Ohio State football | Urban Meyer on his new role, teaching and much, much more
On Friday, former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer sat down with The Dispatch in his first interview since stepping down.
The story on his adjustment detailed his adjustment to his new role as an assistant athletic director. But there was much more ground covered in the interview that didn’t fit into that story or had to be condensed.
Here’s more from that conversation:
• Meyer said his job as an assistant athletic director is largely tied to the new Gene Smith Leadership Institute and is an offshoot of the football program’s Real Life Wednesdays that’s now being extended to all 36 OSU sports teams. Real Life Wednesdays includes having prominent guest speakers and preparing players for their post-athletics career.
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Meyer met monthly with captains from all of Ohio State’s teams. He said that in addition to career preparation, each team chooses and works on 3-4 social issues — mental health, Title IX, substance abuse, relationship questions, etc. Meyer also delves into leadership issues with them.
“I always say one of the most misunderstood and overused words in the English language is leadership,” Meyer said.
The roots of his emphasis on leadership started for Meyer when he was at Florida and realized that a mere degree wasn’t by itself sufficient preparation for a post-playing career.
“It is something quite honestly, in my early career I didn’t really understand,” Meyer said. “The older I got and really at Ohio State it became very systematic the way we taught leadership to our team.”
The Real Life Wednesdays program has proved to be an invaluable recruiting tool as OSU could persuade parents that their son would be given the means to have a career after football.
“I’m very proud that we’ve done that,” he said. “Most programs in America have something like that now, because of recruiting. That was our difference-maker. When we started going into Georgia and beating SEC teams and going into Texas and beating Big 12 teams head-to-head, it wasn’t because of weather. It was because, if a player was very serious about his life after the game, we got that kid.
“If the head coach can reach across the table and say, ‘Your son will have a job if he does this, this and this, we’ll set him up and he’ll have a career when the sport is done,’ I can’t tell you how many times they stood up and said, ‘OK, we’re good.’”
• Meyer on teaching a leadership class with Charles Buchanan in the Fisher School of Business:
“One thing about academia is a lot of it is theory,” Meyer said. “There was no theory in this class. There’s a guy who served several tours serving our country overseas as a lieutenant colonel. There’s a guy who coached football for over three decades. It was a real life experiences. A lot of dialogue. It was based on virtues and vices — Aristotle’s (moral virtues). It was a class he’s taught before. I guest-lectured before.
“I gave them different leadership styles and situations that dealt with virtue and vice. Virtue in excess can become a vice. Too much courage and you’re reckless. Too much compassion and you’re soft. I did, as he did, give real life examples. Here was a guy who was leading people into very difficult situations in the military — life and death — which is far more serious than leading your football team into a very serious situation.”
About 200 students took the class, but it wasn’t lecture-based.
“It was direct teaching, constant dialogue,” he said. “The response has been fantastic. I love the students. We had a great time learning (as teachers), and they learned.”
Was he a hard grader?
“I let Charles handle all the grading,” he said.
• Meyer said that as a gesture of appreciation for the support he got in his seven years as coach, he spoke to about 30 groups around campus.
“I’d always tell some funny stories,” Meyer said. “I’d always talk about the fourth-and-1 against our rival.”
That was the famous 2016 overtime keeper by J.T. Barrett that was ruled a first down — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh begged to differ — before Curtis Samuel won the game on the next play.
Now that he’s no longer coach, can he say for sure whether that was the right call?
“He absolutely made it,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he also talks about the 2014 championship team, what he calls “the incredible run” and “the transformation” of Cardale Jones.
“The love of unit,” Meyer said. “I call that solving the mystery. How did he become the legendary Cardale Jones? He learned to put team ahead of self.”
• Meyer on what surprised him the most about the last five months in his new role: “Just my appreciation for all the other coaches. I didn’t really get a chance to know them because you get into a cocoon over in the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center). And your appreciation for the sport ADs. You’re talking about incredible coaches and staffs. Gene has put together an (excellent) athletic department. I can’t imagine better coaches, better people, better student-athletes. Over half of our student-athletes have a 3.0 and the average ACT is 31.”
• Meyer on what’s been the easiest thing to let go of from being a coach: “The transfer portal.”
He described as “alarming” the revolving door of quarterbacks around the country, including at Ohio State.
“I don’t understand it,” he said.
None of Ohio State’s current quarterbacks were on the roster a year ago. Again, he alluded to the example of Cardale Jones in 2014.
“It’s hard to believe we won a national title with a third-string quarterback and not many have third-string quarterbacks,” Meyer said. “It’s not unique to Ohio State. It’s a national issue.”
He said he agrees that graduates should be able to transfer, as Joe Burrow did last year from Ohio State to LSU.
“I think that’s a good opportunity,” he said.
• Meyer was an enthusiastic recruiter, but he said he doesn’t miss the relentlessness of it or the earlier recruiting calendar with the addition of a December signing day.
“I loved recruiting,” he said. “(But) it was 24/7. I never really went on vacation. I never really left recruiting. The whole new rules … last year was awful. You were having official visits every weekend. We went to Hyde Park steakhouse like four weekends in a row (hosting recruits). We love Hyde Park, but after a while Shelley and I looked at each other like, ‘What are we doing?’ We were missing our son’s baseball games.”
Nate Meyer is a freshman on the University of Cincinnati baseball team.
“I’m not a fan of the new recruiting calendar,” he said. “I was in on the meetings for 3-4 years. (I asked), ‘Are we sure we want to do this?’ Now everybody’s making their decision before their senior year. High school coaches, that’s not good for them because players kind of start to maybe shut it down at times (once they’ve committed).”
• Meyer on speculation that he’d be involved in opening a restaurant in Dublin, where he lives: “A group came to me and talked to me. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it was broached. I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road.”
• Meyer on his golf game: “Boy, it started strong, but I’m struggling a little bit now. I’ve got to work through some things.”
He said his game has been helped by not having to take recruiting calls while playing. Meyer said he couldn’t play last year without his phone ringing.
“I’d put the phone on speaker and actually play with it on speaker for five or six holes,” he said. “I’m not that relevant anymore. I don’t get a bunch of phone calls.”
• Meyer, whose daughter Nicki had her second son, Gray, 5 months ago, on being a grandfather: “I’ve always heard how great it is. I tell Nicki this all the time — I think moms should have statues built for them when I see what she does. She works. She has one running around like a nut (2½-year-old son Troy) and another hanging onto her. I’m amazed at her energy. It’s incredible to watch. When they’re your own, you’re on the move so much (working). I was there a lot, but I also missed a lot.”
• Meyer on his OSU coaching career: He said the accomplishment he didn’t fully appreciate at the time was the 30-game regular-season conference winning streak to begin his tenure.
As is the case with many coaches, the victories for Meyer are a blur, but the losses haunt. No defeat hurt more than the home loss to Michigan State in 2015 in a rainstorm.
How often does he think about that game?
“Every day,” he said. “That’s the one. I don’t blame others. I blame myself. I could have done some better things (as a coach) that day. That 2015 Michigan State game, that was a tough one.”
Of course, the unlikely 2014 national title was a highlight.
“I remember seeing the joy on those players’ faces and seeing the illogical happen,” he said.
As for his favorite win?
“I’ve been asked that a lot, and I’d have to say the 62 points against our rival,” he said of the 62-39 upset of Michigan last year.
• Meyer on whether his new role, with a salary of $100,000, could be considered his give-back to Ohio State after coaching his dream program for seven years: “I have a great boss, Gene Smith. My genuine love for Ohio State is real. It’s never really been a job.”