Passion, commitment help set Meyer apart in recruiting battles
What makes Urban Meyer such a good recruiter? We asked Joe Haden and Paul Kruger.
Dec 8, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Winslow Townson / USA TODAY Sports
By Zac Jackson
Wednesday is college's football National Signing Day, which has long been a big day for Urban Meyer.
Meyer can recruit. By Scout.com's rankings, Meyer is set to sign a top five class Wednesday for the third time in three recruiting seasons at Ohio State, the first of which was very abbreviated. He previously won and won big at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green, too, turning recruiting classes into winning teams in a short period of time.
Whatever it takes to win recruiting battles in today's landscape -- evaluating talent, delivering on promises, pushing the envelope or just building relationships -- Meyer seems to do it. He doesn't win every recruiting battle, but he wins more than his share.
A couple of those he recruited as high school stars who have gone on to make very good livings playing football say Meyer establishes a relationship, works to build and grow a comfort level and is both confident and relentless on selling his school, his program and his staff as the best fit.
"He told my parents I was going to be around good people, I was going to get a good education and I was going to be playing to win national championships," said Joe Haden, now a Pro Bowl cornerback with the Cleveland Browns.
That was good enough for Meyer to get his foot in the door with the Hadens. In 2007, Joe Haden signed with Meyer and the University of Florida.
Before Paul Kruger was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens to chase down quarterbacks -- and before the Browns signed Kruger to a five-year, $40 million deal last year to do the same -- Kruger was a quarterback. At 245 pounds, he was a battering ram of a quarterback, but he was a highly-decorated and highly-recruited one at Timpanogos High School in Orem, Utah.
Meyer was then the coach at Utah, and he recruited and signed Kruger in 2004.
"He's just the type of guy you want to play for," Kruger said. "He's the type of guy you can follow. He's got strong character and he's a persuasive guy. He just does a good job of letting you know that he's the type of guy...you can put your trust in your future in him.
"That was the biggest thing for me. I felt like he was going to lead me down a good path and there would be a good outcome. Getting to know him I could see the way he worked he lived, that's something I could follow."
Kruger got to Utah, saw a logjam at quarterback that included Alex Smith, who would go on to be the NFL Draft's No. 1 overall pick, and redshirted in 2004.
"Changing positions was my idea," Kruger said. "We had Alex Smith and some other guys who were really good players and I knew it would be a couple years before I saw the field. I wanted to play. I asked (Meyer) if he saw a place I could switch and see the field fastest and after we talked about it, defensive end seemed to be the one."
After the 2004 season, Meyer went to Florida. Kruger went on a two-year mission and returned as a defensive lineman.
"I'm still an Urban Meyer fan, and his success is no surprise to me," Kruger said. "I thought Ohio State would be playing for the national championship for sure this year. I just think he's one of the best coaches in the game of football -- college, pros, whatever. I was only around him for a year but he had a big impact on me for sure."
Haden was also a star quarterback at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Md. He said he had visions of playing quarterback at Florida "for about 30 minutes. I knew once I got there my time was up. Maybe some Wildcat stuff but I never got that."
Haden started at cornerback as a true freshman, was on a national championship team in 2008 and was a first-round draft pick in 2010.
"Urban is a really good recruiter because he makes you feel comfortable," Haden said. "He gets along with your family. That's a big deal when you're recruiting out of state. You're asking kids to leave home, to leave their comfort zone, and moms and dads want to know their son is taken care of. I wasn't a partier or anything in high school. I was football all the time, but there's still a lot (uncertain) when you're going away to college and everything you've known.
"He still made my parents feel like I was going to be OK all the way in Gainesville. Once your parents feel like you're going to be at a good spot and not turned loose or in a bad environment, it makes it a whole lot easier for them to endorse you going there. And that's what happened with my parents."
For the second straight year, Meyer is set to sign more out of state prospects than Ohio prospects on Wednesday. In some cases, he's recruited them offering opportunity -- Ohio State's defense clearly has holes to fill -- and in others he's sold his track record and the 24 wins the Buckeyes have in his first two seasons.
"The wins are big," Haden said "He says 'national championship' when he's recruiting and he delivered rings to Florida. He showed rings on my visit. You know what you get from Coach Meyer."
Said linebacker Dante Booker, Ohio's Mr. Football last fall and officially a member of the 2014 Ohio State recruiting class as of Wednesday morning: "What Urban Meyer has brought there is a whole new era and it seems like an exciting time, an exciting thing to be a part of. There's a pretty high ceiling there."
Meyer has always prioritized recruiting with his staff and in his program's operations. When the Buckeyes lost the Big Ten Championship Game last December and qualified for the Orange Bowl, Meyer said his "very first thought" was recruiting in talent-rich Florida.
He doesn't win every recruiting battle, but by all accounts he tries to. Cincinnati Bengals tight end/fullback Orson Charles went to a football camp in Florida in 2008 and was invited with a handful of other talented players for a tour of Meyer's office, Florida's football facilities and what then was Tim Tebow's new Heisman Trophy.
Once in Meyer's office, Charles got to see Florida's 2006 national championship trophy. What followed now makes one of the great recruiting stories.
"That was my first time seeing (the trophies)," Charles said . "I was just taking pictures and there was a gap in between the trophies. My butt bumped into the national championship trophy and it hit the floor."
The crystal ball BCS trophy, valued at around $35,000, shattered. Charles said Meyer initially told him, "Welcome to being a Gator."
"Ever seen that Southwest commercial, 'Want to get away?'" Charles asked. "I definitely felt like that. It was definitely an accident."
Florida had it insured, and it was replaced. Charles never got a look at the replacement, though. The Tampa native chose Georgia.
"(Meyer) definitely told me, 'I wish you the best but you are going to get beat by us every time we play y'all,'" Charles said.
Meyer's Ohio State assistants each recruit at their position and over certain areas regionally and nationally. In addition, they're responsible for diagnosing and establishing relationships with the best players in the nation at their respective positions. Bill Greene, a longtime recruiting analyst based in Ohio who's now the Midwest recruiting analyst at Scout.com, said it's that commitment to working year-round at recruiting that helps set Meyer apart from many coaches.
"The kids explain it like he's the closer, that when they get alone with him in his office he convinces them that there's no other place for them to go," Greene said. "He has a way to make people comfortable. They buy what he's selling, and he's a heck of a salesman. If he sold cars for a living, he'd make a lot of money.
"He has charisma, energy, personality, passion. He's very persuasive. He's a bit of a rock star -- I've heard people say that for years -- and people want to be around rock stars. He does an amazing job year in and year out.
"He has an incredible passion for recruiting. He approaches it not just as its own season, but like a game. He wants to win. He works hard at winning in recruiting. He won't hire (an assistant) coach who doesn't share that passion. It's a priority on his staff to make relationships, win battles, find the best players. And he's very, very good at it."