It was three weeks ago today that Ohio State introduced Urban Meyer as its 24th head football coach.
During that time, Meyer has been busy trying to assemble a coaching staff and also recruiting top prospects. Just in the past week, he secured verbal commitments from three national top 247 prospects in Pennsylvania DE Noah Spence, Illinois DT Tommy Schutt and Ohio DE Se’von Pittman.
This burst in recruiting has helped lift OSU’s recruiting class up to No. 4 nationally in the updated 247Sports.com recruiting rankings.
Central Ohio media members have not had much of a chance to visit with Meyer, although he has done some statewide and national radio and TV appearances. That changed on Monday morning as the coach spent about an hour visiting with a small group of central Ohio media members. We were on hand and can share some of the high points.
At Florida, Meyer made some news when he confronted a media member for questions he had posed to members of the team. He said that his care for his players sometimes takes over.
“I’m a big fan of this great game of football,” Meyer said. “I love it. When I say I love it, I have devoted basically my whole life to it. And I’m not talking about passes and trap plays and zone read plays. I’m talking about the struggle, what goes on in the locker room and what goes on with these kids’ lives. I just get real defensive and I think I will be much better at that.
“I have a job like everyone has a job. And my job is, without question number one, my players. I treat them like my kids.”
Meyer said he actually tried to take a step back once and “CEO this thing” and “just coach coaches.” But that approach did not last long.
“That’s not who we are and that’s not how we are going to hire coaches,” Meyer said. “That won’t happen. I thought about it for a week, but that’s not what we’re going to do.”
Meyer talked about how his coaching staff is coming along.
“We are putting together a staff and we are kind of holding (some things) off out of respect to some people in bowl games,” Meyer said. “More than anything else, most of my guys are head coaches now. They’re on their own.
“The formula is really easy. You go and recruit really good players who are tough and can compete and then you surround them with the best coaches in college football. That’s the formula, but the execution of the formula is difficult. You have to find guys that don’t have agendas and are in it for the right reasons. Then, I use the term alignment and you try to find guys who are aligned with what we do, and that’s treating your players like they’re your own on the field and off the field.
“Not everybody wants to do that. They want to draw circles and X’s and straight lines. That’s fourth on my list when I try to evaluate a coach. That’s why I am taking my time.”
Meyer said he figures to announce his staff on Jan. 3.
“It will be a staff that is very well thought out,” he said.
Luke Fickell, OSU’s coach for the 2011 season, was retained by Meyer. But it was reported over the weekend that he has interviewed for the vacant head coaching job at Pittsburgh. Meyer was asked what impact Fickell’s departure could have.
“It would be significant,” Meyer said. “That’s a big hit. I knew Luke more by reputation. I met him when he visited Florida a few years ago. Obviously, Jim (Tressel) spoke highly of Luke when we would be out places and we would talk.
“Those are all positives. The reasons he is here are not those. The reason he is here is because he is an excellent football coach and an even better person. At no time did (athletic director) Gene (Smith) say, ‘I want you to keep Luke.’ The conversation was, ‘We’d like you to consider keeping Luke and a variety of other guys.’
“Luke was very up front. He did interview for the Pitt job and we imagine we will hear something soon. I think Luke is a head coach at some point. I don’t know him well enough to say when. I can tell you as a family man and a coach, he’s all you would want.”
During the interview session, Meyer was asked about the status of defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. It was Heacock who hired Meyer as a fulltime assistant at Illinois State in the late 1980s.
“So much of it is on defense,” Meyer said. “I’m also considering Mike Vrabel. We should know that shortly. Taver Johnson has been retained. I haven’t made that final decision yet.
“Stan Drayton will stay on offense. We will move him to running backs.”
Meyer has brought Mickey Marotti from Florida to head up the strength and conditioning program. Marotti has been hired as assistant athletic director for football sports performance at Ohio State.
“I’ve been blessed that I’ve had Coach Marotti disciples the whole way through … and I hired Coach Mick at Florida,” he said. “If there’s a right-hand man, he’s it. That’s player issues, that’s motivation, that’s discipline, that’s intensity and toughness, the fight-or-flight principle that we teach.
“I don’t want to say I couldn’t do it without him, but it would be hard.”
Meyer said Marotti will head up the performance team.
“The performance team is the medical staff, the trainers, the equipment people, the nutrition people and they will meet once a week,” Meyer said. “Gene and I will get the minutes of the meeting and we will be there at times. Anybody who puts their hands on a player athletically, everybody will be there and will report to Mickey.
“And the answer … if it’s not the best in the country, then we have to figure out why it’s not. These players deserve the best in the country.”
Meyer was asked about the off-season conditioning program.
“Football is a tough game and a tough sport,” Meyer said. “I will reserve my opinions on everybody until I witness it. I think every young person has a chance to reestablish who they are. That will begin in January. For a 19-year-old, can you imagine how good it is that they can push redo.
“We’ll put them in situations where we’re going to evaluate. Those situations are conducive to where it’s fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter and you’re going against a great team.”
Meyer said he likes the infrastructure that is in place at Ohio State.
“This place wasn’t broken,” he said. “If you look at our APR and our GPA and some other things, it’s far from broken. It’s excellent. We’d change it if it wasn’t. We’d blow the whole thing up.”
Something Meyer has not gone slowly with is recruiting. The recent burst of verbal commitments shows that Meyer is going to be a force on the recruiting trail.
“We are jumping in knee deep in (recruiting),” Meyer said. “The good thing is there was a solid class here. We’ve been able to have great communication with those guys. The reception has been very good. That’s a tribute to Coach Fickell and those guys and what they did and a tribute to this great institution and what it stands for.”
Meyer was asked about the news on Saturday that Jean Bruce, wife of former OSU coach Earle Bruce, had passed away.
“That’s tough,” Meyer said. “I will have dinner tonight with Coach. There are some coaches’ wives who are good at a fundraiser or whatever. To this day, Shelley and Jean were close. Jean and her hit it off. She genuinely cared about the coaches’ wives and their kids. How did Shelley grow up in the possession? Jean Bruce.
“Jean was always there. I talked to Coach. He’s pretty torn up.”
Of course, Bruce has been one of Meyer’s main coaching mentors.
“My relationship with Coach, I’m not embarrassed to say it – other than my dad, that’s it,” Meyer said. “He’s a man’s man. He’s what football is. He’s what Ohio State football is.”
Meyer said Bruce helped sell him on Ohio State – now and in 1986, when he arrived as a graduate assistant.
“In 1986, I had graduated from Cincinnati,” he said. “I could be a GA at Cincinnati or I could come here. I came here because I was a fan. Tom Lichtenberg was the guy who brought me up for the interview and there were some great guys here.
“When Coach Bruce walked through the door, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the same room with him. The amount of football integrity … not cheating, do it the right way, recruit hard, coach hard. Coach Bruce’s coaching tree, there is one common denominator – they do it right, they work extremely hard and they treat their players like they’re their kids. That’s what I learned from him.”
Meyer was asked about the NCAA issues that landed OSU and former coach Jim Tressel in hot water.
“I trust what happened here was a series of legitimate mistakes,” he said. “Were they willful, intentful violations? I don’t think that. I know the people who were here. I know them very well. I know what this place stands for. I’ll fight that even though I wasn’t here.”
And he was asked about how to head off such issues from reoccurring in the future.
“You always have to anticipate,” Meyer said. “Errors are 90 percent anticipation. If you see that something doesn’t look right, you go like a torpedo and go blow the whole thing up and then you put it back together. You can’t in college athletics just say, ‘Boy, I hope that thing works out OK.’ You can’t do that.
“At Florida, we had some issues that showed up that didn’t seem right. You just have to implode the whole thing and put it back together as opposed to sitting back. That’s the approach.”
Meyer was asked what assurances he has received that Ohio State will avoid a bowl ban for 2012 when the NCAA announces its final penalties.
“I just did a lot of research,” he said. “I contacted a lot of people outside Ohio State. I wanted to hear it from some trusted people I have at the NCAA and some other people I have known who have dealt with the NCAA. When you start talking about the overall integrity of the institution, it’s a positive.
“There were some mistakes made that were serious. I haven’t had any assurance about what’s going to happen. But the feedback has been positive. We’re going to find out soon.”
The topic turned to Meyer’s offensive approach.
“I would grade the year we had the quarterback change at Florida (in 2010), I would grade us down,” he said. “We didn’t handle the quarterback change very well. That’s something we have to be able to, to adapt.
“We have bigger backs here than we had in Florida. Carlos (Hyde) can run and Jordan Hall as well. The quarterback (Braxton Miller) is ideal for what we want to do. But until I get my hands on him … he has a quick release. The pocket presence, the ability to lead and the intangibles, I want to evaluate all of those things myself. So much of that will dictate how we run the offense.
“If you can threaten the perimeter of the defense, that opens up everything else. If you can’t threaten the perimeter of the defense – whether it’s bubble screens or whatever – then you don’t have an offense. I have some core beliefs but we are going to adapt to our personnel.”
And just because Meyer is known as a spread guru, look for him to still incorporate the power running game in the OSU attack.
“Ohio State is still Ohio State,” Meyer said. “You go to Florida and the perception there is the vertical passing game because of Steve Spurrier. You have to be aware of where you’re at with the weather and the environment. You have to be able to turn around and hand the ball off. That will be a big part of who we are – probably more than what I’ve done because of who we have.”
Meyer has already hired Iowa State assistant Tom Herman as his new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“With Tom Herman, I didn’t want an ego guy or an agenda guy,” Meyer said. “I wanted a guy who was going to learn our offense and not bring his offense. When I say ‘our,’ I mean we will have a group of people in a room and we will put together our offense. I’m not a big fan of a guy who says, ‘Well, we did it this way and this is how you do it.’
“The thing that was appealing about Tom was his experience in the spread. I want to make sure I hire other guys who have experience in the I, because we’re going to do both.”
Meyer was asked about his view of the expectations at Ohio State.
“Win it all,” he said. “This is a monster. Ohio State is a monster. I just came from a monster. There are probably five or six of them out there where they don’t want anything less.
“But my concern is our football players and our team and maximizing who we are. What’s the expectation level? It’s really clear. It was the same at the other place.”
Meyer said he plans to move his wife and son to Columbus in the early spring.
Regarding the Gator Bowl match-up with Florida, he said he will not attend the game in Jacksonville.
“I might not even watch it,” he said. “I may just lay low. I love both places, obviously, and I have a lot invested in both places. I have a lot of respect for both places.”
Meyer was asked if he is keeping tabs on the team’s bowl preparation.
“Luke and I talk,” he said. “But out of respect to him and his staff … those kids deserve to go down there and play well.
Click here for a video interview session with Meyer from earlier today.