Meyer Talks Michigan Game and More on BTN
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Appearing on the Big Ten Network Tuesday, Urban Meyer sat down with Gerry DiNardo for an up close and personal look at Ohio State’s first-year head coach on Big Ten Football Report.
Meyer spoke on a number of issues, including Luke Fickell, his coaching staff and off-season conditioning. Maybe the most interesting portion came when DiNardo asked him about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and how it compares to some of the other rivalries he has been apart of at Notre Dame and Florida.
“It is unlike any other one, and that’s with all due respect,” said Meyer, who was 14-1 in rivalry games in six seasons at Florida.
“It’s so clearly, for over how many years, it is The Game.”
There was some initial—generally unfounded—hesitation by some Ohio State fans who were unsure Meyer placed quite the same importance on the Michigan rivalry as did his predecessor.
Much like Jim Tressel, however, Meyer is a native of Northeast Ohio who cut his teeth under former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce in the 1980’s.
“I grew up here. I know what it means,” said Meyer, a native of Ashtabula, Ohio.
“As far back as I remember, I remember Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. That’s all I remember. I remember there was still respect.”
He also understands the importance of that rivalry, not just to the fans, but also to the coaches, whose careers are largely defined by how their teams perform in the regular season finale.
“I don’t want to say life or death, but whether you see tomorrow depends on beating that team,” Meyer said, taking a bit of a page out of Woody’s book.
“I think—I don’t think, I know—it’s unlike any other.”
The 47-year old Meyer coached in the rivalry as a graduate assistant under Bruce from 1986-87. Michigan coach Brady Hoke also “gets it” from his time as a defensive assistant under Lloyd Carr from 1995-2002.
Meyer was asked about his relationship with Hoke on Tuesday.
“Good. Not as good as it was about a month ago,” he said with a snicker.
“The respect is there. I think he’s a heck of a (coach). I mean, look what they did. But, we’re very cordial and I have a lot of respect for him as a football coach. More than that, as a person. I know he’s going to do it right. I don’t like these guys who don’t do it right. So it will be very healthy.”
DiNardo also asked Meyer about his decision to return to coaching after just one season away from the game, and how big a factor it was that Ohio State was the program that came calling.
“That was the only reason,” he said without batting an eye.
“I heard someone say, you had this planned. Had what planned? I was done. This was the only place I would come back to coach.”
Despite all of Ohio State’s success over the past decade, Meyer knew the job would not be easy when he accepted it back in November. He was even more discouraged on the first day of conditioning last week, but Meyer has confidence in Mickey Marotti and his staff.
“In February, it’s going to be miserable around here,” he said.
“That weight room, we’re going to have chains on that weight room. I want to find out what we’ve got.”
That was the first, and most obvious, challenge to Meyer in rebuilding Ohio State after a 6-7 season in Columbus, but there is an even larger part that could play a major role in the future of OSU football under Urban Meyer.
“The other part, which is maybe more important for the future of the program, is the alignment of the coaching staff. Did I hit it out of the park,” Meyer asked rhetorically.
“In 2005, I had the best staff in college football. The way they recruited—I mean relentless—and it’s very measurable. We had more players in the NFL than any team in America. More first-round draft picks. That class we brought in won more games than any other class in the history of the SEC.”
Meyer certainly seems to have brought a little bit of that SEC mentality, or swagger, to the Big Ten. He believes it the game is played a little differently down there and it has made an instant impact in Ohio State’s recruiting efforts.
“A big part of being a head coach in the SEC is the flash,” he said.
“You’re the rock star. I don’t know that yet in the Big Ten, but it’s very correct in the SEC. It’s a rock star…you come rolling into town now. Those are the guys who get the players.”
Meyer was one of the best around at getting the players when he was at Florida. He also made sure to surround himself with assistants who could go out and get players. That’s something he is hoping to recreate at Ohio State with assistants like Luke Fickell, but admitted Tuesday he considered starting with a clean slate.
“There was part of me that didn’t want to keep him,” Meyer admitted.
“There was part of me that wanted to take a fire hose and clean everything out, but the more research I did at Ohio State, this place is not broken.”
Fickell obviously struggled in his first foray into head coaching, but Meyer sees a bright defensive mind with a promising future in his new defensive coordinator.
“He’s a good football coach,” he said.
“I don’t want to throw the ‘great’ on there yet. I’ll let you know down the road. He’s got potential to be a great coach and his background is tremendous.”
The Buckeyes were not nearly as strong on defense in 2011 as they had been under Fickell and Jim Heacock from 2005-10. Meyer attributed some of that to their problems on the other side of the ball.
“Ohio State really struggled on offense this year and Ohio State was not as good on defense,” he said.
“In the past, I don’t know if they were great on offense, but they were very good on offense and that helped the defense. We are going to play great defense.”
Not just against the spread.
Meyer said he personally takes his second-team offense down to work with the starting defense for 10 minutes during every single practice.
“We’re going to give them I-formation, split zone, lead plays so they can fit gaps,” he said.
“Every day. That’s not negotiable. They don’t have to defend the spread unless we have to defend the spread. They have to be gap-sound, and I do that myself.”
For those who missed it, the 1-on-1 interview between Urban Meyer and Gerry DiNardo can be seen in its entirety on BTN.com.
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