He’s Back: Meyer Steps Back Onto Field, Into Spotlight
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It has been 121 days since Urban Meyer was introduced as the 24th head coach in the storied history of Ohio State football, and more than a year since the last time he stepped on the practice field as a coach.
The 47-year-old Meyer spent the last year visiting practice at a number of high-profile programs around the country, but it just wasn’t the same as stepping onto the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for the first time as head coach.
“It felt great to blow the whistle and see guys run and be able to coach,” Meyer said after the first day of spring practice at Ohio State.
“I love coaching the punt team and being around the quarterbacks and seeing our defense run the pursuit drill.”
Wearing his now-famous Ohio State white windbreaker, Meyer charged on to the indoor practice field at the WHAC Wednesday afternoon. Blustering winds kept the Buckeyes from risking the safety of those who would have climbed the towers to film practice outdoors, so Meyer had to settle for an indoor practice on a beautiful, sunny day in Columbus.
With pictures of OSU legends like Paul Brown and Woody Hayes staring down it him—not to mention a pair of living legends in Earle Bruce and John Cooper—Meyer was one of the first to hit the practice field, joining his specialists on the Turf before the rest of the team came sprinting out of the locker room.
He was anxious to get things going after an off-season of re-sculpting the minds and bodies of his newly acquired players. They were just as eager to put winter workouts behind them.
“Every player is excited about day one. How about day 13 and 14?” Meyer said.
“I was very pleased with day one.”
Meyer wasn’t exactly overjoyed with the pace of practice on his first day back since resigning at Florida following the 2010 season. A number of players—and even the occasional coach—were trying to find their bearings and get acquainted with the Urban Meyer way of doing things.
“I think they liked the tempo, but I think they got exhausted because the amount of plays we got was incredible,” Meyer said.
“That was even a lot for me. We weren't that way at Florida. We weren't rapid fire. But we're rapid fire now.”
This was the same Urban Meyer who walked away from the game he loves after 25 seasons on the college sideline in order to slow down his life, but it was never the game of football that pushed him out the door.
Meyer has always had a unique passion for sports, and for football in particular since his early days as a kid growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio. That is where Meyer first started to root for the Buckeyes, and he was asked Wednesday if there was moment when it felt real to him that he was really coaching at Ohio State.
“For two-and-a-half hours,” he said with a smile.
He wasn’t ready to pinch himself just yet—that will come during the season-opener against Miami (Ohio), when the Buckeyes come running out of the tunnel at Ohio Stadium—but Meyer was like a kid on Christmas during his first practice, even if some of the presents weren’t quite as shiny as he had hoped.
“Obviously, we’re not there yet,” Meyer said afterward.
“I was very pleased with practice, however the same issues that were concerns going into it are still there. The offensive skill guys making plays, I didn't see a whole lot of it. The depth on the offensive line is not very good.”
There were a number dropped passes Wednesday, which is hardly unusual for the first day of spring practice, but Meyer is not going to start lowering his standard now. Not for a team that went 6-7 a year ago, and certainly not for a group of players where no one caught more than 14 passes last season.
“At Ohio State you should walk off the field going, 'Wow, who are those three guys?' I haven't done that yet,” Meyer said.
“It has to be a wow factor. It should happen. There's a time where they had two first-round picks (at wide receiver) in (Anthony) Gonzalez and (Ted) Ginn. This is the highest level of football.”
Knowing Meyer, he isn’t going to sleep well until someone—or more accurately “someone’s”—emerge as playmakers on offense. For now, he will have to settle with knowing he at least has the guy he wants at the most important playmaking position of them all.
After all, this was only the first day.
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