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Urban Renewal
AUSTIN MURPHY
January 15, 2007
With Chris Leak running the spread-option offense to perfection, Florida blew by Ohio State and won the BCS title in coach Urban Meyer's second season
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January 15, 2007

Urban Renewal

With Chris Leak running the spread-option offense to perfection, Florida blew by Ohio State and won the BCS title in coach Urban Meyer's second season

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While the Gators couldn't have pulled off this championship season without the contributions of Meyer's highest-profile recruits, Harvin and Tebow, the accomplishment was truly more about the players Meyer inherited and transformed in two seasons.

He brought more to Gainesville than an alien offense. (It was widely predicted that the spread would fail miserably against the smothering, speed-oriented defenses of the SEC. Funny, Meyer said last week, he doesn't hear that much anymore.) He instituted the draconian staples that mark most successful turnarounds: Players were told to sit up straight when Meyer addressed them in meetings. Their conditioning was found to be unacceptable, so, of course, they had to run until some of them puked. They were required to learn the fight song and to sing it with Meyer in front of the school band after each game. By far the most radical change was Meyer's insistence that players be more open and honest with each other and with their coaches.

Assistant coaches called players to ask where they were. If a player said he was in his room, the coach would say, "Cool! I'm right outside and I'm coming up." If the player's room was a mess, the coach would point this out. "At first it was weird," says senior center Steve Rissler, who realized after a while that Meyer was stressing that "the only relationship more important than the one you have with your parents is the one with your coach."

Meyer decreed that Thursdays during the season were family days. Spouses, girlfriends, children of players and coaches--all were invited to that day's practice and were welcome to eat dinner with the team, the idea being to strengthen bonds and a player's sense of accountability. "You want to go out and do something crazy," Meyer says, "but now it occurs to you that your decisions have an effect on [receivers coach] Billy Gonzales and his family. And by the way, you just ate dinner with them yesterday."

The emphasis on family "shows us that we're not just playing for ourselves," says senior defensive tackle Ray McDonald. "You're playing for your team, you're playing for the coaches and you're playing for their families. It's pretty big."

Of being forced to spend time with guys on the team whom a player might not otherwise hang out with, junior linebacker Brandon Siler says, "Of course it was uncomfortable. But when you got to know everybody, you cared about those people. And when you started caring about those people, you couldn't let those people down."

Chris Leak never wanted to let anyone down. But his response to success and failure alike has been an inveterate stoicism that at times confounded Meyer, who worked hard to draw the quarterback out of his shell. The scene in Florida's locker room at 10:45 on Monday night confirmed his success. Having descended from the stage and endured the postgame press conference, the senior QB was mobbed the moment he set foot in the room. Coaches, teammates, Meyer--everyone wanted a piece of him. And Leak, who lingered in each embrace, wanted a piece of them.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of him," Meyer said amid the celebration. "I love a fighter, and he's a fighter."

Back at his stall at long last, Leak placed his helmet on a shelf. As he did so, a small shower of confetti fell out of the headgear. For a moment it looked like Chris Leak's private party.

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