Meyer Looking for Teachers, Not ‘Presenters’
By Brandon Castel
“I am not a teacher but an awakener.” — Robert Frost
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Around the dinner table each Christmas, Urban Meyer finds himself having an all-too familiar conversation with his sister, Gigi, a vice provost at the University of Cincinnati.
“I said she’s a presenter, she said, ‘no I’m a teacher.’ No, you’re a presenter,” Meyer told more than 1,000 coaches at the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association’s annual football clinic last week.
“It’s a great Christmas argument we’ve had for 20 years.”
It also one that Meyer refuses to waiver on, especially when it comes to the game of football and getting the best out of his players—whether it be at Florida or now at the Ohio State University.
“Presenters present information and they fail people if they don’t get it,” Meyer said emphatically.
“If I give you information and you don’t get it, I give you an F. In our profession, that’s one of these (turns his thumb down to represent a loss). If we get an F, there’s a new staff coming in here. We don’t present. We teach. Teach means exhausting all possible resources to make sure the player knows what he’s doing.”
Meyer said the best coaches he has ever been around, whether it be professional football or the assistants who have worked for him at the college level, understand that it takes direct teaching to capture the attention of an 18-23 year old.
“What is that makes you sit in your chair and get nervous that the coach is going to ask you a question,” Meyer asked rhetorically.
“For the coach who gets on the board and draws circles and teaches on the board all day, what the hell is that? There is no teaching going on. It’s presenting, it’s not teaching.”
That was something Meyer learned back in 1986 when he was serving as a graduate assistant under Earle Bruce. Meyer used to keep a detailed note in his pocket during all meetings just to make sure he was ready in case Bruce—who he now calls his mentor and the second closest person in his life after his late father, Bud—called on him.
“I want the player on the edge of his seat and worried he’s going to be called upon. That forces stimulation of the brain,” Meyer said as he paced the front of the ballroom at the Easton Hilton in Columbus last Friday.
“Presenters present and hope it all works out, teachers make sure it works out. Students need stimulation. On edge is our style.”
Meyer then apologized to the coaches, who had come from all across Ohio, who were hoping to hear him talk about the spread offense.
“I am so committed, not to the spread offense. I don’t care what we run, I really don’t,” Meyer exclaimed.
“I kind of like it, especially with Braxton Miller. What I am committed to is that when a young man steps into a meeting room, it’s intense. It’s on edge. I don’t want him sitting back on his chair or his feet on the table. There’s going to be an eraser come flying at you if I see that. It’s the guy sitting on edge, absorbing everything. After about 15 minutes you shake it off and have some fun with them, then bam (claps his hands), we’re at it again.”
Meyer used to gravitate towards the kids who were on the edge of their seat, absorbing everything that was coming at them in a 45-minute meeting. Now Meyer realizes that not every kid can handle that type of intense learning environment.
“It’s not the kid. It’s the presenter’s fault,” he said.
“We just wasted 45 minutes and he didn’t teach. I go back to that coach, ‘let’s evaluate the way you’re teaching.’ It’s not acceptable to say ‘that f’ing kid.’ Whoa, whoa, ‘that f’ing coach.’ That’s your job.”
It was a lesson Meyer learned first hand when he took over the head-coaching job at the University of Florida back in 2005.
“Chris Leak was our quarterback at Florida. He was a guy who was non-functional. He had a learning disability,” Meyer acknowledged.
“We had a lot of issues with him. We get down there and he’s one of those 7-5 quarterbacks. He threw the prettiest pass I’ve ever seen, had pretty blue eyes, but he couldn’t learn. Their whole offense was they’d look at the sideline for the play call and he wouldn’t even have to call the plays. He’d clap his hands and wouldn’t have to talk or anything.”
Leak was a Parade magazine All-American as well as Parade's Player of the Year in 2003. He was one of the top-rated high school quarterbacks in the country coming out of Charlotte, N.C., but the Gators went from 8-5 his freshman year to 7-4 in year two under Ron Zook.
He threw 23 interceptions his first two years at Florida.
“Why? He can’t learn,” Meyer said.
“He throws a very beautiful pass, he just can’t learn. Dan Mullen was my quarterbacks coach, we looked behind him and there was not another quarterback or we would have made a change.”
That was Meyer’s way of thinking at the time. If a kid could not learn the offense or execute it the way Meyer and his staff demanded, he would look for someone who could. But Meyer was a little older and a little wiser after four years as a head coach at Bowling Green and Utah.
He remembered his arguments with Gigi around the Christmas dinner table and decided they simply could not give up on this kid, who also threw 29 touchdown passes as a sophomore at Florida.
“This kid was tough. Mickey Marotti, our strength coach, said he was one of the toughest guys on the team,” Meyer said.
“He’s got ‘it.’ Let’s be creative as a coach. We’re not a presenter. That kid has to learn.”
What they did was revolutionary, at least for Meyer. He and Mullen met with the three different learning specialists, and they spent the next six months trying to figure out why Leak had such a hard time picking up the playbook.
“We found out that he was dyslexic. He can’t learn from the board,” Meyer said.
“He has a very severe learning disability. He’s the toughest guy there is, he works harder than anyone else. That’s why he made it through school.”
It was a breakthrough that would change the future for both player and coach. Leak threw 20 touchdowns the next season and only six interceptions as the Gators went 9-3 in Meyer’s first season in Gainesville.
That was only the beginning.
“We figured it out and I’m proud to say in 2006 we won the national championship because our meetings went from the classroom to on the field. It was all motor learning. The kid learned fine. He’s a great learner. He doesn’t learn like maybe you and I do. That’s the difference.”
Meyer also told a similar story about another one of his former quarterbacks.
“Alex Smith is the quarterback with the 49ers. His biggest frustration with the 49ers is that for so many years they would take a big book out, the West Coast,” Meyer started.
“It had Bill Walsh right on the top of it. They open it up, slide on an over light and say now we need to do this. He wasn’t used to that. Dan Mullen was his coach. Dan Mullen was passionate about this is what we’re going to do and why we’re going to do it. Direct teaching. He needs to be taught like that.”
That is what Meyer expects of his coaches at Ohio State, and he let them know as much during the OHSFCA clinic last week.
“It’s not just the content. If it was the content, everyone would do the same stuff. It’s the delivery, the passion, the way that coach moves around, the teaching environment,” he said with his assistants in the front of the room.
“Direct teaching involves a teacher who moves around the room. I’ve had to talk to a couple (in the past) who sat their fat (butt) in the back of their room and watch videotape. You will not see that at Ohio State. You will see constant movement, constant talking.”
Meyer believes that is the true key to unlocking the potential of his players.
“Before a kid is ready to make a play or be asked in front of 107,000 to make a play, you have to install in a meeting room,” he said.
“You have checkers, you have videos. It goes back to the motor learning. That’s direct teaching. He’s actively involved in a teaching environment. We’re ordering checkers for all our coaches.”
Meyer said ultimate objective of every teacher is not to pass or fail a kid, but to make sure that student, or player, retains the information and then uses it to increase production.
“The most important component of our teaching is direct,” Meyer said wrapping up his point.
“What did I just say to you? If the kid can spit it back to you, you have a chance. If he can’t, you just taught yourself and you wasted a lot of time.”
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