Urban Meyer's honesty turning heads on team
By Jeff Svoboda
Since taking over as Ohio State's head coach, Urban Meyer hasn't been shy about offering unvarnished opinions about his players. The coach explains that strategy in this piece, while numerous players said the evaluations have been strong but helpful.
When the first 15 practices of the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State ended with the April 21 spring game, that didn't bring to a close a tough stretch for the players on the Buckeye football squad.
Soon after spring practice ended, each player was called into Meyer's office and handed a four-page evaluation of his performance. And by performance, we don't just mean on the football field – the player is evaluated in the weight room, the classroom and between the lines.
In other words, everything that is important in a program is dissected, measured and fed back to the player. That's a new approach, as the previous staff didn't quite get as deep, players say.
"Not in that much detail," center Corey Linsley said. "Football and academic wise we really did, but the strength part of it, the real big advantage that Coach (Mickey Marotti) has brought is he's going to break you down.
"He's got all of your times and our stats and where he thinks we are and where we need to be. Not only that, but our attitude in the weight room and whether we're getting other people better. If the guy I'm working with isn't getting stronger, it's really no use if I'm getting stronger."
Of course, the evaluations each player was given in the past were certainly blunt. However, former coach Jim Tressel was known as The Senator for refusing to give information in press conferences, and he rarely let any negative thoughts about any player escape his lips. Any criticisms of players who were thought to be struggling were often padded with a mention of a player's positive trait.
Meyer, on the other hand, has taken a much more direct approach when it comes to talking to the press. That has ranged from calling the wide receiver group "not functional" yet after spring practice to specific criticisms of players' work ethics and on-field performances up to this point.
The first-year head coach is honest for a reason, though, and that extends into the in-person meetings with players.
"I tell them exactly where they're at, and sometimes it's very uncomfortable," Meyer said. "I've always believed in that that one of the worst things that can happen between a coach and a player is a misunderstanding, some cloudiness about what's going on. We try to eliminate that with all the different evaluations."
Left tackle Jack Mewhort said that has required some players to develop a thicker skin than they were used to.
"I think when he first got here, it was hard for some guys, but we've gotten to know him a little bit better since then, and that's his deal," Mewhort said. "He's going to be honest with you. I think it's been a challenge for some guys, but I think it was more of a challenge in January than it is now. Players understand better where he's coming from in trying to motivate."
Fellow offensive lineman Linsley said the evaluations under the previous staff could often be just as tough to hear, but the fact that Meyer is more comfortable telling it like it is in the media is a bit of a change.
"That wasn't really the motto of Coach Tress," he said. "But behind the scenes and in the film room, we were getting critiqued. It was just in a different matter. I think we've all responded fine. We're used to getting yelled at. My high school coach was a screamer and so I think we're all used to it. We're responding good. We've all embraced it. It was kind of like, if you're not ready to embrace it, you're not going to be here."
Embracing it still didn't mean being called into the coach's office to be delivered the evaluation was any fun.
"I was pretty nervous because he's a straightforward guy," Mewhort said. "Just to hear what he said was uplifting to me. To hear the negatives and the positives was pretty good. I'm just going to work hard every day and continue to be great."
Linsley's evaluation said he needed to improve his lateral quickness and also performance under pressure after he made a mistake with a line call during one fourth-down play during spring ball. Then there was Jake Stoneburner, whose evaluation – received before he and Mewhort were arrested last weekend for obstructing official business – included a few tidbits of interest.
"He said I have to get tougher and then just a bunch of little things," Stoneburner said. "If I want to be where I want to be in a couple of years, I have to make sure I put in a lot of extra work."
While the players said the honesty was a bit surprising at first, those who have embraced it are of the mind it will help them get better – which is exactly what everyone wants in the end.
"It's helped me a lot as a player to know exactly," Linsley said. "They break it down so much. You know every bit of your game."