GENEVA, Ohio – Urban Meyer spent much of Thursday morning laughing, smiling and shaking hands with old friends. His name — as he’s used to — was on the marquee, but he was essentially a relaxed spectator for the first two hours of a free football camp held near his hometown of Ashtabula.
A little later, Meyer had no problem quickly turning on the intensity as he spoke to the 225 campers about the importance of reputation and work ethic. It was Meyer at his finest, a commanding presence with seemingly endless energy.
In four weeks, he’ll be officially back to the sidelines. August 3 will mark his first training camp practice as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the job he swears is the only one he’d come back for.
The old Urban Meyer had to walk away. He coached himself sick, worked around the clock, found that his priorities were all sorts of screwed up. In this trip home for the camp he and fellow Ashtabula native and Eastern Kentucky University head coach Dean Hood have talked for years about having, Meyer also got to attend his 30th high school reunion.
Meyer hadn’t been to one before. He hadn’t been back to Northeast Ohio much at all in recent years until he started at Ohio State late last November and started recruiting the area again. Part of that, Meyer said, is because “it’s a lot easier to make a three-hour trip (from Columbus) than it is to go six or seven states.”
The other part? He always had recruiting to do.
That part of the Meyer story has been well documented. So have the two national championships he won at Florida, and the undefeated season at Utah, and all of the wins — on National Signing Day and from September-November — he racked up before walking away from Florida following the 2010 season. Those credentials made him the no-doubt No. 1 candidate for this job, and his roots in this state made his choice a pretty easy one.
He ran it by his family, and conditions were agreed upon. Now, it’s full-speed ahead — as long as he meets the stipulations in his family contract. Those include making sure he’s eating well, getting rest and prioritizing family over football.
Ohio State is still picking up the pieces from the mess that forced Jim Tressel out, led to a 6-7 season a year ago and a bowl ban for 2012. Meyer, by all accounts, is the leader the Buckeyes needed.
He swears he doesn’t know a lot about the new playoff system coming to college football in two years — “I have a lot of other things to worry about” — but he knows he’s going to be asked about it. And he knows he needs to hold his players to high standards if Meyer’s Buckeyes are going to, as many expect, be perennial contenders to grab one of the coveted four playoff spots.
No expectations are greater than his own.
“I’m not sure if I like the term ‘buying in’ to what we’re doing but people use it,” Meyer said. “I don’t know if it’s buying in or just doing what we ask, but our team just had one of the finest semesters academically in the last 10 years. The correlation between a good semester and a good football team is real high.
“I put a lot of pressure on our guys in the offseason, with academics and this summer (with workouts the coaches can’t watch) because there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them this fall. I thought they responded really well.”
He later said pressure is a term he mostly hears from the outside. Internally, he maintains that when talent and discipline are mixed with proper leadership, “that’s when really cool things start to happen to your program and rings start getting put on fingers.”
“As coaches, we go out and try to win every game we play,” Meyer said. “When people ask about attacking it differently because there’s no bowl game (this season), I don’t know what that means. We’re going to try to win every game and we’re going to work really hard to do that. Winning a game is getting harder and harder because the competition is getting better.
“I didn’t look at it differently at Bowling Green, Florida or Utah as I do here. You try to win every game.”
Before Meyer addressed the recent foot injury to Ohio State running back Jordan Hall with reporters on Thursday, he cited Hall as an example in his address to the young football players at the camp. He said Hall had worked on improving his grades, worked on improving his conditioning, served as a leader by example and developed a reputation with his new coaches as a guy who could be counted on.
“Jordan really worked on his grades,” Meyer said. “He’s on my leadership committee. He’s one of the hardest-working guys. He’s kind of changed his whole life around.”
Meyer was answering a question about potential replacements for Hall but also having a laugh at his own expense when he later joked that “there are a couple second graders out there (at the camp) who are really loose in the hips and can accelerate.”
Maybe it’s just the old Urban Meyer who worked — and recruited — for 360-some days of the year. Or, maybe it’s not. Later Thursday, in a conference call with Columbus-area reporters, Meyer said he’s spent “almost all of my time” thinking about Hall’s injury.
He’s wired that way, and he’s really wired for what’s ahead. Camp is a little over four weeks away. In four more, the games begin.
That’s when we’ll all see Urban Meyer — maybe the old mixed with the new — on the job he’s always wanted.
Part of Thursday’s camp included a discussion between Meyer and some old friends about a bigger and better (but still free of charge) football camp, back at the same spot, next year. That’s for down the road, but that’s part of Meyer’s plan.
He’s planning to be back in Ohio for a while. He’s thinking bigger and better about lots of things.