When things went south a couple of times for the Ohio State football team last season, Urban Meyer turned up the burners. And on his stove, that meant raising the heat on himself and his coaching staff before doing the same to the players.
"I just didn’t feel like we competed. I didn’t feel like our staff competed," Meyer said in February at the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association convention. "And most importantly, as the head coach, as you self-evaluate, I did not compete. … And I was so (upset) with myself for letting it get to this point."
In the midst of the 2017 season, however, Meyer said the turnaround had to be immediate.
" ‘We have to get much better. I have to get my staff much better. How do we do this?’ " Meyer recalled his thoughts at the time. "I typed in the word ‘competitor.’ "
Though commonly defined as someone who takes part in an athletic contest, Meyer said his definition of competitor "the way I was raised is, you have to win. You’ll hear it around our program all the time, ‘As long as they keep score, don’t lose.’
"Now, every once in a while, you’re going to lose, but don’t accept it. You work your rear off to not let that happen again."
In his line of work, Meyer seeks to surround himself with "fierce" competitors — both among the players and coaches. He describes such people this way: "He cares deeply. He’s extremely intense. He’s passionate. He presses every advantage to win. He never gives up. He has a focused, violent approach."
So when Meyer sought a recharge after regular-season losses to Oklahoma and Iowa, he turned the focus first on himself and his staff. Receivers coach Zach Smith remembered.
"Anytime you get challenged, especially the coaches we have here, you want to … silence that," Smith said. "The coaches we have here, they’re elite. Guys like (defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano and (offensive coordinator) Ryan Day — those guys are used to being the best of the best, and their units being the best of the best, and if it’s ever challenged at all, it’s like, ‘No, no, no, not my group. This is the expectation, and we’re going to get it there.’ "
Everyone on the OSU staff is considered a self-starter, but Smith acknowledged that every one of them benefit from reflection.
"You always need that step back occasionally where you ask yourself, ‘Are we doing the best things to get the most out of our players? Is there a better way to do it?’ " he said. "And the best thing coach Meyer does as a head coach is he challenges us and inspires innovation. He’s the best in the country at doing that."
Day found out that accountability comes with the territory when he moved from the San Francisco 49ers in the winter of 2017 to become the OSU quarterbacks coach.
"Just like the players have to show up ready to go every day, the coaches better show up ready to go every day," Day said. "As good as he is a coach for the players, (Meyer is) as good, if not better, a coach for the coaches.
"Every morning in the staff meetings he’s challenging us. It’s not always comfortable, but at the end of the day he’s working as hard, if not harder, than all of us."
Day said such an approach makes it easy to follow Meyer’s path, because he is setting the pace. Meyer is 73-8 through his first six seasons with the Buckeyes.
"He’s the leader of this thing," he said. "When you leave here, you leave as a better coach, because he is constantly challenging you, making you think, trying to stir it up a little bit."