Marotti Pushing Buckeyes to Reshape Bodies and Minds
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer may have wished he set up trash cans for Ohio State’s first day of winter conditioning, if not for the players, than at least for himself.
The Buckeyes’ first-year head coach was so excited to get going in his return to coaching after a one-year hiatus, that he moved off-season conditioning up an entire week just to get an early head-start.
He found himself regretting that decision almost immediately after getting a look at the players he was going to be working with.
“The first day, you kind of had a sick feeling in your stomach like, ‘What was that I just watched,’ ” Meyer said earlier this month.
By day three, Meyer was already feeling better about the conditioning level of his team, but he had another “run for the trash cans” moment when the players removed their shirts so Meyer and his staff could get a look at their builds.
“After I saw some of our physiques, the way I’d say it is that we need to get in that weight room rather quickly and get some guys going,” Meyer said with a grimace.
Photo by Jim Davidson
That grimace quickly turned to a smile, however, when Meyer recalled who would be in charge of shaping and molding the Buckeyes from now until the start of spring practice in April:
“That's my job, to be a motivator,” said Mickey Marotti, Ohio State’s new strength and conditioning coordinator.
“Be a motivator in the weight room, in the team room, everywhere. That's what we do really well together.”
Start of Something Big
As you might expect, Marotti was covered with sweat the first time he met Urban Meyer.
Technically, it wasn’t really the first time, though. Meyer and Marotti had worked together before when they were both graduate assistants at Ohio State under Earle Bruce.
It was 1987. Marotti was in his first of two years in Columbus working with the Buckeyes’ strength and conditioning staff, while Meyer was in his second, and final year of helping Earle Bruce with his offense.
Bruce would be fired at the end of the ’87 season, a tough moment for Meyer, who eventually reunite with his mentor at Colorado State three years later. Marotti stayed on and worked one year under John Cooper before heading to West Virginia to head the strength program in Morgantown.
Watching them now, it is only natural to assume Meyer and Marotti hit it off immediately during their year together at Ohio State. There isn’t one coach in the country Meyer trusts and believes in more than Marotti, who has also become one of his closest friends away from the game.
In 1987, the two barely knew each other.
Meyer was an ambitious young coach in his first real job out of college, if you want to call 12-hour days of cutting and splicing 16-millimeter film a “real job.” Bruce had plucked him away from Cincinnati St. Xavier High School, where he was coaching the defensive backs after his playing career went south—both as a defensive back at the University of Cincinnati, and as a short stop in the Atlanta Braves organization.
It wasn’t until years later that Meyer and Marotti would get a proper introduction, and of course it all began in a weight room.
Climbing the Ladder
Urban Meyer was on vacation, or at least he was supposed to be.
Now the wide receivers coach under Earle Bruce at Colorado State, Meyer was visiting his sister in Cincinnati when he stepped inside a weight room that would forever change the course of his collegiate coaching career.
‘Mick’ was the youngest head strength coach in the country at the time, and Meyer spent three hours watching one of his workout sessions. He was mesmerized by Marotti’s unique ability to motivate players beyond what they thought themselves capable.
“Our program is probably a lot more ‘high school-ish’,” Marotti said.
“We do a lot of motivation things. These are 18, 19-year old kids. They're young people. They're not grown up men, some are, but most of them aren't. So we motivate them by things that motivate them, and things like that motivate them.”
For Marotti and Meyer, offseason conditioning is about more than just reshaping the body. It’s also about reshaping the mind and the psyche of the players, especially after such a physically, mentally and emotionally draining season in Columbus.
“I have a quote, 'You get what you emphasize. You get what you tolerate.' If we emphasize discipline, accountability, toughness, then we'll get that. If we don't, then we won't get it. You get what you emphasize,” Marotti said.
“If you allow things to happen, then that's what happens. But if you don't allow it to happen and you don't tolerate it, and you hold the players accountable, they're gonna do it. You just keep feeding it to them.”
It Starts with Competition
Urban Meyer has repeatedly called Marotti “the most important hire in an athletic department.” It might sound strange considering how much emphasis is placed on coordinators and assistants coaches, but Meyer is not joking.
Nor was he joking in 1998, when he lobbied for Bob Davie to hire Marotti as the head strength coach at Notre Dame after he took over for Lou Holtz. Meyer was so convincing that Davie eventually did hire Marotti, and while Meyer was unable to pull him away from South Bend for jobs at Bowling Green or Utah, the two were reunited at Florida in 2005.
Meyer had used Marotti protégé’s in his first two head coaching jobs, but there was nothing like the genuine article, which is why Meyer even offered Marotti a special title to join him at Ohio State— assistant athletic director for football sports performance.
“I just think it makes you feel that you have a lot of job responsibility,” Marotti said.
“You better make sure you do your job. He’s leaning on me for a lot, so I make sure I'll get it done.”
Getting it done is the only way Marotti knows. In his book, Through My Eyes, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow credits “Coach Mick” for pushing him, physically and mentally, beyond what he thought possible
“We'll do agility runs or agility drills, but instead of just going through bags or going around cones, you do it me against you,” Marotti said.
“Ready, set, go. And there's a winner and a loser because we're trying to teach them that in the game of football and in sports, there's a winner and a loser. This is how winners feel and this is how losers feel. So we try to be competitive, and that brings the best out of everybody.”
The Worst is Yet to Come
Marotti was not as stunned by the physiques of Ohio State players as Meyer was. He said it is pretty typical of teams who have just finished their season in January, especially ones with a lot of young players.
Of course it helps that he will also get the opportunity to be the guy to change them.
“We're going to be doing a lot of things in the coming weeks that I know (the players) are looking forward to,” Marotti said with a wry smile.
“Well, I am. I don't know about them.”
During the first part of his interview with Gerry DiNardo on the Big Ten Network, Meyer said February is going to be “miserable” around Ohio State. He also mentioned chaining the weight room doors to “find out what we’ve got,” during what Marotti calls the “real offseason program.”
“We'll really ramp up the 23rd or 24th of January,” he said.
“That will be the zone adjustment time. But really when we get into February, that's our offseason program. The coaches get off the road, and we start doing our mat drills and our competitive things that we do. It really ramps it up.”
In other words, they’re just getting started.
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