Leadership is Where the Magic Happens
Meyer counting on Miller and Guiton to lead Buckeye improvement
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State won just six games a year ago under interim head coach Luke Fickell.
Two fewer than Urban Meyer’s worst season as a head coach. Anywhere.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer won eight games as a first-time head coach at Bowl Green, a program with very little history—and possibly even less talent. The Falcons were coming off a 2-9 season under Gary Blackney, the same coach who had led the program to 21 wins in his first two seasons at the helm.
The BG football program had since fallen into disarray under Blackney’s watch, and the University courted a young Notre Dame assistant to be their head football coach in 2001.
Meyer had never even been a coordinator when he took the job at Bowling Green, but he was ready. He understood what it took to build a winning program.
From his time as a graduate assistant at Ohio State under Earle Bruce—a Woody Hayes disciple—to his time with Lou Holtz in South Bend, Meyer had been preparing himself for that moment.
He knew it would take more than talent to be successful where others had failed, especially coaching a group of someone else’s players. The same group that had won two games the previous season.
“Talent will get you about seven or eight wins,” Meyer said.
“Discipline will push it to nine, maybe, and leadership is where magic starts happening.”
That was something Meyer noticed immediately at Bowling Green. There was no leadership. The team was floating out to sea with no direction, no sail and no rudder to get them where they needed to go.
Meyer saw similar problems at Ohio State when he took over the program back in November, but it really started long before that.
“I saw the same thing you saw,” Meyer said this past week.
“On a Friday, you didn't know who was playing. On a Wednesday, you didn't know who was playing. Some of the older guys made mistakes ... how can you lead a team if you're not playing?”
That may have been the single biggest issue facing the 2011 Buckeyes. Their best leaders, their seniors, the guys everyone else looked to for an example of how things are supposed to be done, were also the guys suspended—in some cases multiple times—by the NCAA.
Without Jim Tressel around to steer the ship—and with Fickell doing the best job a first-time head coach thrust into a no-win situation could do—the players continued to look to guys like DeVier Posey and Boom Herron for leadership.
Herron was even named a captain after his senior season, despite missing six games for repeated NCAA violations.
It was a mess, but Meyer had been here before. He quickly brought a steady hand, and a barking dog by the name of Mickey Marotti. Meyer played the ‘good cop’ to Marotti’s ‘bad cop’ in hopes of snapping this team out of the funk that resulted in a six-win season a year ago.
There was no time for self-pity or retrospective commiseration for what the program had endured over the last year. There was work to be done. Lots of it.
“I'd say there's enough talent here to win some games,” Meyer admitted.
“Discipline ... we're still evaluating that, and leadership is not where it needs to be.”
Urban Meyer and Zach Boren
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer has repeatedly raved about the leadership abilities of seniors John Simon and Zach Boren. He even went as far as to call Simon “Tebowish” in his dedication to football and his intensity on the field.
That is something Meyer and his staff are constantly pursuing on the recruiting trail.
“When we go to recruit and elevate people to a certain status around here it's because of their competitive nature and leadership ability and doing things the right way more than anything else,” Meyer said emphatically.
“The greatest definition I've heard of (a leader) is when he sets a standard and demands that everyone around him lives up to it.”
That was something Tebow did on a daily basis when Meyer was at Florida, but it wasn’t exactly what he saw from Ohio State’s young star quarterback, Braxton Miller, when Meyer took over the OSU football program this off-season.
“I got the sense when I got here that he was kind of a cool guy,” Meyer said in another moment of his refreshingly unfiltered candidness.
“(He was more) ‘I'm going to go lift weights and take care of my business,’ as opposed to, no, you're going to finish first in every drill, you're going to be the first one in the (coach's) office, you're going to do extra work, ask for (film) cut-ups of spring practice, and really push yourself to be the best.
“He's doing that now.”
That is what Meyer absolutely expects from his quarterbacks, which is part of the reason he was critical of backup Kenny Guiton for “not looking like a quarterback” when Meyer first got to Ohio State.
“What I'm hearing is that our quarterbacks have taken a leadership role, the receivers are working on things, and they're starting to figure things out,” Meyer said in his first post-spring press conference.
“So much of how a team prepares from here to August is on the leadership of the team. We're not allowed to coach them and we won't coach them. It's not one of those things where I'm winking at you and saying 'It's not allowed,' and it's going on. It's not going on here.
“That means Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton have to get our passing game in order for August. And that's a tall order because it's not very good right now.
“If they do that — and I understand they are doing it — we have a chance. If not, no chance.”
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