Rob Oller commentary: Success might cost Ohio State some football assistants

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
High Contrast Normal Version

Success breeds success, which creates opportunity, which in turn creates headaches for coaches, who are well aware of windows.

Please explain.

In 2005, when coach Urban Meyer left Utah for Florida, he assembled what he believed to be a one-of-a-kind college coaching staff.

“I know this is a little biased — I think we (Florida) put together the best group of assistant coaches maybe in college football history,” Meyer said after Ohio State hired him in November 2011. “My goal is to find that kind of group of coaches again.”

Two years and 21 straight victories later, it would seem that Meyer has accomplished his goal. Just be careful what you wish for.

As many as six Ohio State assistant coaches could bolt the program after this season, either to take head-coaching jobs at other colleges or accept NFL assistant positions. Meyer confirmed this week that he has discussed names and “profiles” with Florida Atlantic athletic director Pat Chun, who used to work at Ohio State.

We will get to names in a minute, but first note that Meyer’s success at Florida — two national championships in three seasons — prompted the same type of assistant talent drain that the Buckeyes soon could experience.

And losing assistants coaches causes head coaches to lose sleep because staff continuity is a huge part of a program’s success.

Much has been written about Meyer’s health issues at Florida, where he resigned — for one day — on Dec. 26, 2009, because of exhaustion and because his life priorities had slipped out of whack.

Less documented is that some, and maybe much, of Meyer’s increased stress levels, were caused by him having to take a more hand’s-on approach with nearly every position group after the departure of so many assistants.

Five Florida assistants, including the offensive and co-defensive coordinators, left for other jobs over a two-year span beginning in 2008, after the Gators won the second of their national titles. Then Meyer lost two more defensive coordinators in a four-week stretch of 2009-10.

Trusting the “support team” is essential in any position of leadership, but for a hand’s-on CEO like Meyer, watching assistants come and go so often proves especially challenging.

Even when Meyer took his sabbatical at Florida, he wore out the keyboard on his cellphone texting assistants for updates.

“To say, ‘Sure, guys, do whatever you want,’ that’s not him,” John Hevesy told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in March 2010. Hevesy, who was Mississippi State’s offensive line coach, had been on Meyer’s staffs at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.

Trust takes time, which is in short supply for a coach consumed with winning national championships. No coach likes to admit it, but every program has a window of opportunity that remains open only so long. Not to say it cannot reopen at some point, but no program — not even Alabama — remains on top forever.

It was no coincidence that Florida fell off in 2009 and 2010 as Meyer retooled his staff.

Now, back to Ohio State: The two-year commitment that Meyer required of his assistants ends this season, which means they are about to become free agents.

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman will receive offers. Not only has he helped turn quarterback Braxton Miller into a better passer, but the Buckeyes’ offense has jumped from 107th to eighth during his watch. Herman could choose to wait one more year, but only if the right offer does not materialize.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell also could exit, as could offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who is most responsible for the uptick in blocking.

Other possible departures include running backs coach Stan Drayton, co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers and cornerbacks/special teams coach Kerry Coombs, whose name has been linked to the opening at Miami University.

Will they all leave at once? Doubtful. Will some? Probable. If so, add Ohio State to Bowling Green, Utah and Florida as schools where Meyer lost 10 assistants to head-coaching jobs elsewhere.

Impressive. Credit Meyer for his ability to find and groom assistants. But also understand his conundrum: The window begins to close every time a success story waves goodbye.

Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

Comments

Please Share Your Zip Code

To listen to 97.1 The Fan or ESPN 1460AM we ask that you provide a zip code so that we may give you the best audio connection possible.

Please enter your zip code:

No thanks