Hinton, Fickell Impressed with Meyer
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is not just the rest of the world.
Even Urban Meyer’s own staff was in awe of the job Ohio State’s new head coach did putting together one of the top recruiting classes in the country. He was able to accomplish in what must have felt like a matter of days what is typically a year-and-a-half to two-year grind on the recruiting trail.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“There was a lot on coach's plate,” said Luke Fickell, who helped to hold Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting class together before Meyer took command in November.
“He has to come in here. Not only do you have 12 commitments, he did a great job of trying to build relationships with those guys so they were comfortable where they were, then trying to jump in and build a relationship in two months on something that could have been done for the last year and a half.”
Fickell spent nearly a decade working under Jim Tressel. He has been with Meyer for less than three months now, but already Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, and former interim head coach, likes what he has seen.
“The philosophies are not much different,” Fickell said.
“It's still about people. It's still about building relationships. How you go about those things sometimes is different. When you're put down into a two‑month period, you have more work to do at patching up those things, building those relationships to get them to know you.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Tim Hinton has barely even been in Columbus for a month, but Ohio State’s new tight ends and fullbacks coach has a lifetime of watching Meyer operate at a high level—both up close and from afar.
“I've been fortunate. I've known Coach Meyer for a long, long time,” Hinton said.
“The one thing that has really been evident throughout his career, having an opportunity to be around him, he has a tremendous work ethic and a purpose about what he's going to do. He has a plan on how to get there. When you put those three things together, I think it's a tremendous way to accomplish great things. All those things are really intact.”
So was the recruiting class by the time Hinton arrived in Columbus back on Jan. 2, at least mostly. Meyer was a little over a month into his new job, but Hinton was not surprised by what had already taken place in just a short amount of time.
“So far I've been very impressed. I've only been here since January 2nd. It's been a whirlwind for the last month, but a tremendous experience,” said Hinton, a former high school coach from the state of Ohio who served as a graduate assistant under Earle Bruce at Ohio State alongside Meyer in 1986.
“Coach Meyer is a tremendous recruiter. The success of this class is very evident to his ability to identify people, target relationships, find the identifiers, the champions, the people that are going to help this young man make a great decision.”
With the help of Mark Pantoni, his trusted Director of Player Personnel, and Greg Gillum—a longtime director of football operations at Ohio State with connections all across the Buckeye State—Meyer rolled up his sleeves and went to work right away.
By the time his head hit the pillow on his first night on the job, Meyer had already spoken to 5-star defensive end Noah Spence over the phone. He had also identified Taylor Decker and Kyle Dodson, a pair of offensive tackles out of Ohio, as two of the most critical pieces in the 2012 recruiting class.
“Obviously he is very thorough,” Fickell said.
“He had done his evaluations before he ever got here at what he had seen, what he thought we needed.”
Meyer bounced those ideas and evaluations off Fickell, who had served as interim head coach of the Buckeyes since Tressel’s dismissal back in May. He also consulted Stan Drayton, Mike Vrabel and Taver Johnson (now at Arkansas), the three other assistants he decided to retain from Ohio State’s previous coaching staff.
It did not take long for Meyer and Fickell to identify the major needs. The Buckeyes were nearing desperation at the offensive tackle position. They needed help at linebacker, as well as cornerback after Meyer dismissed a pair from the team in January. They also wanted more guys up front who could pressure the quarterback, along with a dynamic playmaker at the offensive skill position.
Once the plan was in place, it was on Meyer and a handful of key guys to go out and execute if the Buckeyes were going to make up for more than seven months of instability surrounding the program.
“Was it a little bit more aggressive? It had to be accelerated because of the situation,” Fickell said.
“To build those relationships in a two‑month period, coach did a great job at being aggressive, spending every day, night, morning, trying to get to know every one of those guys as much as possible.”
That is where Meyer separates himself from the pack as one of the premier recruiters in all of college football. It is not just his relentless work ethic, which has been well documented, but also his ability to really connect with the players he is recruiting.
“He really is very, very personable with parents, with players. He has a knack to have a thousand different conversations with a thousand different kids a day. Each of them are special to that person,” said Hinton, who was himself recruited by Meyer to leave Notre Dame this off-season.
“It’s not, ‘Hello, I'm Coach Meyer (with) Ohio State University’ (where) it sounds like you're trying to do the business approach. ‘Thanks for calling, glad to talk to you,’ it's not like that. He's really going to ask you about mom, about dad, about the girlfriend, ‘I heard you were having trouble in science class.’ Those things are key to a young man’s feelings.”
Meyer admitted that was one of the toughest parts of this two-month crash course. Not only did they have to identify players who fit their needs from a skill perspective, but also kids who fit what Meyer’s program was going to stand for at Ohio State.
“Is there a premium placed on character? Probably like never before,” Meyer admitted.
“I've noticed that in the last dozen years o f recruiting, just because of all the negativity that can bring on a program. There's a couple red flags that show up: how do they treat females, any type of addiction issues? You try to ask those hard questions. Sometimes you don't know.”
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