Urban Meyer returned to coaching two years and two weeks ago vowing he’d changed.
He has, at least in one regard.
He seems to know what people are saying and thinking about him. He seems to care, too.
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After saying that he believed Marcus Hall had served enough of a penalty when he was ejected from last week’s win over Michign — Hall tossed his helmet and some gestures to the Michigan crowd on his way out — Meyer now says that Hall won’t start Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game.
Earlier this week, Meyer was adamant that he’d talk to athletic director Gene Smith and to the parties involved directly, but said he’d leave further punishment to the Big Ten office. He said he believed the ejection, early in the second quarter, served as sufficient game time missed.
People snickered. A few wrote that it was a typical Meyer move. In a week full of hot-button topics as No. 2 Ohio State tries to go to 25-0 under Meyer and secure a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, Meyer saying no suspension would be coming made at least a few headlines.
He must have been reading — or at least listening when someone read those headlines to him.
In Indianapolis on Friday for a mandatory Big Ten Championship Game press conference, Meyer announced that Hall won’t start the biggest game of his life on Saturday night.
“I’m very, very disappointed in his actions,” Meyer said. “He paid the penalty for the fight, which is he missed three quarters of a rivalry game. (What happened) is not Marcus. I’m just really disappointed in his actions.”
Apparently more disappointed on Friday than he was on Monday.
It might be a one-drive suspension. It might be a hollow gesture. Whatever happens, it shows that Meyer knows people are watching, listening, waiting for the chance to feed him his own words or catch him with his guard down.
Meyer knows he might need people on his side, too. The final BCS standings are going to be decided by voters in the coaches and Harris Polls on Sunday. Not that anyone is going to change a vote because Meyer chose to punish Hall, but there’s no need to give anyone any extra reason to potentially put Auburn very high in these upcoming final polls and Ohio State much lower than most.
Just in case.
Meyer sweats details. All details. The smallest details. It’s part of what makes him such a successful coach. He has only a fourth and fifth gear, and that’s part of what drove him out back in 2010.
When Meyer came back to coaching, he signed a contract with his wife and children promising he’d do simple things like eat and sleep. He talked about how he used to sit in church and text recruits and not allow himself to enjoy victories because he felt like he should be working on the next one or securing the next mega-recruit.
He didn’t much care what people said or thought if it didn’t affect winning or cranking the machine into the next gear.
This year, he’s gone out of his way to say he’s enjoying this Ohio State record win streak. He’s willing to let people see the human side of Urban Meyer, however briefly. Chances are the Old Urban was in full effect in the halftime locker room last week, but that’s closed-door business. And football business has remained good.
Back in the summer, when star players Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby got in trouble in early-morning bar incidents around the same time, he promised swift and stern discipline. Even when surveillance tape showed Hyde did not strike a woman, as was alleged, Meyer still suspended him three games for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and putting the program in a negative light.
Whether or not the Old Urban would have done the same, it showed then, too, that New Urban knows not just what’s at stake, but how he and his program are perceived.
Even with Hyde suspended, Meyer still suspended the player who then would have been considered Hyde’s top backup, Rod Smith, for the season opener for an incident last winter. Ohio State didn’t need either to beat Buffalo, and there shouldn’t be medals for enforcing rules or doing the right thing, but Meyer seemed willing to both chase titles and help his players understand that part of their improvement curve was being a better person, too.
He hated that Hall and Dontre Wilson got ejected last week, and he must have really hated that still images of Hall flipping the middle finger to the Michigan crowd have been floating around the Internet all week. He’s been too busy preparing to know that they’re out there, of course, but at least he’s listening to somebody and taking two seconds to think of how that reflects on the program.
Meyer needs Hall. He needs Wilson, too. To get back to really being Urban Meyer, he needs a win Saturday night and the ticket to the national championship game that should come with it.
Lots of people will be watching. More than ever, Meyer is fully aware.