Healthy Meyer Revitalized, Anxious to Get Started
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As a young baseball player, Urban Meyer spent most of his time playing shortstop. These days, he is enjoying life in centerfield.
After taking a year away from coaching to re-center himself and search for the ever-elusive balance he so desperately lacked in his final days at Florida, Meyer looked strong and spoke confidently about himself and the challenge he now faces as the head football coach at the Ohio State University.
“I feel as good as I've felt in many, many years, and I'm anxious to get going,” Meyer said this past Thursday in his first official press conference since taking over the program on Jan. 3 following the team’s Gator Bowl loss to Florida.
“ ‘Revitalized’ is a strong word, and an appropriate word for where I am right now.”
Meyer was so energized to get going as the new boss in Columbus that he and strength coordinator Mickey Marotti—officially the Assistant AD for Football Sports Performance—moved the start of winter conditioning up an entire week ahead of schedule.
“We started our workouts actually a week early,” Meyer said while speaking at the podium in his white Ohio State track jacket.
“I’m watching them, but I am still trying to learn these guys. We’re all champing at the bit to go watch what we’ve got. You want to open up that Christmas present and see what you got.”
After a dreadful 6-7 season under interim head coach Luke Fickell—the first losing season at Ohio State since 1988—not every present Meyer opened was going to be a shiny new Red Ryder BB Gun—even if he is from Northeast Ohio.
“At some positions, you kind of smile. At other positions, you don’t,” Meyer said in a moment of straightforward honesty that was often hard to come by under the previous regime.
“(By) the third day, I could walk around and say this was decent. The first day, you kind of have a sick feeling in your stomach, like, ‘What was that I just watched?’ ”
Meyer was less than pleased with the Buckeyes’ overall conditioning level and could hardly wait to get them in the weight room with Marotti after seeing some of their ‘physiques.’
The 47-year old coach said he only watched “bits and pieces” of Ohio State’s 24-17 loss to the Gators, but was quick to point out that the cupboards aren’t exactly bare at Ohio State.
“I love Zach Boren,” Meyer said.
“Why did I come back? For Zach Boren and guys like that. I like John Simon. I could sit and talk to John Simon all day long. That’s why I got back into coaching. The Braxton Miller kid is all right, too.”
Meyer has been in this position before. He took over a Bowling Green program in 2001 that went 2-9 the previous season. Utah was 5-6 under head coach Ron McBride before Meyer took the job there in 2003 and the Florida Gators were just 23-14 in three seasons under Ron Zook before he was fired following the 2004 season.
In all three situations, Meyer won and won immediately, even with rosters that experienced a high level of turnover during the coaching change. He was 8-3 in his first year at Bowling Green, 10-2 at Utah and 9-3 at Florida in 2005.
A year later, he was 13-1 with his first national championship.
“What you're going to see with Coach Meyer is that he loves the game so much, and he's so passionate about it, that you're going to see an aggressive, intense guy on the sidelines,” said Zach Smith, Meyer’s new wide receivers coach who worked with him at Florida.
“He's a guy that when you win a game, he's really excited because he puts everything he has into it, so the payout is just that much greater to him, and really to all of us. I would say the greatest thing that I notice from him is his intensity and his passion for the game. It's not like some guys that love the game, but just kind of stand there. You're gonna see it. He's a passionate guy that's intense and gets excited and gets going.”
The biggest fear for those close to Meyer is that once he gets going, there is no way to slow him down. In six seasons at Florida, Meyer won five bowl games—including four BCS bowl games and two BCS National Championships.
He also burned himself out in the process.
“You just could just see it over time,” said Marotti, who worked with Meyer at Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida.
“He's told you his story. He looks great. The year being out of football or being away from coaching, it kind of re-energizes you.”
Meyer spent the year getting closer to his family. He coached his son’s baseball team and watched his daughters play volleyball at Georgia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast. He also started eating and sleeping again, two things that often went by the wayside during his final days at Florida.
“He is 100 percent juiced and revitalized,” Marotti added.
“It's great to see.”
Meyer also knew he had to find a way to hold on to that balance and stay in centerfield—as he calls it—even when things got tough. Even when the pressure was turned up, which it undoubtedly will be at some point now that he has back coaching at a “monster program” like Ohio State.
“I went back over a 10-year career and looked at how I did things along the way,” he said.
“I pulled out the things I enjoyed doing and the things I thought I was good at. Then I also made lists like what I can’t stand doing and it takes away from the productivity of the football team. I’m not going to do a lot of that stuff.”
It is for that very reason Meyer carefully pieced together an “all-star” coaching staff he can trust to handle some of the more arduous things he tried to take on in his last job. One thing he won’t pass on to his assistants is the full responsibility of recruiting, although Meyer did say that if a coach can’t recruit, he has no value to the program.
“He's a player's coach. He's always, always been a player's coach,” Marotti said.
“He loves players. He loves players that love the game of football. If you love the game of football, you love the process of becoming a big-time player. That's the hard days in the weight room, that's the hard days in the film room, that's the tough days on the practice field. All of the things that you do to become a great player. The process.
“He loves guys that love that, because forget about football, that's life. Always trying to get better. That's what he loves.”
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