Meyer seeking leaders, not 'knuckleheads'
CHICAGO -- There was little doubt that he was the star of the Big Ten Media Days show, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer arrived with both the look and the answers of someone who's survived a grilling and raised a trophy before.
Meyer was firm and confident, and nothing about his posture or his answers indicated he was anything but both honest and prepared. After going 12-0 in his first year at Ohio State, this kind of anticipation for his arrival and his words was expected at the league's official kickoff event.
Up until a few days ago, he didn't think he'd first have to address the police blotter. Meyer was ready for those questions, too, pointing out that his Buckeyes have only had a handful of incidents involving the law in the last 12 months, and all of those were in the last three or four days. He said he needed to see facts before finalizing punishments announced earlier this week for star players Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby, and that he'd be tough on offenders if those facts end up showing that he should be.
The way he told the Media Days crowd that it was a shame "a few knuckleheads make decisions that reflect the entire program" made the mind wander. Just imagine what he said in his Monday morning mandatory team meeting.
Meyer is very good at what he does, and the evidence of that in a record that says he's won 83.5 percent of his games as a head coach, two national titles, two SEC titles and four BCS bowl games. He's won big and won immediately everywhere he's been, pushing those programs to the heights he was hired to push them to -- and even beyond. The deal is the same at Ohio State, and last year put everything about the Meyer Era on the fast track. He took over a 6-7 team that had, understandably, been an emotional mess.
Because of a bowl ban, Ohio State hasn't played since last Thanksgiving weekend. Even before then Meyer was fretting about the bowl practices lost as the 2013 squad prepared to write its own story. When he wasn't recruiting his next batch of blue-chippers he spent the spring and summer on the speaking circuit, telling all who listened -- oh, does he have a way of making people listen -- that going 12-0 happened with a combination of good kids, good luck, an immediate buy-in and strong leadership.
Ohio State wasn't really 12-0 good in 2012, and early in the season was far from it. But Meyer has told countless stories of now-departed seniors making sacrifices, putting in extra hours and doing all the little things that combine with good bounces to make unforgettable seasons. At every stop on that speaking circuit and in every single meeting he's had with his 2013 team, he's mentioned leadership. And the leadership void. And the importance of leadership. And how teams only reach their lofty goals when they have the right leadership.
He said all that stuff again Wednesday -- more than once, in fact.
"I just can't wait for 12 days from now when we get to camp," Meyer said. "The best thing that happens is it's just the players in the hotel. They get up every morning and go to work. There's no time to worry about anything else.
"When you get to camp, all the storylines are gone. Last year is gone. You just get to work."
The Buckeyes who are left not only must buy in but remain locked in. Last year, Ohio State was not only of the nation's luckiest teams but ran up 12 wins knowing it wasn't playing for a BCS bid or a tropical January destination. There was pressure because there always is, but not the type of pressure that comes with starting the year as a top five team and the pick of everybody with a computer and a Twitter account to go undefeated again.
Meyer is not naive; he doesn't think all of his players are in bed each night by 10 after returning from the library. But two important players finding trouble -- even if trouble found them -- in public settings and well after midnight just a couple of weeks before the season begins indicates that he's been right to worry about maturity and leadership issues.
It's only July; so there's time to fix those. It's only July; which is a very, very long way from January, especially when playing and operating as the hunted. Meyer said he still needs to get all the facts of the cases involving Hyde and Roby, that he has heard "conflicting stories" and that he was "furious" just hearing of his players being involved.
These are the distractions that can ruin a season. Meyer knows that, too.
Whether or not Meyer really believes his team is potentially good enough to go where two of his Florida teams did, he knows he has talent, the schedule and other ingredients to make a run. He started leadership classes "earlier than I ever have." He's talked up the players he thinks can handle it. He's called out areas of potential concern.
He knows how these things work. He also knows knuckleheads won't win championships, even if they run really fast.
The spotlight was on Meyer Wednesday, and he's made to handle it. What his 2013 Ohio State team is made of will be evident soon enough.