fantastic article by Sporting News writer Matt Hayes, chronicling the rise and fall of the Florida football team, I immediately speculated, as we all did, about the future of Ohio State football. After a very tumultuous end to the Tressel era, this article makes Urban Meyer seem like a very questionable hire, considering he will be entering into a program that already has a certain sense of entitlement ingrained in the players' minds. But there's no denying Urban Meyer's skill as a recruiter, talent evaluator, and creativity on the football sidelines. So, both short-term and long-term, will this move pay off for the Buckeyes, or will they be left in limbo for the next few years, as their counterpart Wolverines were during the dark days of DickRod?
This is a question that won't be answered for years to come, as we have never seen Urban Meyer build a college football dynasty. Granted, he has only held three head coaching jobs in his career, and two of them were mid-major programs, but he still has yet to prove himself long-term. His success at Florida was phenomenal, but some may argue it was the result of great players, most notably a great quarterback, and not the result of Urban Meyer. At the same token, Urban Meyer knew Tim Tebow was his guy, and he recruited him as such, so you have to give him credit for that.
The fact that Urban Meyer, reportedly, let the players run his team is the eye-opener. This simply does not work in any level of football, especially college football where there is such a high turnover rate. At a school like Florida, players are around for three years, and then they are gone. Basically, Urban Meyer recruited his first class, they played from 2006-2009, he didn't see nearly as much success in 2010, and he was gone the next year. He lost control of the team because he never had control in the first place--the players did. So once Percy Harvin, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, and Tim Tebow were out of the picture, so, too, was the authority at Florida. And while this attitude certainly helped Meyer recruit these guys, it created a whirlwind of doubt among players and fellow coaches about whether the guy could lead a team. So the supposed "Circle of Trust," which consisted of the aforementioned players, held all the power, and they weren't afraid to show it.
After interviews with many players, Matt Hayes said three incidents resonated in most of their minds, all involving Percy Harvin during his time at Florida, among others. The first was during conditioning, where every Florida football player was climbing stadium steps in preparation for training camp. According to sources, Percy Harvin said, "This fucking ends now," and took a seat for the remainder of conditioning. The next day, the entire team was playing basketball for conditioning. The next incident was with Harvin and another coach, Billy Gonzales, the receivers coach for Florida at the time. According to former players, Harvin grabbed Coach Gonzales by the neck and threw him to the ground, eventually being restrained by two coaches. Following the incident, Harvin was never disciplined by Meyer or anyone else, allowing him to think that this type of behavior was not only acceptable, but the norm.
The third incident involved Harvin and two other members of the "Circle of Trust," Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez. For the 2009 season opener, all three failed drug tests for marijuana, and they were forced to sit out due to university sanctions. But, instead of letting this news leak to the press, Urban Meyer put all three in walking boots for the game, and he told the media that they were all suffering from injuries.
During his tenure at Florida, Meyer built this culture of entitlement for his players, and he allowed it to grow by letting his players get away with things like failed drug tests and violent encounters with other coaches. He did so until he didn't feel respected by his players anymore, and he ultimately left Florida because of it. The story reminds you of Frankenstein, where Urban Meyer created this monster, but instead of fighting it to get revenge, he ran away from it, only to create another one at Ohio State.
Another incident happened after Meyer left Florida, but it seems to be a direct result of the culture he built in Gainesville. During Will Muschamp's first few months on the job, three players were arrested on separate drug possession charges. Janoris Jenkins was one of them, and he was dismissed from the team and finished up his college career at North Alabama. He is now a projected first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but it is his almost infamous quote after the incident that still resonates in players' minds. Jenkins told an Orlando newspaper, "If (Meyer) was still the coach at Florida, I'd still be here." Not exactly words of encouragement for the Buckeyes, and definitely a testament to Meyer's character.
So we've seen Urban Meyer's successes during short stints with programs. He won a BCS bowl at Utah, won two national championships at Florida, but he has never been with a program longer than six years, as either an assistant or head coach. Some may chalk this up to a rise to the top of the coaching ranks, and that his tenure at Ohio State will be for life. I see it as a guy who does everything it takes to win right now that he can't sustain a program any longer than he did at Florida. Either way, there's definitely something shady going on in Urban Meyer's programs, and it'd be interesting to delve into the team politics at Utah and Bowling Green.
So, back to our original question--will Urban Meyer be successful at Ohio State? I think the answer is yes. At least initially. In two or three years, once Meyer is able to get his players in the system, Ohio State will be a national title contender. The question is, has Meyer learned from his mistakes at Florida to figure out how to make his success sustainable. The answer to that is yet to be seen, but I'm leaning towards no.
Meyer seems to have been using this tactic of a player-first coach to attract talent, but he has become almost afraid to discipline his players. He covers up for them and teaches them nothing about character, which is much different from having his players' backs. So while Ohio State could find great success in the next 5-10 years, they will be back in the same position once Urban Meyer jumps ship again, unless he can change his persona and his tactics as a coach and disciplinarian.
Bryan Thomas, a former Florida safety under Urban Meyer, summed up the coach best. He said, "As far as coaching, there’s no one else like (Meyer); he’s a great coach. He gets players to do things you never thought you could do. But he’s a bad person. He’ll win at Ohio State. But if he doesn’t change, they’re going to have the same problems."
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