A glimpse behind the curtain with Urban Meyer

About 30 minutes after his second-annual hometown youth football camp had ended Monday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer got up in front of about 80 people — mostly camp volunteers — in a private room and started giving thanks.
It was pretty informal and seemed both genuine and off the cuff. There are lots of people who do lots of legwork so hundreds of kids can come to the camp and say they rubbed elbows with Meyer, and though he mostly shakes hands and gives a brief address at the camp, he couldn’t help but jump into a couple of drills at the camp and show kids a proper defensive back’s stance or how to run while protecting the ball.
Meyer was admittedly a little uncomfortable addressing the younger campers (it’s for boys and girls entering grades 1-8) as they probably don’t fully appreciate his stories and lessons on being a good teammate and the importance of leadership. He was more comfortable afterward, upstairs in that separate room, talking about his hometown and what it would mean for him to be able to help football there and to one day see an Ashtabula team play for a state championship or an Ashtabula kid play for Ohio State.
It was just the type of speech local-boy-done-good would give to a local audience. And then, just a few minutes into it, something clicked with Meyer and he ended up delivering this fiery motivational speech about leadership and teamwork and what makes a team do what Ohio State did last fall, going unbeaten a year after losing seven games.
For the football junkie in me, it was 10 or so minutes of absolute bliss. For the lazy person inside who tends to weigh down the rest of me, it was almost enough motivation to jump out of my chair.
Meyer, through people running the camp, had requested that no video cameras be turned on and nothing be recorded. I wasn’t taking notes, either, but he made much of it hard to forget.
He started talking about how it wasn’t the spread offense that had changed Ohio State’s fortunes but rather a buy-in by the players to an attitude and work ethic/approach. I’ve heard the stuff about the importance of leadership before, but this was the first time he went into detail about searching for different ways to motivate and a formula involving effort and outcome and results. At one point, Meyer stepped forward and showed how he puts his clenched right fist in the air just before sending his team out of the locker room before a game, and he was so intense and into what he was saying that twice he didn’t even finish his sentence.
Meyer had been talking about the “power of the unit” philosophy he’s subscribed to for years, and he essentially said all of the outside hype surrounding his team has nothing to do with Braxton Miller’s ability or any defensive scheme but that the only way the 2013 Buckeyes will be worthy of it is if all nine units are on the same page and giving the same effort. It all gave me the sense that, yes, he’s been doing this stuff and giving these speeches for years — but this is what he was born to do.
If it seems like he’s hell on his players when it comes to standards and accountability, Meyer said he’s even harder on his assistant coaches. He said he appreciates that Ohio State has a beautiful team meeting room but said it’s rare when something gets accomplished in a 115-person meeting. He said he needs to know that the individual position meetings will be where the real work and the real teaching get done.
It was almost like we could tell when he’d clicked into unscripted football mode. His voice got a little louder, his words came out a little faster and he’d cram three sentences into what sounded like one, with only words like “trust” and “improvement” truly decipherable. At one point he stopped after using a couple of unprintable words — right in the flow with the clenched fist and the game-day look on his face — and said, “see why I wanted the TV cameras turned off?”
He went on, sharing philosophies and practices and explaining that everything the program does — everything from grueling winter conditioning workouts to the “real-life Wednesdays” career program that just concluded — is planned and executed with football goals in mind. He said it’s his job to constantly build better leaders, smarter players and players who understand the opportunities in front of them. He said the start of leadership-building activities was moved up by months this year because the lack of proven leaders is probably his top concern as the season starts with training camp in early August.
We got a glimpse at Meyer the person, too. He said he’s missed only two of his 14-year-old son’s baseball games this spring, and “when I was at Florida, I saw none,” instead choosing to obsess over game film or one of his team’s perceived flaws. He said that one of his goals is to someday obtain a Master’s degree in Scripture. He said he sometimes wears what would almost amount to a disguise and just strolls through campus to make sure he has at least some sort of feel for what world his players are living in when they’re not in structured football activities.
He called most of what he sees on campus “nonsense,” and he tied that back into his leadership goals and his demands for the meeting rooms. In those rooms, he said, the nonsense has to stop.
“Or the losses start piling up,” he said.
It ended with a fiery revisiting of the efforts and outcomes and desired results speech, and another football note. He said when he calls the team to the center of the locker room before a game the last thing they yell out is “1-2-3 showtime,” a reminder that for all the work and all the spotlight and all the demands, the games are supposed to be fun.
When he was done, the six adults at my table sat there silently, kind of stunned. A lot like the six or eight people at each of the other eight or 10 tables were.
“He’s pretty good at his job,” I quipped.
Five people nodded.
We saw how he wins all those recruiting battles. Starting in a couple months, we’ll see just how far his philosophies and standards can push the Ohio State program.
AND ONE MORE THING — Much has been made of what Meyer said (or didn’t say) later when he formally addressed the media and was asked what he’d felt the past week in regards to Aaron Hernandez, a player to whom he was very close during his time at Florida.
Meyer chose not to address it. He was not a bully about it, and he exercised his right to decline comment.
He’s going to continue to be asked about it, though, so he might end up wishing he’d just made some sort of statement. Meyer is not a guy who gets caught unprepared for any scenario very often; it’s entirely possible that he’s so hurt by it that he hasn’t figured out the right thing to say.
I respect that. We all should.
No (sane) person is blaming Meyer for what Hernandez allegedly did. But the two are so closely tied and enjoyed so much success together that Meyer is going to be linked to the story, which is currently and clearly the biggest story in football. Meyer is so good at his job that just about everything he does becomes a big story. It’s going to keep being asked, and eventually he’ll have to address it.
I don’t know what he’ll say. I have no idea what I’d say, frankly. I just wanted to make clear to you, the reader, that it’s our job to keep asking.