easiest thing to do was let me go," he said. "Once he gave me that list, it turned my life around."
In that sense, Meyer is like a lot of coaches. If you can play, you might get the benefit of a doubt.
"You start adding character, intelligence and discipline, (but) would you trade that for a guy who runs fast or who can jump high?" Meyer said. "No question."
Meyer gets a lot of his philosophy from John Wooden. The two have never met, but Meyer saw the former UCLA coach speak at a clinic a few years back and was hooked.
"Don't treat players the same, treat them how they deserve to be treated," he said. "Treat the good guys good. Treat the bad guys bad so they want to become good. If they don't, they eventually got to go."
Herring is now one of the good guys.
"We've come so far, we can't let anything slip now," he said.
Barry to Brett
Quick story below about Brett Bielema, the 35-year old Wisconsin defensive coordinator who was picked by Barry Alvarez on Thursday to succeed him after this season.
A couple of years ago, Bielema was on the staff at Kansas State under Bill Snyder. The Wildcats were kicking off the season at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City against Cal. This was before Jeff Tedford had turned that program around.
Anyway, the Bears scored an early touchdown and it's obvious to everyone in the press box that Snyder, a tight-lipped, button-down, old-school guy, was peeved. He turned to the kid Bielema and apparently muttered something like "What happened?"
Jaws dropped in the press box when Bielema, instead of cowering, gave it right back to Snyder. He thrust his jaw forward, visibly upset, and wasn't going to back down to his boss.
The line in the press box was: "Well, Brett is walking back to Manhattan tonight."
The Wildcats won in a rout, and Bielema's star continued to rise. That conviction is probably part of the reason Alvarez made the bold step of naming his young coordinator to succeed him. Bielema has a chance to be the youngest head coach in I-A at the beginning of next season. That depends on who stays and who goes in the offseason.
Alvarez is one of only 12 coaches who have been at their current school at least 10 years. This season will be his 16th and final one at Wisconsin. He'll turn over the coaching duties to Bielema to concentrate on his AD duties full time.
"I just know this," Alvarez said. "I'm proud of what we accomplished."
Starting in 1990, Alvarez made Wisconsin football matter on a national scale. There were three Rose Bowls, a 7-3 overall bowl record. Big Ten titles and a Heisman Trophy (Ron Dayne, 1999). Most of all, the Badgers became known as a big, tough, smash-mouth team that intimidated opponents. Camp Randall Stadium joined in on the intimidation.
Alvarez' move is another sign that the tenured coach is a dying breed. To get to that point, coaches need time to turn things around. That select group of 12 coaches had a combined .478 winning percentage (65-71) in their first year.
The list includes the likes of Joe Paterno (5-5), Bobby Bowden (5-6) and Alvarez, who was 1-10 in his first season.
Football note disguised as a shameless plug for a Viacom property
Let's just say as a radio personality, M.J. Garrett was a heck of a football player.
The 25-year-old former Vanderbilt receiver stood out at the SEC media days because he is trim, good-looking and sported a full head of floppy blond hair. That, and the fact he gave more interviews than he conducted.
Not your average media schlub.
Garrett was recognized by some (younger than this average media schlub) as a member of MTV's Real World, Philadelphia cast. Currently, Garrett does sports talk on WLAC in his native Nashville while pursuing an acting career.
He just completed shooting The Gauntlet II, a new reality show on MTV (like SportsLine.com, a pillar of parent company Viacom). But Garrett is just feeling his way with the whole media thing.
"It's kind of weird being on this side of it," Garrett said. "This is my first big experience. The good thing is I've been there and done it. You know the questions to ask the players. They're not going to be offended."
Garrett spent more time wandering the halls of The Wynfrey Hotel than scoring exclusive interviews. Of course, what do you expect from a guy who waits by the phone for a call from one of his 10 booking agents?
"After I graduated (2003), at that moment it felt like my life was over," Garrett said. "I was an athlete. I said, 'What do I do now?' So I moved out to L.A. I met a casting director for a show."
Isn't that the way everybody's life works out?
Garrett caught passes from with Vandy's Jay Cutler, this year's preseason All-SEC quarterback. And Commodores coach Bobby Johnson did recognize Garrett when he saw him in the hall. The kid had at least a shred of street cred.
That's more than we can say for his former team, which is going on year No. 23 without a bowl berth. At least the post-graduate thing is working out.
"It's amazing what you can do with reality television," Garrett said looking around The Wynfrey. "If you play your cards right and get out of that reality realm, you can do a whole lot."
Uh, yeah. Welcome to the biz, bro.
Matt Leinart's summer of content(ment):
We're beginning to understand why USC's Matt Leinart turned down those NFL millions.
This summer you will (or have been) be able to enjoy Leinart in Rolling Stone,, Esquire, Playboy, GQ, Sports Illustrated, New York Times and Southwest Airlines Magazine. All of those publications have featured photo shoots, stories or both.
Shot a public service announcement for the NCAA
Was a featured speaker at the Orange County Sports Banquet.
Was a keynote speaker for The Special Olympics breakfast of champions.
Spoke to U.S. troops with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Appeared at the prestigious Air 7 Football Camp in Southern California.
Threw out the first pitch at both Dodgers and Angels games.
Got national attention for having his birthday party at Hollywood hotspot "Mood."
"He's the first one who is a celebrity and star athlete," said USC sports information director Tim Tessalone. "We've had tons of star athletes -- Keyshawn, Marcus Allen, they all became celebrities. But Matt is one of those ones, he can't go out (at times). He just gets mobbed."
USC coaches are urging Leinart not to sign autographs, especially outside of the practice facility. Adults are showing up with doe-eyed children in tow who plead Leinart (and others) to sign.
"Half the ones he signs show up on eBay," Tessalone said.
Seems a bit overboard, the South Carolina state high school coaches association reaction to Steve Spurrier running off a few recruits. Spurrier sent letters to three players, two from Carolina, saying their scholarships may not be renewed. The association reacted this week by recommending that the state high school championship games be moved out of Williams-Brice Stadium. First, moving the games hurts no one but the kids who get to play in a big-time atmosphere. Second, what Spurrier is doing happens everywhere. Check out Sylvester Croom at Mississippi, whose scholarship numbers are in the 70s as he cleans house from the Jackie Sherrill era. Third, if you want to blame someone, blame Lou Holtz for bringing in sub-standard talent.
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson on using the death of former running back Kwane Doster as inspiration for this season: "That's just beyond football, beyond motivational tricks." Doster was shot while sitting in a car in his native Tampa, Fla. on Dec. 26. His locker will be glassed off in the Vandy locker room and made into a memorial.
In the interest of full disclosure we must report that Tennessee's Tony McDaniel has reached a plea agreement in a January case regarding a pickup basketball game. McDaniel was charged after throwing an elbow at a player during a game on campus. McDaniel's attorney said the player will be restitution to the student and pay court costs. McDaniel has been suspended for the summer and is on probation for the remainder of his team at Tennessee. He can't go near the TRECS Center on campus where the incident occurred. McDaniel, 6-feet-7 and 300 pounds, must also serve a two-game suspension.