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.
He needed that because he had spent too much time paying attention to the bad stuff that goes on in college athletics and began to be convinced that’s what it’s all about when in reality it is still about relationships and team-building.
Last year (going back to his first days on the job) started with a bit of a conundrum because he was following “arguably one of the greatest coaches” in school history, and Jim Tressel’s methods are a lot different than his. Neither are better or worse than the other, they are just different.
But what the players knew was Tressel’s ways, so Meyer knew there would be some pushback from the veterans on the team. Tressel recruited a good group of kids, so they were always respectful, but they still had questions about why the new staff including strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti was doing things in these tough, new ways.
At that point, Meyer took an aside to tell the coaches they should never blame their players for problems. He hates to hear that. If things aren’t going well, there has to be a problem in the system. It’s the coach’s job to find that and fix it.
So they entered spring ball off of an offseason he rated “average”, and there was more pushback. He responded to that by pushing them harder.
That was again the case in the fall, and it got worse. There were some players who tapped out at practice, just stopped working because it was too hard. Again they went harder, but problems persisted into September.
Although they were able to out-talent those teams they played early and figure out ways to win close games, he felt like they were not a very good team. He and Marotti talked frequently about how they could get the pulse of the team, figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.
As he has done before, he mentioned how important the seniors were because they stayed around even though they could have left thanks to the postseason ban. “How cool is that?” he wondered aloud, adding he is blessed to be able to work with those type of guys.
He also praised his staff, but he still could not figure out how to fix the chemistry problem that was there.
With Michigan State and Nebraska coming up, he saw a team headed for an 0-2 start to the conference season and was really worried about what that would do to the momentum of the program. Coming off a sub-.500 season, that could be really damaging. He was especially concerned about what that would do to recruiting.
Then he came to the conclusion of what the problem was thanks to defensive lineman John Simon’s now-famous speech after he played the Cal game with a severely injured shoulder.
The passion Simon showed for his teammates made Meyer realize that he and his assistants lacked the connection with the players that could let them feel that way and let the players reciprocate, but he still wasn’t sure what to do about it. He had a hard meeting with his coaching staff where he got this message across to them, but that wasn’t enough. Going harder wouldn’t fix this, either, as he thought it had previously.
He ended up getting help from an outside source via a previously scheduled talk from former Ohio State running back Butler By’not’e, who told them there are three keys to exhibiting a true love for something: choice, sacrifice and time. They apply to teams, relationships – everything.
Choices have to become commandments – so, not choices anymore – while people have to sacrifice the things that are creating a negative influences. Then they have to put in the time to show their commitment.
So they started coming together at that point, and it clicked prior to the Michigan State game. He told the team they would lose to the Spartans if they didn’t open up to each other, coaches and players alike, because they were spending too much time evaluating what they were doing and wondering why. Then he instituted a “championship water toast” for those intent on committing to each other, and the season really took off from there.
Meyer called the 2012 team the best group of kids and leaders he has ever been around.
The defense wasn’t very good at the start of the season, but it got better in the second half because of something that is undervalued and underdeveloped these days – leadership. He credited the coaching staff and the players with that evolution.
He defined leadership as setting a standard and demanding everyone else meets that, calling it the Michael Jordan approach.
Ohio State’s best group of leaders last year was the offensive line, a group that had to go through a metamorphosis from the start of the year. Then those four returning starters were able to whip Reid Fragel – who Meyer described as a pain in the ass previously – into shape and get him to turn himself into a productive offensive lineman and potential NFL draft pick.
He closed out his speech by telling the high school coaches he was sorry if they showed up to hear about the spread offense but he hoped they would take some of the leadership lessons back to their teams.