Like it or Not, Meyer Motivates Through Blunt Honesty
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nineteen months ago the city of Columbus changed. Urban Meyer was hired as the head football coach for the Ohio State Buckeyes. This was the one position that had the potential to make such an impact and Meyer was the man who could make it.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It was not that the Buckeyes were hiring a man from his home state, nor that Meyer had already won two national championships at the University of Florida. It was not that he seemed re-energized or reinvigorated with his new position.
What really marked this drastic change in Columbus was how different Meyer was than the man for whom he was taking over. To be exact, he was replacing Luke Fickell, who guided Ohio State for one season, but in all honesty Meyer was replacing Jim Tressel at the helm of one of college football’s top jobs.
From day one Tressel was The Senator. He appealed to the fans and won their hearts, but was never willing to give too much information away. He was known to divert his answers to questions so as not to comment on those things he did not find comfortable. He kept everything close to the vest. His coaching style was diplomatic and generally successful throughout his tenure.
Meyer takes a very different approach.
The Urban Renewal, as Meyer’s hire has been dubbed, did bring a renewed sense of optimism after the abysmal 6-7 season of 2011. It also dawned a new and dissimilar era in Ohio State football. No longer was the team based on the old “three yards and a cloud of dust” mantra or “Tressel ball,” but rather a wide-open offense that would look to excite.
Meyer also brought a straight forward and completely honest attitude to the program that had borne “translating Tressel,” the name of a local radio segment to help fans understand The Vest and his press conference answers. The new man in town was not afraid to speak his mind about his team.
“I think the one thing about Coach Meyer that I absolutely, positively love, he's as honest as he can be,” tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton said.
“He's not Pinocchio. His nose does not grow. Whether you like it or don't like it, he's going to be honest.”
This came to a shock to both fans and media members, but they quickly got used to the way Meyer operates.
Leading into his first season in charge of the Buckeyes, Meyer was not afraid to immediately ride parts of his team that needed improvement. During his first spring practices, Meyer referred to the offense he inherited as a “clown show” to the media. He was open about his team’s many weaknesses throughout an undefeated season, letting everyone know where Ohio State needed to get better.
“The nice thing is you always know where you stand and he's not afraid,” Hinton said of Meyer.
The intent is not to discourage, but to motivate and create improvement. Meyer’s offense is predicated on speed and athleticism at the skill positions, and he did not see this from his players early on. He wanted to see his offense get better so he let the world know that he thought the group was in shambles.
It was not just through the media that Meyer spoke about his players and it was not just groups that he discussed. Meyer has never been afraid to tell his players directly how he feels about their play.
“He can say to a player 'Young man, you made a really good play, but your ball security was awful,’” Hinton spoke of Meyer’s interaction with his players.
“Is that negative? No. That's truthful. Truthful is that was a really nice play but you're getting a minus on the play in your grade because your ball security could have prevented the play from being really good. Now it didn't, and we got lucky, so that honesty is about it.”
This is coaching, it is teaching. A player cannot rest on his laurels and must constantly strive for improvement. There is always room to get better and even great plays have coachable moments. If Meyer is not honest with his players when they do something wrong, even if the results are positive, then they will not learn and they will not get better.
The Buckeyes’ coach understands that things cannot always be negative. Meyer wants his players to improve, but that can come through positive reinforcement as well as pointing out the negative. When something good comes from a play, Meyer makes sure to let those involved know that he noticed.
“The one thing about Coach Meyer that I think we try to sell when we're recruiting… is that there's this perception of a really tough guy in Coach Meyer, but I've never been around a coach who compliments his players more than he does,” said Hinton.
“He's not afraid to tell them when they're wrong, but at the same time more than any other guy I've been around, he tells them when they are right, which is a beautiful thing, because most coaches don't throw out many compliments, so it cuts both ways.”
Meyer’s players are still kids who are learning new things every day. If all that they take in is negative, many will begin to doubt themselves as opposed to improving, and that would be counter-intuitive.
In order to avoid this, Meyer must find a happy medium and he relies on his staff to help find that balance with the players. Just like with those on the field, Meyer is straight forward and honest with coaches. He expects them to be a reflection of himself when they are working more closely with their individual groups.
“We have honest, direct conversations,” Hinton said.
“That encourages direct teaching, direct to the player, direct honesty. I think it's one of the things my guys like in my room."
Everyone loves to be praised, but people recognize and respect when they are being evaluated truthfully. These players may not have mastered the game of football, but they understand it at a high level. They generally know when something they did was not right and they came to Ohio State to make their game better.
The esteem that seems to have developed between Coach Meyer, his staff, and the players is because they are all working towards one goal. “The Chase” banner that hangs over the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center symbolizes that this team is striving for something, but also that each player is working to get better. This all begins with the man in charge.
The change that hit Columbus in the end of November 2011 has only just begun and all those involved are beginning to adjust. The results have been fruitful thus far, but there is still more to come.