Meyer Following in Tressel's Footsteps

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Last updated: 11/29/2013 1:41 PM
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Football
Urban Meyer is Making History, Following in Tressel’s Footsteps
By Brandon Castel

Long before he made his return to Ohio Stadium, before he walked the path from Skull Session to the rotunda that marks the entrance to Ohio State’s historic coliseum, Urban Meyer was a proven winner.

Urban Meyer greets fans on his way from Skull Session to Ohio Stadium.
Photo by Dan Harker
Urban Meyer

He had won everywhere he had been on his winding road from Ashtabula to Columbus.

As an assistant at Notre Dame, a first-time head coach at Bowling Green, an up-and-coming name at Utah and most notably as one of the elite coaches in the game during his six seasons at the University of Florida.

He was the sixth-fastest coach in major college football history to reach 100 wins, and he has one of the 10-highest winning percentages of all-time, but Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor will take on a distinct feel for Ohio State’s second-year head coach.

“It is different,” Meyer said Monday during his Michigan week press conference.

“It's not just another game. It's not.”

This was the same press conference where Meyer unwittingly mentioned That School Up North by its proper name, a no-no in and around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center that had his wife, Shelly, threatening to wash his mouth out with soap.

“Do we make a big deal out of this game?  Absolutely,” he said this week.

“Do we make a huge deal over the top about rivalry games? Yes, we do. That's the way I was brought up. We kind of go over the top here, and we always have.”

Urban Meyer
Photo by Dan Harker
Urban Meyer

Meyer was born into a world of both hatred and respect. He was only five years old when Bo Schembechler, a former Ohio State assistant, left Miami University to become the head football coach in Ann Arbor.

“I was probably five or six years old and Ohio State was playing The Team,” Meyer said earlier this year during the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.

“My mom said get in the car we have to run some errands, and it was like ‘what are you talking about.’ We went to an outdoor mall and they had it on the speakers. I was mesmerized hearing about Woody vs. Bo.”

Schembechler, who had coached under legendary coach Woody Hayes for fives years, would produce some of the best Michigan teams in school history, and his tenure sparked a Ten Year War with his former mentor and boss that would shape Meyer’s view of the rivalry for the rest of his life.

“I grew up in the Ten Year War, and I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age,” Meyer said this week.

“But you never really appreciate it until you're behind the walls here and find out how serious it is. I didn't realize it because I was just like most that from the outside looking in, hey, it's a really great game.”

Meyer’s first taste of The Game came as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1987. It would also be a surreal first trip to The Big House for a game where the Buckeyes would miraculously pull out a comeback victory for fired head coach Earle Bruce.

“My first year at 21 years old, we’re playing coach Bruce’s final game in Ann Arbor,” Meyer said.

“I open the doors and look across the hallway and there’s the Maize and Blue with Bo Schembechler standing there. I was like holy cow what are we into here.”

It was the very same Schembechler Meyer had watched on the television with his dad as a child. The same Schembechler who caused headaches for Hayes and the Buckeyes for 10 years. But for Meyer, it was more about the game itself.

“That is one thing about – a new coach doesn't come in here and try to stimulate that rivalry,” he added.

“That rivalry's been stimulated a long time ago, and we need to carry it on and make it stronger.”

Stepping into Big Footsteps

Meyer has yet to lose as the head football coach at Ohio State. His perfect 23-0 record is the second-longest unbeaten streak to start a career in Big Ten history, and those 23-straight wins broke Woody Hayes’ school record set back in 1969.

That team, considered to be the most talented bunch of Woody’s career, was upset in Ann Arbor to end a 22-game winning streak. The Buckeyes will look to avoid that same fate on Saturday when they travel to That State Up North, and Meyer has some big shoes to fill as he takes his team on the road for the first time in storied rivalry.

“I'm going to try to have Coach Bruce speak to our team this year,” Meyer said of his former boss and mentor.

“Obviously, this one I don't need to be educated on very much. However, I did ask him about Coach (Jim) Tressel obviously with his record was phenomenal. So I did a lot of homework on things that him and his staff did.”

The Buckeyes were an unprecedented 9-1 against their rivals from the north during Tressel’s decade in Columbus. They won seven straight over the Maize and Blue to close out Tressel’s career – assuming we can count 2010 – and outscored the Wolverines 114-27 over the last four.

Jim Tressel shakes hands with Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez after Tressel and the Buckeyes had won their seventh-straight Michigan game in 2010.
Photo by Dan Harker

“What made coach Tressel special when it came to Michigan week was that he had tremendous respect for Michigan and this rivalry,” said former OSU tight end Jake Ballard.

“He wanted all his players to know how fortunate we were to be apart of The Game, and for us to acknowledge we aren't just playing the game for ourselves. We were representing past players, the university and the great state of Ohio.”

That has been Meyer’s mantra since his first day on the job – exactly two years ago today – and now he is looking to build on his own legacy by following the path set forth before him by one of the great coaches in school history.

“He made sure we knew what The Game was. He stressed it to us each and every day,” former OSU captain Zach Boren told The Ozone.

“Whether it be January conditioning or August camp, he had that game in the back of his mind and made sure we did too. He knew what it meant for our football team, our university, and our state to win that game every year and he made sure it was going to happen.”

Zack Boren stands over Devin Gardner after sacking him in last year's game.
Photo by Dan Harker
Zach Boren

And happen it did. On Saturday, Meyer has a chance to lead Ohio State to its 11th victory in the last 13 games against That School Up North. What he’s done already has been unparalleled, but the culture for winning this game was already in place when he got there.

“I just think my predecessor did a phenomenal job. Coach Tressel made that The Game, but I kind of like where the rivalry is at now,” Meyer said when asked if he would prefer Michigan be back on an elite level for the sake of the rivalry.

Delerious OSU fans take the field after last year's win over Michigan
Photo by Jim Davidson
Fans on Field

“You said you want that team back on the map, I don’t hope they’re ever on the map. Throw in basketball and it’s been a one-sided rivalry.

“That’s good.”

Since the Tressel era the scoreboard has shown OSU wins more often that not.
Photo by Jim Davidson

 

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