Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That's normally pretty sound advice, unless you're a fan who's been through the tumultuous sixteen-month stretch of turmoil and controversy that the fans of The Ohio State University have been through. The successful decade that was the Jim Tressel Era came to a crashing halt on Memorial Day 2011 and the Luke Fickell era was anything but easy on the eyes - or heart - of this enormous fan base. But with the November 28th, 2011 hire of new head coach Urban Meyer - all bets are officially off. Buckeyes fans want to win, and they now have the man that will see to it that Ohio State does just that.
Meyer's first public message to the fans, players and alumni came on Sunday, January 15th during halftime of the Ohio State basketball win over Indiana at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, and it was crystal clear:
"I just want you to know we're here for one purpose and one purpose only and that's to make the great state of Ohio very proud of your football team and your coaching staff and we will get that done."
But these fans expect greatness in the form of gold pants, B1G championships, bowl victories and national championship rings. Only with that set of criteria will they be 'proud of their football team and their coaching staff.' Fortunately Urban Meyer already knows that, and has met that expectation head on with passion, intensity and a relentless drive to recruit - and sign - the best talent in America during his five months in charge. After all, he's been through this before. The expectation laid upon this program by the fan base in recent months is the exact same expectation that Meyer has for this program. It's the same expectation that Luke Fickell and Tom Herman now have. Same goes for Withers, Vrabel, Coombs and right on down the line of the coaching staff.
Did you think Meyer came to Columbus to coast into an easy retirement? That approach isn't in his blood. He doesn't work that way. His oldest daughter Nicki summed it up pretty well when we spoke with her back in March:
"I know how hard he works, and National Championships is what he does."
Truer words have never been spoken and when all is said and done the mountains of hype and expectation are likely to have evolved into reality in Columbus. I'm simply not sure Urban Meyer would have it any other way, and the State of the Union lends one to believe that the expectations laid upon the program aren't just fan-induced hype - but instead spot on.
MEYER'S PROVEN RESUMÉ
Simply put: the man doesn't fail in the grand scheme. He spent two years at his first head coaching gig in Bowling Green, OH taking the Falcons to 8-3 and 9-3 records after taking over a 2-10 football team, being named MAC Coach of the Year his first year (2001). In the process of turning the program around he knocked off the Big-XII's Missouri Tigers twice and Kansas Jayhawks once. Was it a case of right place at the right time, or had BGSU caught lightening in a bottle with Meyer? The fine people of Salt Lake City, UT would call it the latter.
Meyer left Bowling Green after two years and headed west to coach the Utah Utes, claiming the Mountain West Conference's Coach of the Year award in year one after posting a 10-2 record. He was also named the Sporting News National Coach of the Year for his efforts. He ramped up his performance in his second and final year with Utah, posting a 12-0 record and Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh. By this time the entire country knew who Urban Meyer was, and the SEC's Florida Gators weren't going to pass up a shot at bringing him on board. It came as a shock to nobody that Meyer was indeed up for the challenge - and he wouldn't disappoint.
In six seasons in Gainesville all Meyer did was bring home two national championships, five total bowl victories, a couple of SEC championships and one Heisman Trophy winner (Tebow). His first national title came care of a 41-14 blowout of our Buckeyes in the 2007 National Championship Game. The second came just two years later when Meyer and his Gators knocked off Oklahoma to close out a 13-1 season and the SEC's fourth straight national title.
The moral of the story? Urban Meyer wins. Success isn't a 'goal' with him, it's the standard. He wins - and he wins big.
TOP TIER RECRUITING
Recruiting rankings aren't nearly a science on a player-to-player basis, but you get a pretty good feel for who the top tier teams are by looking at the overall rankings year in and year out. Urban Meyer might just be the master of that game.
After taking over the program at the University of Florida in '05 - and getting a late recruiting start - he pulled in his first SEC class, ranked 15th nationally. But his intentions were made very clear the next three years as Meyer's '06, '07 and '08 classes were nationally ranked 2nd, 1st and 3rd, respectively. In '09 his recruiting class slipped to 11th, of which 100+ coaches would be absolutely thrilled with, but came right back in his final season at Florida by attracting the 2nd ranked recruiting class in the nation.
All told, Meyer has sent 35 players on to the NFL (one from BGSU, six from Utah, and 28 more from Florida if you include Cam Newton who started his collegiate career under Meyer). His record speaks for itself, but he continues to prove he's one of the best, if not THE best, recruiter in the country. With a late start on the 2012 class in Columbus he made a feverish dash to the finish line, closing out an otherwise sub-par class with flipped recruits from multiple schools and an overall class ranking 4th nationally (Rivals). His jump start on 2013 has also paid dividends already with eleven committed recruits that include a 5-Star (DB Cam Burrows) and nine 4-Stars.
The recruiting landscape within Ohio alone is enough to build a champion, yet Meyer has the ability to not only go out of state, but to go completely out of the region when need be and pull in highly ranked athletes to play in his system. These kids WANT to play for Meyer...
"(4-Star OL) Taylor Decker recruited us," said Meyer. "He called me and said, 'I want to be a Buckeye.' Whoa, what are you talking about? ... Then his high school coach called us and said, He wants to come to Ohio State."
Decker arrived in Columbus on January 14 for a visit - and committed the next day.
It simply doesn't get much better than The Ohio State University when it comes to the athletics program and the resources at the disposal of a head football coach. First and foremost, the 2011-12 football budget is set to bring in $48.7M in revenue against $13.0M in expenses, netting $35.7M for the university. With that kind of coin you can boast some pretty impressive athletic facilities, and Ohio State does just that with the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The WHAC, as it's most commonly known, has 13,000 square feet of state of the art equipment as well as an 1,800 square foot cardio fitness area. A nearly $20M upgrade back in 2005-07 gave the WHAC newly renovated meeting rooms and coaches' offices as well as brand new locker rooms, instructional areas, medical treatment areas, equipment room and the enormous strength and training area. Oh, the WHAC also contains a 400-ft long, 220-ft wide, 65-ft high indoor practice field covered in All-Pro Turf. All told, the 'Woody' totals just over 78,000 square feet.
Sports Illustrated went so far in 2007 as to nickname Ohio State athletics as being "The Program" due to their unsurpassed facilities, unparalleled amount of men's and women's sport teams, their overall history, tradition and success and the financial support of a more-than-impressive fan base.
Now take the best facilities, with the best players - insert the best head coach in college football - piss 'em all off, and see what happens.....
SOMETHING TO PROVE
If you don't think every single player suited up in Scarlet and Gray - as well as the shiny new head coach - don't have something to prove then you simply haven't been paying attention for the last year and a half.
Meyer was told by A.D. Gene Smith - with 'relative certainty' - that the program wouldn't face further sanctions upon his hire than the scholarship losses and vacated games that had already been levied. A few more scholarships lost and a one-year bowl ban later, Meyer is as focused as he's ever been. He now has a group of inherited seniors that can't compete for a championship of any kind, two spring practices and recruiting classes - and a twelve-game warm-up for a national title run in year two. He has a sophomore quarterback with a similar skill set as two former Heisman Trophy winners that have played for him - Tebow and Newton - who may have a higher ceiling than either of them had at this point in their college careers. This entire team is pissed off and have no intentions of proving their value with out-of-conference blowouts. They want to rub Bret Bielema's smug look into the ground - collect gold pants like it's their life goal, and it just might be - and take what will have been two years of frustration out on whoever finds themselves in the 2013 B1G Championship game with the Buckeyes...a tune up for the 2013 National Championship 'playoff.'
Will they win in year two of the Urban Meyer Era? College football is too unpredictable to tell. They're all young men making young-men decisions. The SEC is as dominant at the top, with six straight national titles, as any conference in distant memory. But one thing is for sure - Urban Meyer will bring hardware back to Columbus with him before all is said and done. Gold pants, B1G titles and crystal footballs. For everyone who has piled on over the last twelve months - from those in Ann Arbor, Madison, and SEC country to those posted up at the headquarters of ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News - there's simply no way around it. Urban Meyer wins, and he wins big.
The benefactor? THE Ohio State University.