On Monday, The Ohio State University formally introduced Urban Meyer as the 24th head coach of the school’s football team. The hiring of Meyer certainly swept in a general feeling of ecstasy among the Buckeye faithful. Just two days removed from the humiliating culmination of the season from hell, in the form of a bitter loss to hated rivals Michigan, fans of the scarlet and gray were rewarded with a prize that immediately wiped all of the sour taste of the last season out of their mouths.
Nobody should be surprised that Buckeye fans are in such a wild state of jubilation right now. Somehow the University went through a scandal that cost them the coach who gave them one of the best decades of Buckeye football in history, and came out of it less than a year later by hiring arguably one of the 2 or 3 best coaches in college football today. Fans today should be counting their lucky stars, because that’s not how these things normally end.
But before anyone gets too far ahead of themselves, there are some questions to consider with Urban Meyer. One of the loudest criticisms levied against Urban Meyer by the national media, and the media in Gainesville, was questioning the sincerity and motives of his curious exit from the Florida Gators. Many people rightfully questioned how could Urban leave Florida to spend more time with his family and get his health back in good shape, and then take the Ohio State job less than 11 months later?
There are a couple factors to consider with that question, though. The first has to deal with some of the underlying factors in why he left Florida. To be certain, family and health were legit reasons, but there other reasons feeding into those health problems.
Under Urban Meyer’s watch, Florida began to have issues with players being arrested. Whether you blame the players themselves or the coaching staff, it’s a consideration that has to be factored in. Furthermore, there were factors such as drugs, agents, and money. On top of all of that, Florida was battling relentlessly with Miami and Florida State for in-state recruits while national powers like USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Ohio State came in trying to poach elite talent from the fertile state. On top of all that, Florida plays in the SEC, where the recruiting practice of over-signing is rampant.
Over-signing is the process of recruiting, offering scholarships to, and accepting letters of intent from more players than the allowable 85 scholarships per team. The SEC is notorious for its over-signing practices. Not only does the process create a competitive imbalance, but it’s also highly unethical in the way it treats some recruited players who are the odd men out once the numbers are crunched.
According to the website oversigning.com, from 2002-2010 Florida averaged 23.33 players signed per year. That number would have placed Florida 5th in the Big Ten, but in the SEC, that number is good for 2nd to last. It speaks to Urban Meyer’s refusal to participate in the over-signing practice.
The Big Ten has long had strict rules in place to prevent over-signing. In fact, over that same period from 2002-2010, Ohio State averaged just 20.00 players signed, 2nd to last in the Big Ten. So Urban Meyer’s recruiting philosophy fits not only with Ohio State’s recruiting practices, but they will also be more in line with the Big Ten as a whole. From 2002-2010, SEC schools went over 25 scholarships in a single class 54 times, compared to just 18 in the Big Ten. SEC schools went over 28 scholarships in a single class 33 times (compared to just 5 in the Big Ten) and had back to back classes of 25 or more occur 35 times (compared to 6 in the Big Ten).
So what does all of this mean? Well, for starters, some of the problems that caused Urban Meyer to lose his focus and begin to experience stress won’t be as problematic in the Big Ten. Urban Meyer can maintain his same recruiting style without having to worry that the other schools in his conference are using shortcuts to undermine his success.
Furthermore, in Ohio Urban Meyer will find recruiting to be a little easier due to the simple fact that Ohio State has fewer teams to fight with for in-state recruits than Florida does. Sure, plenty of out of state schools recruit in Ohio (Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, USC, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan State, etc), but Ohio State is the dominant in-state school and traditionally has, for the most part, had first pick on the talent they want in Ohio.
Finally, the issue regarding the time he wanted to spend with his family. This is the one that is hardest to understand why people have such an issue with. It’s no secret that Urban Meyer, who grew up in Ohio and coached at Ohio State under Earle Bruce, has always kept one eye on the OSU coaching gig. He’s had out clauses for OSU written into past contracts. When Urban Meyer left Florida, he couldn’t have imagined that by May 31st Jim Tressel would be forced out at Ohio State.
This was Urban’s time. It was likely now or never for him. If he ever wanted to seize the opportunity to coach at the premiere football school in his home state around his family and friends and his mentor Earle Bruce, the time was now. If Coach Meyer felt he was successful in coming to an understanding on what caused his issues at Florida, and that he missed coaching, and that he was ready to come back and that this was the job he wanted, then more power to him.
So now Ohio State welcomes a high profile coach for the first time in its history. Paul Brown was an Ohio high school coaching star when OSU hired him, but certainly not a national star of Urban Meyer’s magnitude. Woody Hayes was anything but a legend when OSU hired him. Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, Luke Fickell…all coaches of varying experience, age, and national appeal, but none of them even close to the star power of an Urban Meyer.
No, Ohio State is treading into new waters with the hiring of Urban Meyer. The spotlight on the University’s football program is going to be brighter and more focused than ever before. With all that media attention comes great expectations. And with great expectations comes great scrutiny.
And therein lies the one concern with hiring Urban Meyer. Recent sports history shows us that hype has a way of blinding reality. Prime examples include the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Boston Red Sox. All of those teams made moves that virtually everyone agreed made them sure things to find instant success. Only, none of them lived up to that hype. Certainly the Red Sox and Eagles failed more spectacularly than the Heat did, but none of those teams accomplished what they set out to.
But then again, here’s the problem with hype. It makes us expect instant gratification when the reality is that in sports it takes time for “new” things to gel. The Heat will likely be Championship contenders for the foreseeable future. Does anyone think the Red Sox and Eagles are doomed to never figure out their problems?
So as Urban Meyer steps into this new job, the challenge for fans will be to temper expectations. It will be extremely hard for anyone to match what Jim Tressel accomplished in his 10 year reign as head coach. Many fans will expect Urban Meyer to come in and immediately take OSU back to the top of the polls and back into the BCS picture. Immediately. As in next year.
And maybe he will. If anyone could, it would be Urban Meyer. The match between Ohio State and Urban Meyer is such a natural fit and makes so much sense on so many levels that it’s hard to keep perspective. With Ohio State’s football tradition and in this great football state with so many amazing high school coaches and football powerhouses, and with Urban Meyer’s unreal track record of recruiting and on field strategy, it’s a marriage made in heaven for Buckeye fans.
This is no slight against Jim Tressel whatsoever. What he did for Ohio State football and the manner in which he conducted himself, even considering the tattoo scandal, deserve to be rightfully remembered with all due respect and admiration. But for the past decade, OSU was treating it’s football program like a NASCAR restrictor plate race. It was conservative, reserved, and tactical. But they had their formula for success.
Now, OSU fans are about to see what happens when the team treats the program like a Formula 1 race. Urban Meyer is going to inject a very different energy into the program. To continue with the racing metaphors, the gas pedal is going to be slammed to the floor under Urban Meyer. Recruiting will be more aggressive. No more Tressel-ball on the field. Instead of special teams and field position, the focus will be on offensive and defensive strategies that overwhelm their opponents.
So yeah, Urban Meyer is excited to be back home at Ohio State, and fans are excited to welcome him home. But a little patience and perspective would be advised. It’s possible Urban Meyer could turn this team into his kind of team in one year. But generally these things take time. Ohio State isn’t giving Meyer an empty cupboard to work with. The talent is there. But learning and adjusting to a system and a coaching style that is 180 degrees different from what Ohio State is used to over the last, oh, 100 years or so might take some getting used to.
But if this all clicks, and if Urban Meyer can be everything he’s supposed to be, then Ohio State just might be in for a run of success that could even exceed Woody Hayes’s Buckeyes of 1968-1977. Oh wait, so much for all that talk of patience and tempered expectations. It’s Urban Meyer time at Ohio State. Buckle up, folks.
Photo Credit: Andrew Weber/US Presswire