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Point made

Defending conference champs have bought into coach's emphasis on effort

Urban Meyer doesn't have much use for nonsense.

When it comes to coaching the University of Utah football team, the 40-year-old is pretty much all business.

Silly things, such as inquiries about his opinion of the Bowl Championship Series or the possibility of a 12-0 season, are often met with a cold stare, a clenched jaw and a terse reply.

It's classic Clint Eastwood. "Dirty Harry" kind of stuff.

Despite a growing list of accolades, including national coach of the year honors from The Sporting News, it's hard to go ahead and make Meyer's day. Utah's 10-2 record, complete with a national ranking as well as Mountain West Conference and Liberty Bowl titles, doesn't quite cut it. He's looking for more.

And one day in training camp, Meyer got it — courtesy of senior linebacker Corey Dodds.

"This summer was crazy. Last summer, we were kind of like 'Man, we're getting worked so hard. Man, I can't believe we are working this hard. Why are they working us this hard? I've never been worked like this,' " said Dodds. "This summer we're working harder and we're kind of like 'Are we working hard enough? Do you think we're going to be as good as we're supposed to be? Are we working as hard as we need to, to be as good as we want to be?'

"Those kind of questions I get from people. That just shows the character. They want to be the best."

The comments were music to Meyer's ears.

"It comes down to attitude, chemistry and a senior walking off (the practice field) telling you that they want to work harder," Meyer said. "I'm glad Corey Dodds said that. It just made my day."

Before practice each day, Meyer has the Utes run a dozen 20-yard dashes at full speed. It's proven to be quite a gauge for the program he and his staff are building. Unlike last season, he added, there is no moaning or complaining.

"That is a great sign," Meyer said. "That's the sign of a team that has focused. They're not worried about how many periods we are going in practice. I haven't heard that one time. Last year, it seemed like people would say, 'Why are we doing this?' Now they know why we're doing it."

It's an evolution, of sorts — played out daily on an intense level. Dodds said there's no time to rest on past laurels.

"Everyone has got to come out and think we have to learn," Dodds said. "We have to learn, and we have to be better every single day. Every day; it doesn't matter if you're a vet. So what if you played last year? Say you played three seasons , this is your senior year and you've been a starter since you were a freshman. So what? This is a new year, and you've got to get better."

Continual improvement is a major component in Meyer's philosophy. Idleness isn't tolerated, even by those sidelined with injuries.

Meyer, thus, created "The Pit." Instead of having injured players sit under a tent drinking water during practice, as he observed as a player at Cincinnati and as an assistant coach at Notre Dame, he found a way to make every trainer, manager, coach and player leave the practice field with a feeling of accomplishment.

"Players don't look at it as punishment," said Meyer. "That's their work."

Those sidelined with minor injuries and ailments spend practice in a marked-off area. Police tape is the current marker of choice. They do a variety of exercises under the watchful eye of trainers. Stationary bikes and weights are used, as are nontraditional items such as heavy chains and rocks.

"We got a saying," said Meyer. "Take care of The Pit or The Pit takes care of you."

Translation: There's no such thing as time off.

Meyer began the practice at Bowling Green and has continued it at Utah.

"I was not a good player (in college)," Meyer said, "but I played the game and would get sick to my stomach when I would walk off the field and the guys that didn't practice, they're sitting there eating food and I can barely lift my arms. So I always felt like — and it's human nature — I hated those people who didn't practice."

Seeing as many as 25 players sitting around a tent drinking water at Notre Dame, re-enforced his feelings.

He vowed as a head coach, it wouldn't happen. And as players at Bowling Green and Utah can attest, it hasn't.

"Kids hate to get in that sucker," said defensive line coach Gary Andersen. "You get yourself in The Pit and you're going to work your fanny off until you're able to get back on the practice field."

Time, Meyer believes, is a precious commodity. Opportunities come and go with indecisiveness.

"He's like a lot of guys I was with early," said cornerbacks coach Chuck Heater, "both as a player and as a coach, guys that cross the T's and they dot the I's. Everybody has accountability and nothing really goes unnoticed. He's a guy that's really thorough and on top of things."

Everything is planned down to the minute, noted Andersen. Check that, it's planned down to the second.

"You know exactly what direction you're going and exactly what's expected to keep the kids at a high pace," he said.

It's the only speed Meyer can appreciate.

"The kids compete daily and the way they're pushed to be able to have to win or lose every single day, I think, is a very important factor," Andersen said. "It really helps the football team."

And that, after all, is what Meyer was hired to do.

FULL SPEED AHEAD

Utah's Urban Meyer experienced instant success at the University of Utah, which is consistent with his coaching resume:

Head coaching jobs: Two (Bowling Green 2001-02; Utah 2003-present)

Head coaching record: 27-8 (17-6 conference mark)

Accolades: 2001 MAC coach of the year, 2003 Mountain West coach of the year, The Sporting News 2003 national coach of the year.

Speedy success: Meyer's 8-3 record at Bowling Green in 2001 was the biggest turnaround in the NCAA that season . . . The 2001 campaign was the first winning season at Bowling Green since 1994 . . . Meyer has led both Bowling Green and Utah into the national rankings . . . Utah's 2003 MWC title was the school's first outright conference championship since 1957.

SOURCE: Utah sports information


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com