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For Urban Meyer and Mickey Marotti, first impressions are important.

“We’re going to open up the weight room tomorrow,” Meyer said at a press conference January 12. “After I saw some of our physiques, or whatever you say that is, we need to get in that weight room rather quickly.”

Huber1For Ohio State’s incumbent football players, four months of pain, led by Marotti, began January 13.

According to Meyer, Mickey Marotti was his “most important hire” when he assembled his staff at Ohio State. Marotti, officially the assistant athletic director for football sports performance for the Buckeyes, is the man in charge of the team’s new strength and conditioning program. He holds a Master of Strength of Conditioning, one of 100 in his profession that have earned that honor.

The two men have a history. They worked together as graduate assistants at Ohio State and again on Notre Dame’s staff. When Meyer took the head-coaching job at the University of Florida, Marotti was one of his first hires. Now they’re reunited in Columbus.

Right now, it’s safe to say he’s not the most popular man in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, at least among the players. Marotti is known for his brutal and unpredictable workouts. Many reports indicate that Marotti’s program for the Buckeyes has been shocking to the players. He knows he has work to do to turn the 6-7 Buckeyes into title contenders. Urban Meyer wants strength and speed that can compete with the SEC’s best. That strength and speed needs to be earned.

 

Judging by the difficulty of Marotti’s program and Meyer’s feelings about the team’s “physiques,” the team has a long way to go. At first, that seems strange. The Buckeyes are a top-tier college football program, not a member of the MAC. Theoretically, the Buckeyes shouldn’t have that far to go.

That may have been true a decade ago. In 2002, the Buckeyes won the National Championship, making Ohio State the de facto standard-bearers for excellence in college football. In 2012, the Buckeyes are recovering from their first losing season in years. Somewhere in the past 10 years, Ohio State fell behind. In the same time, the SEC has engineered an unprecedented run of success, winning the last six BCS National Championship Games.

A compelling argument can be made that the SEC collectively became college football’s standard-bearer on the evening of January 8, 2007. That night, the Buckeyes were strategically dismantled and physically outclassed by the Florida Gators in the National Championship Game. The Gators’ head coach was Urban Meyer. Their strength and conditioning coach was Mickey Marotti.

The fact that Meyer and Marotti, both keenly aware of the type of athleticism necessary to win big right now in college football, see so much work to be done is an indictment of Ohio State’s outgoing strength and conditioning program. It is also, by extension, an indictment of Jim Tressel.

Tressel is an excellent college football coach. He deserves credit for an incredible run of success in Columbus. But the current state of Buckeye football is his responsibility. A team coached by his assistants and composed of his players finished the year with a record of 6-7. The players are not in championship-level shape. The team will not play in a bowl game next year because of discipline problems that happened under Tressel’s watch. Even though Tressel didn’t coach last year, this was still his team.

Huber2That said, what happened to Ohio State football in recent years is understandable. Discipline and conditioning may have slipped in his final years as head coach, but that happens in many organizations. Tressel coached the Buckeyes for ten years. In ten years at any job, a routine develops. Then the routine erodes. Tressel and his staff were used to success. In that situation, it’s natural for an organization to lose its attention to detail and intensity.

As painful as the past year has been for Ohio State football, it was also necessary. The Buckeyes were complacent. Urban Meyer changes that. He’s starting from scratch in Columbus, which means his intensity and attention to detail will far exceed that of his predecessors. One sign of that focus is evident in the campus’ weight rooms under the watch of Marotti. Another is the dismissal of cornerbacks Dominic Clarke and DerJaun Gambrell from the team for disciplinary problems.

It’s painful for the players right now, but the team that emerges from the WHAC for the Spring Game will be Meyer’s, not Tressel’s. That’s a good thing. The Buckeyes needed change.

When the Buckeyes are playing in their first bowl game under Meyer in January 2014, you can bet that Ohio State will be the physically dominating, strategically superior team, not the other way around.

Maybe they’ll be playing an SEC opponent for the National Championship.

Maybe the center of power in college football will shift back to Columbus where it belongs.

 

Follow me on Twitter > @AndrewHuberBHC