The Meyer way.
DALLAS – “Drink.”
That was the order from the Ohio State strength and conditioning staff to the Buckeyes at media day Saturday. As the players sat at tables for their one-hour session with reporters, the coaches wanted them to have water bottles in their hands, hydrating in preparation for Monday night.
They also wanted the players to be careful what they said.
“Don’t get diarrhea of the mouth,” one staffer told safety Tyvis Powell. The staffer then looked at fellow defensive back Armani Reeves, who shared a table with Powell, and said, “Hey, monitor him.”
This is part of the Urban Meyer Method – no detail is too small to overlook. From water bottles to watching your words, the Ohio State staff is on top of everything – an extension of Meyer’s obsession with maximizing the potential of everyone in his program.
Which is a huge reason why the Buckeyes are here, facing Oregon in search of an unlikely national championship.
“His plan is in total detail, start to finish, January 1st to December 31st, on how to win,” secondary coach Kerry Coombs said. “To work for him, you better be sharp. I worked with Brian Kelly and Butch Jones at Cincinnati. I’ve coached with really good people. But this guy here? He’s special. He’s not winning by accident.”
And now he may be winning a third national title, putting himself in truly elite historical company. Since the polls began crowning champions in 1936, there are nine coaches with three or more consensus championships: Bear Bryant had five; Frank Leahy and Nick Saban each have four; Bernie Bierman, Bud Wilkinson, John McKay, Woody Hayes, Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne with three.
Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden? No. Darrell Royal and Bo Schembechler? No. Ara Parseghian and Robert Neyland? No. And Meyer can join Saban as the only coaches to win three or more titles with more than one team.
What happened twice at Florida is being replicated now at Ohio State after something of a personal and professional midlife crisis. Meyer burned himself out in Gainesville, but everyone knew he would be back. During his year away from coaching as a broadcaster, the flame was re-lit.
“I think I just was obviously chomping at the bit to get back in it, but to sit there and say I thought that we could somehow get back to the national title, it's everybody's dream and goal, but it's very complicated and everything has to align perfectly for this to happen,” Meyer said. “… When it really crossed my mind is when I had the ability to go watch Notre Dame against Alabama in the one in Florida, the national championship game [two years ago], and I was there with ESPN. … That's the day that I sent that text out to the entire team, every support staff member: ‘The chase is on.’ … That was the moment, that's the driving force, why we get up every day, and I just wanted to somehow share that experience with our players, and now we are.”
To complete the chase, Meyer painstakingly planned every element of the Ohio State program to championship-level specifications. And he brought in his old Florida strength and conditioning coach, Mickey Marotti, to set the tone.
The buy-in to the Meyer-Marotti intensity wasn’t automatic in the winter of 2012. In order to get the point across, there was one particularly brutal workout that resonates with the players who were there.
They say the workout was 4 a.m. bear crawls in the snow. Marotti said that’s been embellished.
“It was 5 a.m.,” he said. “And it wasn’t that bad. It was just cold.”
Three seasons and 37 victories later, the commitment is nearly total.
“I told [Meyer] in May, they were buying everything we were selling,” Marotti said. “I mean, everything.”
And Meyer sells a lot, starting with attitude. Marotti conducts what he calls “demeanor check” at team meals – no sullen looks or scowls are allowed through the doors. If players aren’t smiling, Marotti has a penalty flag that he can throw at them.
Sometimes the coaches will do their part to put the smiles on the players’ faces. At the last workout before Christmas break, a 6 a.m. affair that could have been unenthusiastic at best, several of the biggest members of the strength staff dressed up as Santa and elves.
“They open the door and see a 290-pound elf,” Marotti said. “We had a great practice.”
Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have found a way to make it work, despite losing their top two quarterbacks. (AP)
The constant search for motivational switches to flip extends beyond football, too. Example: Real Life Wednesdays.
Those are the days when Meyer brings in an outside speaker to talk to the Buckeyes about life after football – about credit scores, about various professions, about how to succeed in the business world. Players also are given an empty binder every year that they have to fill with life-after-football material – business cards, a resume and anything else that can help them get a job. The binders are checked by the position coaches, and they’re submitted every June for a football program job fair.
“Urban’s point is this: a college football player will get used if we’re not careful,” Coombs said. “We tell them, ‘We’ve got to train you to fight and compete to get a job like you fight and compete on the field.’ “
Meyer pushes his staff to push his players, and he leans on nobody more than Marotti. Every couple of days he will go into Marotti’s office for a sit-down on what Meyer calls “the Bob Newhart couch.” It’s a combination of brainstorming and confiding with a guy he’s known since they were both at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz.
“He throws ideas out,” Marotti said of the Newhart sessions. “What he’s feeling, his thoughts, his concerns. … It’s a catharsis.”
One catharsis at a time, Meyer seems different than the tortured soul he was at the end at Florida. He looks healthier and sounds healthier, while still maintaining the obsessive drive to win.
And if he wins against Oregon Monday night – pulling a third straight upset – he will move into a truly elite realm in college football history.