Monday, June 29, 2009

Q&A: Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer opens up about his spread offense

By Chris Harry
Sentinel Staff Writer

11:14 PM EDT, June 24, 2009
Highlights from Sentinel staff writer Chris Harry's Q&A with Florida Gators football coach Urban Meyer

HARRY: You hear a lot in the offseason about coaches going to visit different schools and exchanging ideas with other coaches for the sake of the program and professional development. How's that work here?

MEYER: "That's a big part of what we do. For example, our strength coach and my administrative assistant, every year -- and they have no choice -- have to get on a plane and go visit the best places in America and find out if we're doing the right stuff. I've always encouraged our trainers, our academic people. It's the ones who sit around and do nothing. At some point, [everybody's] going to catch you. No, that is a must. You are graded on your professional development. That's part of your evaluation. And we don't want to be frivolous. We run a certain style, so we don't want to waste time. Go see your buddy? We don't want to do that. There has to be a reason. [The concept] is kind of amazing. I tell people, I'm sure Pepsi doesn't visit Coca-Cola and figure out how to make pop"

HARRY: Where do you draw the line?

MEYER: "It's hard. We've drawn it more. It got out of control a little bit. You have so much work to do. All of a sudden, people are walking in saying, 'Hey coach, you got three hours?' No. You just don't have time. So the last few years we've kind of made it off limits. We do allow some in. If Jon Gruden calls? Absolutely. Bill Belichick comes down every year. We're certainly not going to say no to them. So we handpick who we allow to come in."

HARRY: A guy like Gruden, you never know. He could be standing across from you on a sideline one day.

MEYER: "True. But you have to get something. This is a two-way street. For Jon Gruden to come in and just take? We're not going to do that. We're not into supplying information. We're into exchanging information. A guy like Bill Belichick? I get 10 times more than what he gets from us. Same for Jon Gruden. . . . I could go on and on and on. [California's] Jeff Tedford. He's one of my great friends. We always do it. Rich Rodriguez? We used to do it all the time [when he was at West Virginia], but now he's at Michigan and a competitor in recruiting so we don't anymore. [Rutgers'] Greg Schiano. I could go on and on. Mike Leach at Texas Tech. We often have conversation. [Utah's] Kyle Willingham and I talk twice a week."

HARRY: Give me an example of something Bill Belichick could share with you.

MEYER: "Where do I start? I am amazed at the how he handles elite athletes. You never hear about issues with off-the-field stuff. I am amazed to the point that I got on a plane and I went up and watched over three days and saw how he handled these, um, some of these elite guys. For some reason, the Patriots do this, but you hear about the Cowboys and these other teams just falling apart because of chemistry issues. And then there's Bill Belichick. Our whole program is based on what we learned from him; the core of the team has to be strong."

HARRY: When was the last time you saw a play or a formation where you went, "Wow! I've never seen that before."

MEYER: "Forty-five minutes ago. I've been watching Oklahoma tape all morning."

HARRY: Really? You often hear coaches say that nothing is new; that everything has been used before. Yet when the Wildcat showed up in Miami last year, it was like the NFL freaked out. But it was old-time single-wing football, which is lot of what you do here. What was the genesis of your offense?

MEYER: Part of it is single wing, yeah. I would say there's a spread element and a single-wing element. We've combined them both. We want to have a run component. At any time, anybody can stop the run. It's just taking one more defender than you can block and putting him right there [on the line]. Unless that guy is not very good and you have a great running back, like a lot of the Big Ten teams when I was growing up. Everybody would say, 'BYOB: Bring Your Own Blocker.' He's on scholarship too, and you have to run him over sometime. That's OK. But to simply say we're going to do that all the time and score points, I can't disagree with that more. So how do you take advantage of the guy that's the extra defender? There's two ways to do it. One: you run a single-wing offense, which means you spread a guy out so that [extra defender] has to go cover him. Two: you spread out and throw the ball. We're going to do both."

HARRY: What about the single wing has given it the staying power?

MEYER: "The fact you can run the ball when everybody is blocked. You'll hear a saying around here: 'Never run the ball against an unblocked defender.' Never do it! And I'm kind of giving you everything we do here." (The next few minutes involved some scribbling and lots of X's and O's, the bulk of which, without the diagrams, doesn't translate very well in print. I can promise you, though, it was as interesting as it was informative.)

HARRY: Option football has universally been written off as something that cannot work in the NFL. There are other offenses people say, flat-out, can't work in the NFL.

MEYER: "If you know me, you know I think any offense can work if you have the right personnel back. Offenses are overrated. People are not. The NFL will take a quarterback and put him on a very bad team and call him a bust. Never mind that the defense ranks last in the league and there's no offensive line. Chris Leak [in 2005] had about as bad a three-game [stretch] as we've had at Florida that I've ever had as a coach and it just so happened that Bubba Caldwell broke his leg, Jermaine Cornelius sprained his ankle, Chad Jackson had a bad hamstring and Dallas Baker broke his ribs. And so Chris Leak struggled the next three games when we're playing LSU, Georgia. It doesn't matter what you run. It's personnel based."

HARRY: You kind of just told the Alex Smith story. Your guy at Utah. No. 1 overall pick just four years ago. Goes to a bad team. A lot of folks already have written him off as a bust already.

MEYER: "I don't want to give you names, but I can list 10 other quarterbacks who aren't doing great, too. They're West Coast [offense] quarterbacks. It's about who's on the team."

HARRY: It seems what's happened with Alex is held up as the standard for spread quarterbacks projecting to the NFL. Obviously, you've heard that rap with regard to Tim Tebow's future there, and heading into the draft people were wondering if Percy Harvin's three years of running bubble screens meant he couldn't run a simple dig and the rest of the routes on the passing tree.

MEYER: He can run it better than most; and if someone is paying him $20 million, he'll run a great dig route. It's interesting that you say that. I don't hear it a lot, maybe in recruiting once in a while, but I did hear a NFL coach saying something about that. I like to do my homework. I went and checked the record of that coach and the guy barely had a .500 record. There are certain people I'll have a discussions with. And if I hear something like that, that's not a person I want to have a discussion with. That's nonsense. That's someone putting too much value on scheme rather than personnel."

HARRY: Is your offense easy to teach?

MEYER: "Again, it's based on people. I keep going back to that, but if you have really good players, it's really easy. If you don't, it's really hard. Is the West Coast offense easy to teach? If Joe Montana is throwing to Jerry Rice, yeah, Daffy Duck can teach it. I don't want to de-value teaching. It's absolutely critical, but I'm still going to go back to personnel."

HARRY: Are you a NFL fan?

MEYER: "I'm a fan of some players, some coaches, not necessarily teams. I try to watch the Patriots, but Sundays are such a busy day. Maybe on bye weeks."

HARRY: But you study some teams during offseason, I'll bet. That constitutes professional development, right?

MEYER: "Absolutely. Every year I go to a camp or two. I've already been up to Jacksonville. Spent five hours with Jack Del Rio. Phenomenal coach. I like this new guy [Raheem Morris] in Tampa Bay. I've been invited down there. And I'll get up to New England again."

Orlando Sentinel


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