Meyer calm and cool as Buckeyes begin spring practice
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The last time Urban Meyer coached a team to the national championship, he spent the next year descending into a personal hell of stress and pressure trying to deliver a perfect season. Following the first day of practice after this national title season, Meyer might as well have been Alfred E. Neuman, the Mad magazine cover boy.
"What, me worry?" was a recurring theme as Ohio State’s head coach talked about the first day of spring practice for the 2015 Buckeyes.
Of course Meyer doesn’t have a lot of problems considering 14 starters return from the team that went 14-1 last year and steamrolled Oregon in the final of the College Football Playoff, but there are plenty things that have to be worked out before the season opener at Virginia Tech on Labor Day. And nobody ever accused the average major-college coach of looking for reasons to relax, even after winning it all.
But Meyer made it clear — in contrast to past springs when he has talked about the importance of getting the depth chart set or changing the culture of the program — he won’t be checking the clock this spring, at least as long as progress is being made.
That is true of every position battle, be it right tackle, cornerback, defensive line or wide receiver. Yes, even quarterback.
"For me there is no stress at all in terms of the functionality of the position," Meyer said Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, his veteran trio of signal-callers. All three have started and won games for the Buckeyes, but Miller and Barrett are limited as they recover from injuries this spring. One of them will need to be chosen a starter for that visit to the Hokies — but that is a long ways off.
"It’s the personalities, families, people involved. If I disliked one or two of them it would be not that hard, but I have a lot of respect for those guys. Everybody around here has seen what they’ve done. That’s the only dilemma that I can see. It’s not right now because we’re not even focused on that. I want to see (No.) 5 (Miller) get healthy and J.T. get healthy and Cardale continue to improve."
Meyer also expressed little concern, at least relatively speaking, about how new members of his staff mesh. Gone are Tom Herman and Stan Drayton, who coached quarterbacks and running backs, respectively, and in are Tim Beck and Tony Alford. Herman was also the coordinator of one of the most prolific offenses in school history. Replacing assistants is another topic of discussion thanks in large part to the way things devolved for Meyer at Florida, where he built a juggernaut that won two national championships in his first four seasons but the program quickly deteriorated after some of his top assistants left for other jobs.
Meyer responded to the leadership void then by throwing himself into management of much of the minutia of the program, a mistake he has vowed not to repeat since taking over the Ohio State job after the 2011 season.
This is the second straight year Ohio State has lost two assistants, though, and Meyer pointed to how things came together last year as reason to feel good about the present and near future.
"You have meetings that are reactive or proactive," Meyer said. "Reactive meetings are awful… The meeting we had today was a proactive meeting."
Even motivation, that most elusive and most-talked about topic when it comes to college athletics, is apparently getting the wait-and-see treatment this spring from the new Meyer and his defending champions.
"That’s one that we don’t have to answer this time of year, we just have to improve," he said, noting that was a topic of a recent conversation with Lou Holtz, the College Football Hall of Fame coach who was his boss at Notre Dame.
"This is an interesting comment that I shared with our staff: The morale of a team, the morale of the locker room is not just because they win, it’s because they know they are getting better.
"So right now it’s not about motivation, it’s just about improving. As long as a player or program feels like it is getting better, the motivation is going to be there, it’s going to be great. We’re not trying to win a game yet. We’re not crossing the bridge at this time, but that’s going to be the essence of 2015 is how do you somehow create that with the leadership on your team, how do you create that. Because a complacent or entitled team can be really, really bad. A team that somehow has a chip on their shoulder like this team did is going to be the essence to our season."