All posts by marcushartman

For NCAA, True Reform Trumps TNT

I thought the USA Today piece about potential changes in – or abandoning of – the NCAA model that could be coming down the pike was excellent in a lot of ways, but the No. 1 reason is that it acknowledged the possibility major problems would endure regardless of who was in charge.

That is the main thing people miss when they start squawking about the NCAA.

“Change, ah say, change!”

Yes, reform is needed in many areas, but talk of burning the whole thing down is counter productive and borders on blindly stupid.

Perhaps the greatest truism in our society is this: We hate whoever is in charge and we know we would do a better job if we had the chance.

The United States of America was formed out of a desire to get out from under a monarchy, and that spirit lives on in us more than two centuries later.

The first time I noticed this was when I was about 12 and there was a revolution in my 4-H club. A change in leadership occurred but few of those inconvenient things we had to do to maintain a functioning club went away even though someone new – popularly chosen to run things – was telling us we had to do them. In the end, everyone’s hogs, cattle, arts and crafts still made it to the county fair, we all got our sale checks and the end-of-the-year potluck went on like usual. Then falls sports started so we (parents included or maybe specifically, as with 4-H) could all be put out by some different set of rules and regulations that were evil but nonetheless necessary in most cases.

The greatest enemy of the NCAA’s effectiveness (let alone efficiency) and therefore its popularity is without a doubt bureaucracy. It is not stupidity or greed, though some who don’t understand capitalism or most real alternatives elite athletes have today might see it that way.

I fail to see how any new organization with more than about a dozen schools would avoid similar bureaucratic problems because the bottom line is this – the NCAA is its members. That would not change if a different title were on the marquee of the new group’s headquarters. There would still be lots of mouths to feed, egos to stroke and agendas to serve.

As stated in the USA Today story, most people are generally happy with how the NCAA runs the lower level championships, and I’ll presume the same is true of Division I nonrevenue championships such was wrestling, volleyball, soccer, etc. The challenges of such undertakings should not be underestimated.

Yes, the Division I-FBS schools operate in much different circumstances than the rest, but that is not because of some NCAA mandate.

Do you know why Ohio State spends more than $30 million on the football team? Because it wants to, the same reason it also spends a pretty (though admittedly much smaller) penny on all the other sports, too.

Furthermore, the current NCAA model already treats the revenue sports differently in multiple ways. Football and basketball both have some of their own recruiting and practice rules. They’re also the only sports that require full-ride scholarships.

That specialized rules already exist would seem to be a pretty good indicator more can be made, perhaps some lifting restrictions on athletes’ ability to receive money for endorsements? What about compensation for their likenesses? Maybe a reasonable side job to make a little extra coin? Everything does not have to be one-size-fits-all.

Passing any or all of those new practices could alleviate some of the inconveniences in what is actually a really good deal for just about everyone involved in intercollegiate athletics, from the highly paid administrators and coaches to the anonymous athletes who receive far more in value of their education, training and life experiences than they receive via thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Let’s not forget the local economies in college towns across the country, either. I like these reforms (suggested by Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, among others) because most of the new money they would generate and/or redistribute would go to the high-profile athletes who have big enough names to actually profit from them, and they represent the relatively few who lose much of anything in the system as it stands now (Although football and basketball players still get big paydays at an earlier age than most or all of their baseball or hockey counterparts, but I digress…).

Might a smaller working group be more manageable? More agile in dealing with problems that arise? Sure, that’s possible, but I don’t believe the current one is beyond becoming more responsive even if real change will not be easy. Neither would starting over.

And while the smaller schools and the big boys might have different sets of problems, they still have a lot of similar interests as well.

McGuff Charged With Leading Buckeyes To Next Level

The process might have taken longer than they hoped, but Ohio State administrators finally got their man to lead the women’s basketball team.

Kevin McGuff was introduced Wednesday in a press conference at Value City Arena and represented himself well in front of the OSU press during his first appearance as head coach of the Buckeyes.

A native Ohioan who built Xavier into a 30-win team and mid-major power before two solid years at Washington, he brings a lot to the table as the new leader of the Scarlet and Gray.

He promised to field a defense-minded team that will hit the boards while playing an aggressive, attacking style on offense. The latter is probably what will appeal most to Ohio State fans, who used to grouse about the post-oriented, sometimes plodding style of predecessor Jim Foster.

Foster, of course, tried to change with the times by recruiting flashy point guard Samantha Prahalis from the New York City area five years ago and giving her some athletic wings to fill the lane, but by then it might have been too late from a perception standpoint. Stung by disappointing postseasons in 2006, ‘’07 and ’08, the Ohio State fans were skeptical Foster would really give a guard the keys to the attack and let her go.

He did just that, however, and the early returns were promising as the precocious East Coast native helped carry the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 as a freshman in 2009, a tournament run that came to an end at the hands of a powerful Stanford team that was not only awarded a No. 1 seed in the tournament but ranked No. 2 at the end of the season. The Buckeyes hung tough for about 35 minutes in that game before succumbing, but the future looked bright, especially when they signed five-star prospect Tayler Hill less than three weeks later.

Hill was supposed to put the Buckeyes over the top, giving them a third elite player to go with Prahalis and All-American post player Jantel Lavender. It didn’t work out that way, though. Ohio State earned a No. 2 seed in the 2010 tournament but bowed out to No. 7 Mississippi State in the second round, another disappointing showing that had fans howling for Foster’s head despite an existing six-year string of Big Ten titles.

In many ways, that was the beginning of the end for Foster’s program in Ohio State. The big three came back for one more season together, but the 2011 team suffered through a rough patch in the middle of the season brought on by chemistry problems and a young, unreliable bench. They did not recover in time to preserve their Big Ten title streak, but they got rolling at the end of the season, crushing three consecutive opponents to take the Big Ten tournament title and earning a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

That squad earned Foster’s third Sweet 16 at Ohio State, but a trip to the Elite Eight was denied by No. 1-seeded Tennessee. A look at the Lady Vols’ roster was an easy enough indication of what difference still existed between the Buckeyes and the best of the best – Ohio State had four McDonald’s All-Americans while Tennessee countered with nine.

The trio of stars didn’t draw great crowds to OSU home games, either, as attendance began a three-year decline that continued to this past season.

Hill, whose brother being a Buckeye probably helped her conclude Columbus was the place for her college years, was the seventh and final McDonald’s All-American to sign with Ohio State during the Foster regime. She just finished her career as a four-year starter and was drafted fourth overall in the WNBA draft after leading the Big Ten in scoring the past two seasons.

Foster pulled in highly rated Ohioans Kalpana Beach, Raven Ferguson and Ameryst Alston in the past two classes but lost McDonald’s All-Americans Ally Mallott and Malina Howard, among others. He signed no one in the early period of this recruiting cycle, though the Buckeyes were in the running for a handful of highly regarded national prospects as the state of Ohio’s crop was unusually thin.

McGuff takes over a team that went 18-13 last season and lost Hill to graduation as well as fellow starting guard Amber Stokes. Beach missed the past season with a torn ACL and could be out another year after she suffered the same injury again this week.

Ferguson and Alston give him two nice building blocks who can score, but he will have his work cut out for him getting this team back to the NCAA tournament in a transition year. Those two have All-Big Ten talent, but they will need some help from a group of post players that has played inconsistently to this point in their careers.

McGuff has a chance to hit the ground running, though, with a very deep and talented class of juniors available in Ohio. The headliner is Cincinnati Princeton’s Kelsey Mitchell, a guard who preps in McGuff’s old stomping grounds from his days as head coach at Xavier. Also highly coveted are athletic forwards Makayla Waterman (whose grandfather was an OSU men’s basketball assistant under Fred Taylor) and Kathryn Westbeld of defending Division I state champion Kettering Fairmont along with forward Alyssa Rice of Reynoldsburg.

Kevin McGuff talks about taking the Ohio State women’s basketball coaching job

He did not rule out adding someone in the spring signing period, but that is probably unlikely. That would mean he has seven scholarships to give out for 2014 if he so desires, though he may bank some for 2015 and ’16 classes that are already receiving rave reviews from recruiting analysts in and around the state.

Despite some trials and tribulations since letting Foster go, Ohio State appears to have found a great fit to lead its program. A proven winner at the mid-major level, McGuff had Washington going in the right direction with a pair of WNIT appearances and two McDonald’s All-America signings. That was without the luxury of recruiting in his home state, where he spent a lifetime building relationships not only in Ohio but also Indiana during his tim as a Notre Dame assistant.

For all the postseason frustration, Foster left the program in better shape than he found it. He ended an 11-year Big Ten title drought by winning six in a row, an unprecedented run that left no doubt Ohio State is the pre-eminent program in the conference, at least as far as the regular season is concerned. The Buckeyes’ 14 Big Ten championships are five more than anyone else.

Postseason success has not only eluded Ohio State but been relatively scarce for the rest of the conference as well. Purdue has the only national championship for the conference, and the Boilermakers are the only Big Ten team to make multiple Final Fours. They have two while Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Iowa all have one apiece.

Can McGuff make a difference in college basketball’s most important month? Only time will tell, but he had all the right answers on his first day on the job.

Ohio State Football Coaches Clinic: Mike Vrabel talks leverage

Previously I posted remarks from Urban Meyer as well as assistants Kerry Coombs and Tom Herman.

Here is what Mike Vrabel had to say about how they teach leverage and preventing big plays:

OSU defines explosive plays as runs of 15 yards or more and passes of 20 yards or more. Vrabel showed an internal study that found they have averaged allowing 15 explosive runs per season in the past 12 years, then noted the 2011 team that finished 6-7 gave up 25. In contrast, the 2009 team that won the Rose Bowl only allowed nine. (NOTE: They count bubble screens and the like as runs.)

They stress five things in teaching players how to play defense: effort, leverage, tackle, retrace and pursuit.

Effort is covered by the of-repeated mantra from Meyer about going hard for 4-6 seconds every play. The don’t coach effort – they demand it. Meyer runs a high-energy program. They want to get guys out of their comfort zone and don’t mind keeping guys on edge.

For part of this section, he put Ohio State’s goal line stand at Wisconsin last season on the big screen to emphasize that really only effort was going to make that happen. The offense is going to scheme up something to cover gaps and get a yard, so someone has to whip somebody’s ass and make a play. The Montee Ball fumble was made possible by guys up front winning their battles so someone could meet him at the pile and knock the ball away.

Leverage is the most important concept. They only need one leverage guy, though. One person turns the play back in and everyone else should be running to the ball.

Every day they do a leverage drill with four parts – string out, “hat and hands”, “rip and run” and angle tackle. Stringing out the play and angle tackling are self-explanatory. “Hat and hands” is what they call delivering a two-handed blow to the blocker and controlling him to establish position. “Rip and run” is what happens when they brush by a blocker either in pursuit or to get to an outside point to turn a play back in if no one has leverage. (So engage the blocker to maintain leverage abut rip and run to get it back if lost.)

Defensive backs, linebackers and linemen all practice all of these drills, and coaches should see them expressed in games or that means they aren’t being done correctly.

Of course then tackling was a big emphasis. He put up a chart showing a 12-year study that revealed they have averaged 9.7 missed tackles per game in that span. The number in 2002 was 8.2. In 2011, it was 12.5.

They break tackles down into three categories: in the box, angle and open field. Obviously, angle are the easiest and open field are the hardest. That is why the offense – especially now – wants to create open field opportunities.

OSU coaches expect leverage and effort. They coach up tackling by emphasizing keeping the ball on the outside shoulder, breaking down 3-4 yards from impact (too soon gives the ball carrier too much time to change direction), coming to balance in a football position and getting a guy on the ground.

In the open field, they don’t care about blowing a guy up. That’s not the time to do it. Just get him down. They also tell guys, “Don’t go off the diving board,” meaning keep proper football position – reverse arch the back, feet shoulder width apart, head and chest up, shoulders pinched.

Retrace is for dealing with things like screens. It’s how they teach players to recover after getting pressure. For defensive linemen, they work on planting the feet, pointing playside and driving down the line of scrimmage while keeping low hips.

Pursuit is simple – run with great effort to the ball, having confidence everyone is doing their job. That means someone has established leverage and everyone else just has to clean up.


Urban Meyer talks turning point of, lessons from Buckeyes’ unbeaten season

I was able to catch a few minutes of presentations by Tom Herman and Kerry Coombs as well as all of talks by Everett Withers, Mike Vrabel and Urban Meyer last week at the OSU football coaches clinic.

I’ll break down those things later but thought I’d share Meyer’s speech first.

Meyer called the 2012 season the most refreshing of his life because it involved relearning some important lessons. Continue reading Urban Meyer talks turning point of, lessons from Buckeyes’ unbeaten season

Ohio State Football: Winter Practice?

Ohio State resumes practice today 101 days after beating Michigan to close out a perfect season, and the school’s official release notes this is the earliest start on record for Buckeye spring football.

It might not be the first time the men of the Scarlet and Gray hit the practice field with snow on the ground in Columbus, though.

Head coach Francis Schmidt decided to hold winter practice in February 1935 and informed the players via letter.

“We have several new ideas including plays, formations, shifts, etc. that we want to try out, and this looks like a fine time,” wrote Schmidt (via Brett Perkins’ 2009 book, “Frantic Francis“). “Two months is long enough to lay off from football anyway. I want to get all the preliminary stuff out of the way so that when spring practice rolls around, and we can get out we will be ready to start mapping out our attack. We will spend most of the time on lateral passing and forward passes, and we’ll spend a whole month on it.”

According to Perkins, this was an unusual move, but then Schmidt was far from a usual man (even for a football coach).

Francis Schmidt

There was hardly a time he wasn’t thinking about football, and he had a manaical devotion to developing his “razzle-dazzle” offense.

Schmidt was in his second year at Ohio State in 1935, and he had good reason to want to get a jump start on season preparation. The Buckeyes would play host to Notre Dame in November in what was then and remains one of the most heavily anticipated college football games in memory.

He was probably more concerned with the vaunted Fighting Irish than he was Michigan. After all, the Buckeyes had shut out the Wolverines 34-0 the previous year after Schmidt declared, “They put their pants on one leg at a time, same as we do.”

Ohio State would blank the Wolverines again the following season – the 38-0 score remains the largest margin of victory ever for the Buckeyes in the series – but things did not go so well against the Fighting Irish, who scored two late touchdowns to stun the Buckeyes 18-13 in Ohio Stadium.

Memories of Woody Hayes

In my years at Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I have had the privilege to talk to many of Woody Hayes’ former players for various stories, and those interviews yielded all kinds of nuggets about the man.

A statue of Woody Hayes stands outside the Ohio State football facility

On what would be the 100th birthday of Ohio State’s greatest football coach, I thought I would share a few of the best.

Tom Matte played quarterback at Ohio State from 1958-60 before becoming a star halfback in the NFL. As a Baltimore Colt, Matte used to play host to Hayes when the coach would be on the East Coast for recruiting trips, and he made no bones about his feelings for Hayes now more than 50 years later.

“I loved the guy. I hated him when I played for him because he was tough. He was tough on me, and I was a little bit crazy at the times, so he straightened the hell out of me.

“When I got away from him, he made sure I graduated. He called me three times during the season and told me I had to go back and make up six hours to graduate. I had gotten hurt my rookie year – someone jammed my neck and I crushed a couple of vertebrae – and I went back and not only did I graduate winter quarter but spring quarter he said, ‘You know you might not be able to play. What do you want to do?’ He got me into law school. I had to take some prelaw classes for spring quarter and if I wanted to come back for the following quarter he said he would make sure I had a scholarship to go to law school. That’s the kind of the guy he was.”

“He was tough to love sometimes, but when you got away from him you learned to appreciate that what he was doing was trying to help you grow up is all.”

Rex Kern, an All-American quarterback who led the Buckeyes to a consensus national championship in 1968, two Rose Bowls and a share of three Big Ten titles, laughed when I asked him what it was like to be the quarterback at Ohio State.

“It was a little more difficult to deal with Woody than it was to be the star quarterback.”

“Woody was a very unique special person to deal with. Many people saw probably a different side of Woody than what we as quarterbacks saw. We got to see the benefits of the good and the bad. The quarterbacks spent lots of time with Woody. You had to know your game plan.

“Woody had the tremendous scope of keeping us focused. Being the quarterback at Ohio State put you in the spotlight – maybe a neon light – but I was more concerned about the Michigan State Spartans or Minnesota Golden Gophers than anything off the field, and Woody always had us focused in on those particular games and those particular people. I think it’s a matter of being focused on the task at hand and that was winning football games.”

The late Bill Mrukowski was also a quarterback along with defensive back for Hayes. Suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray in the late 50s and early 60s, he like many had his ups and downs with the coach but came away with positive feelings.

“I really enjoyed playing for Woody. We had our disagreements my junior year and my senior year because I didn’t play quarterback. I was playing defensive half. I’ll never forget my senior year he didn’t take me to Iowa. I didn’t go. I stayed home, and in the first quarter he yelled out Mrukowski get in there, and I was at home. Someone said, ‘Coach, you left him at home.’ They got beat pretty bad that game.

I got back to college that night and he called me on the phone and said I want you to know you’re my quarterback for the rest of the year and I expect you to be over here within the hour. I want to go over some stuff.

“He was up and down that way, but he got me into the East-West Shrine Game and the Hula Bowl (all-star games) after my senior year. He had his way of paying back. I didn’t play enough that year at quarterback to really be honored with that, but he got me in it anyway.”

“There was a lot of good stuff and very, very little bad stuff. He treated you rough. He treated the team rough, and if he liked you, you played. If he didn’t like you, you might not play. That’s just the way he was.”

Bill Conley walked on as a lineman at Ohio State in 1968 and was later an assistant coach at his alma mater. The current head coach of Ohio Dominican recalled, “One thing that I really got from him was work ethic. I remember he always said I may not be the smartest coach in the world but I can outwork anybody.”

Bruce Jankowski was a wide receiver for the Buckeyes in the late ‘60s and said his old coach is often a topic of discussion when there are reunions. “The funniest thing in life is when we got back and start telling Woody stories. If they could put it on tape, they could sell it by the millions. He was a great man, but there are some funny stories.”

Having played basketball for Hubie Brown in high school and Hank Stram in the NFL, he felt blessed to have been exposed to such great minds.

“I had a good home life, but Woody had such a huge impact on me in life as far as doing the right things, being there, being on time, living the right way, doing what you say you’re going to do. I was just very lucky on that one.”

“He really took an interest in my parents. He talked to me, sure, but he took a very strong interest in my parents and my high school football coach.”

“It made me feel good that he showed such an interest in my family. It was different than a lot of others. He spoke about an education. He said, ‘Sure, you’re going to play football, and we’re going to work you hard, and we’re going to make sure you get an education.’ He always instilled that to us. Things like that stood out to me.”

“He was a caring person. He used to always tell us go talk to elderly people. They’re lonely. They don’t have a lot of family typically, so say something. Say hello to them. Ask them how they’re doing. I do that today still.”

“It’s a shame they remember what happened on TV. He was not healthy. He shouldn’t have been coaching at that point, but people who know him, who have really had an opportunity to know him and have been around him love the man. They really do.”

Paul Warfield turned into a Hall of Fame wide receiver in the NFL, but he was a halfback for most of his career at Ohio State. He recalled Hayes focusing on more than just football.

“The great thing about playing for Woody Hayes for me was, No. 1, he never allowed us to forget the reason we were going to school there, to gain what he called a quality education. That was his commitment to all of our parents that he would make sure we got the best we could out of Ohio State University.

He would support us however we needed it, but by the same token he never let us forget that we were there to get an education. He always was concerned with how we were doing in classes

He saw himself as a coach and a teacher but also a teacher and developer of young men at a very important time in our lives. He understood perhaps better than any of us…. that the real job was preparing us for the life once we got out of the university,  preferably if we were going to stay in the state of Ohio and be productive in society as a whole.

“Sometimes all of us didn’t understand it because he was so demanding, but we knew that he was in our corner. And as a result many of my former teammates who once thought he was too tough sent their sons to play for him.”