By DAVID JONES/Florida Today
Published: August 21, 2009
Updated: 08/22/2009 12:31 am
GAINESVILLE – Florida coach Urban Meyer talked for a long time about changing the culture when he took over the program in 2005 but has never offered many specifics. On Friday, he revealed what one of those changes was, as far as the locker room environment.
Asked a general question about how he handles players having arguments on the field and in the locker room, Meyer _ who did not take a swipe at former coach Ron Zook (now at Illinois) or mention him outright _ started discussing the 2005 atmosphere that he inherited at Florida.
He said freshmen were put in a separate locker room and treated harshly by the other players. When he realized how poorly the new players were treated, he put an end to it.
Meyer’s comments were chilling.
“When we first got here five years ago they had freshmen in a separate locker room and it was a bunch of tin lockers over there and they weren’t allowed to walk (into the regular locker room). Think about this for a minute: this is a big-time college football program and we had some fights because they treat their freshman like they were non-people.
“‘Don’t walk through here, we’ll kick your tail, we’ll shave your eyebrows.’ It took us awhile to break that great culture we had here. That was tremendous. You don’t win many games, but you beat up freshman and shave eyebrows. Absolutely unbelievable.”
Freshmen and other younger players are now mentored by older teammates.
“Now I have a freshman who’s really going through some hard times and he stood up before the team the other day with tears rolling out of his eyes and said, ‘I really want to thank the older guys for taking care of me.’ That’s called a team. That’s not called some silly nonsense,” Meyer said. “We’ve had that here before. ‘Let’s get our brains kicked in against our rival, but let’s go beat up a freshman.”‘
Relayed the comments, Zook said Friday night, “I wasn’t the one who built” the locker room facilities at UF, which have undergone numerous changes since he left, the latest in 2008, that have enabled more room for the freshmen to be included in one area.
“I don’t promote hazing and I don’t believe in it,” Zook said.
He also pointed out that during his time at Florida, with depth an issue at several positions, a lot of freshmen played right away. Chris Leak, for example, ended up the starting quarterback in his first year.
“I think if you look at the numbers, we probably played more freshmen than anyone in the country while I was there,” Zook said.
But he didn’t try to make an issue out of Meyer’s statements.
“You can’t argue with the track record and what they have done there,” he said. “They promote a family atmosphere there and that’s good.”
Zook chuckled at any possible ill feelings over the statements.
“I’ve been gone a long time. I doubt if anybody there even remembers who I am,” he said.