In 2011, when Ohio State announced the reboot of its program with Urban Meyer, the state was understandably placed at ease. Nothing calms a college football fan’s nerves like presence and winning.
The biggest buzz percolated among the people who mattered most, the players. Jack Mewhort remembers when Meyer first greeted the team, it was if a rock star floated into the room.
“Everyone had grown up watching Urban Meyer’s team dominate college football,” said Mewhort, who has started the last 25 games for Ohio State along the offensive line. “Watching him walk into the first team meeting was kind of surreal. We had seen him on TV with his teams at Florida and then to see him walk in as head coach was kind of a surreal feeling but it was really cool at the same time.”
Reeling from NCAA probation and its first losing season since 1988, Ohio State needed Meyer. Playing for little but pride because of a postseason bowl ban, the Buckeyes finished 12-0 in Meyer’s first season.
“This is crazy,” Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “I had committed to Florida at one time and when Coach Meyer left I decided to jump to Ohio State. When I ended up finding out Coach Meyer was coming to Ohio State, I was excited and I ended up with the coach I wanted to play for in the first place.”
“I made this comment, many, many times, that fundamentally, we were 12-0 and some really great things happened,” Meyer said about his first Buckeyes team. “Some incredible leadership, motivation and a team that got really, really close, which is probably more important than everything. Not probably; it is.”
Meyer’s feats at Bowling Green, his first head coaching job, seem almost mythical. He laid a successful foundation at Utah that continues to this day. Steve Spurrier had built a powerhouse at Florida but things had slipped in three seasons under Ron Zook before Meyer brought the program back. There’s little doubt Meyer will do the same at Ohio State. There’s no mulligans on the resume.
His second Bowling Green team finished third in the MAC West with a 9-3 record after starting the season 8-0. In 2007, Florida finished 9-4 and in third place in the SEC East, losing two games by a total of seven points. Those are his only teams that didn’t finish either first or second in conference.
He’s won two national championships, wins at a clip of .835 and is 4-0 in Bowl Championship Series games. He’s done it all before the age of 50. Meyer will lead No. 2 ranked Ohio State against the University at Buffalo at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium (ESPN2) in the season opener for both teams.
“He told us we were going to be the most ready, prepared and fundamental team in college football,” Shazier said. “We would be one of the most fastest and prepared teams. He said it was an honor because this was his home state. Everything he said was true.”
After a season away from coaching, the Ohio native showed up in Columbus, taking over for Jim Tressel, whose culture of fun finally conflicted with compliance. Meyer found a program not unlike the Florida team he previously inherited. NCAA probation or not, Meyer was dealing with a loaded deck.
Meyer arrived in Columbus hoping to work off the same template. The state already had passion — “I think they give a Buckeye to every child born in that state in every hospital,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said — but the Buckeyes were coming off a 6-7 season, as the NCAA cloud hovered over Tressel’s firing and Tattoo-Gate.
He informed the players that he had a plan in place and it wasn’t the players’ job to evaluate it. Play great defense, no turnovers, score in the red zone and win the kicking game. Nothing revolutionary there.
But no one stands still at Meyer’s practice where players do push-ups, run wind sprints, ride stationary bikes, and roll tires among other activities. “All of this is for a reason,” Meyer told his players. “We don’t do it just to do it.”
“It wasn’t hard for a lot of guys to buy in because we had seen what he’d done through the decade with different teams,” Mewhort said. “It was more excitement for us and as far as buying in a lot of guys jumped in head first and were really eager to see what he had to offer. We did that and we achieved our goals.”
The Buckeyes reached perfection last year and could match that mark this year. With junior Braxton Miller at quarterback, Mewhort anchoring a line that could be the best in college football and Shazier at linebacker, Meyer has plenty of weapons.
“I think everyone in Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State is very anxious to see what the ’13 Buckeyes have,” Meyer said.
They already know who they have as their leader.
“We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to step in and take over the reigns,” Mewhort said. “He’s done a great job.”