Meyer: No Leadership Leads to No Championships
By Brandon Castel
How can you lead a team if you’re not playing?
Photo by Dan Harker
That was the question Urban Meyer pondered about his new football team when he took over as the 24th head coach in Ohio State’s rich, but often clouded, history. He was stepping in to replace one coach who lost his job to a scandal that included a number of the Buckeyes’ prominent veterans, and another one who couldn’t hold on to his job following the team’s first losing season in over two decades.
“I saw the same thing you saw,” Meyer said after watching the Buckeyes from afar during his one season as a college football analyst.
“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?”
The entire 2011 calendar year as not a pretty one for the Buckeyes, and Meyer was worried he may not have inherited enough leaders from the previous regime, or at least enough guys who were ready to play such an important role on a good football team.
He has probably never been happier to be proven wrong about anything.
“It was something I didn't anticipate and I underestimated that throughout adversity that we experienced throughout the year,” Meyer said during his appearance at the podium Wednesday as a part of Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago.
“Two overtime wins, two overtime games, some injuries where we had to move some position guys, and the leadership was incredible. One of the most refreshing years I've been around or groups I've been around.”
Now as Meyer prepares to enter year two in Columbus, this time as one of the favorites to hoist the crystal football, he finds himself answering many of the same questions concerning the character and resolve of his team, along with the very foundation of his program at Ohio State.
“For 12 months it's been really, really good, and I don't want a disruption for this team,” Meyer said in the wake of finding out two of his most prominent players could face potential legal trouble following separate incidents over the weekend.
“The guys work too hard. To have a couple of knuckleheads make some decisions that reflect the entire program, that's not – I guess it's part of the deal. It's something that bothers me, bothers our staff, and we work very hard to avoid with our players.”
Meyer admitted he was “furious” when he heard about the alleged incidents involving Bradley Roby and Carlos Hyde, a pair of fourth-year players who could miss part, or possibly even all, of the 2013 season. Hyde has been suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of his investigation and Roby was removed from making the trip to Chicago this week, where he would have served as one of the leaders for an OSU defense that must replace four senior captains from last year’s undefeated squad.
“That's going to be the difference,” Meyer said of the leadership.
“The older I get and the better teams I've been around over this last decade of football. The one comment it wasn't the style of offense, it wasn't the style of defense, it wasn't the height, weight, size, how high you jump, how fast you run, it's the leadership within the program.”
Meyer acknowledged earlier this spring that his biggest concern coming off the 12-0 season in year one at Ohio State is having to replace what he called “the best group of leaders” he has ever been around. That group included guys like John Simon, Zach Boren, Etienne Sabino, Reid Fragel and Garrett Goebel, but none of those guys will suit up for the Buckeyes at any point this season.
There has to be more concern than ever about the leadership of the team heading into the start of fall camp next month, especially considering the fact Hyde and Roby were both a part of Ohio State’s 10-week leadership program during the offseason. Meyer and his assistant coaches selected 19 players who could be called upon to provide some leadership at some point this season, but how many of those guys are truly the kind of leaders this football team needs?
“Our offensive line is, without question, the heart and soul of our team,” Meyer said in sharp contrast to what he was saying about them this time last year.
“Jack Mewhort, (Andrew) Norwell, (Marcus) Hall and Corey Linsley. Those guys are strong leaders, they're the voice, they're the face of our program, which is if you're going to start somewhere, it's gotta be a quarterback on your offensive line.”
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller is a clear-cut Heisman Trophy candidate, but he hasn’t always been the kind of leader who can impose his will on a football team. That’s starting to change, according to his starting left tackle.
“He’s grown into an incredible leader,” fifth-year senior Jack Mewhort said Wednesday.
“I knew him when he first got here he was quiet and never said a word. You'll catch him these days grabbing guys by the collar and imposing his will on him, if you will.”
The 2013 Buckeyes are riding largely on the coattails of what that 2012 team accomplished last season. Ohio State returns most of its offense intact from a year ago, and there is plenty of talent on the defense, but the void in leadership is the one thing that could keep this team from having one of those truly special seasons that will be forever remembered.
“Talent will get you about seven or eight wins,” Meyer said last spring when he was talking about the expectations for the 2012 Buckeyes.
“Discipline will push it to nine, maybe, and leadership is where magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team.”
Just about everyone believes this could be a magical season for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, a chance for someone to finally unseat the run of SEC dominance Meyer started with his first of two national championships down at Florida.
“The '06 team with a guy like Brandon Siler, who is one of the best leaders I've been around, and you go right through the teams in the last years,” Meyer said.
“So I'm counting – our quarterback has to become that great leader. I think he was pretty good. I think he was okay last year by the time the season started winding down.”
In reality, being “okay” isn’t going to be good enough for anyone. Not for Meyer. Not for Braxton Miller. Not for the Buckeyes, and certainly not for the leaders on a team that has the potential to do things that only a handful of teams in the school’s history have ever accomplished.
“It's very simple,” Meyer proclaimed, “if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we'll have a success…
“I feel strongly about this group having a successful season.”