Cincinnati Wyoming running back P.J. Pope and his mother, Donna, sat at one end of a long conference room table. Urban Meyer sat at the other end.
It was 2002. And it was intimidating.
“It was the last day of my official visit and they were having recruits come into the room, one by one,” Pope said this week, recalling the almost frightening feeling of sitting across from the most intensely competitive man he had encountered.
This was Meyer’s first full recruiting class at Bowling Green, which meant a chance to establish his way of doing business.
“We’re sitting there and he is like, ‘Well, are you in or are you out?’ We didn’t know what to say,” said Pope, able to chuckle at the memory.
Pope eventually said yes to Meyer and the Falcons. Most do.
Meyer wrapped up his third top-five national recruiting class in as many years yesterday as Ohio State signed 23 players, including 15 Rivals.com four-star recruits, to letters of intent, further establishing the Buckeyes’ coach as one of the top seal-the-dealers in the game.
Ask Meyer what makes him so effective and immediately he answers, “It’s about relationship.”
Relationship, right. Love on recruits. Tell them they’re great. Trade jokes and soft-punch them on the arm.
Uh ... no. To Meyer, relationship is about reality, not about warm and fuzzy.
“It’s just a very honest and open approach,” Meyer said yesterday. “Come in and see everything we’ve got. This is the way we do our business. It’s not for everybody, but if you want to be part of it we’d love to have you.”
Talk about going light on the syrup. Then again, colored sugar can be light on substance. High-school players who think — because they are constantly told — that they are the cherry on top come to appreciate when Meyer and his assistants point out when they also are the pits.
Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith explained how Meyer sets a no-nonsense tone for the assistants, who do the bulk of the boots-on-the-ground recruiting.
“That’s everything (Meyer) is. It’s honest, hard conversation,” said Smith, whose man-to-man approach helped OSU land a pair of out-of-state stars: receiver Johnnie Dixon from West Palm Beach, Fla. and defensive end Jalyn Holmes from Norfolk, Va. “To tell a recruit he didn’t play well in that game, there’s probably nobody else in the country who says that to him. But I went down and watched Johnnie practice and told him a couple of times, ‘That was awful.’ But then we talked about it, and the kid at the end of the day goes home and says, ‘That guy is going to make me better. And he’s real, where this other guy says, ‘You’re the best,’ and is full of you-know-what.”
Meyer’s recruiting résumé is impressive. At Florida, he signed Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Cam Newton, who stayed two years before leaving the Gators because of academic and off-the-field issues. At Utah, he snagged defensive back Eric Weddle, who was drafted by San Diego and appeared in his second Pro Bowl last month. At Bowling Green, he recruited talent like Pope and quarterback Omar Jacobs, who led the nation with 41 touchdown passes in 2004.
Craig Howard, who coached Tebow at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., described Meyer as a relentless recruiter who turns over every stone.
“But he’s also so sincere,” said Howard, the coach at Southern Oregon University. “The kids trusted him. That’s the balance, which is so hard in recruiting. You’ve got to establish a rapport and the kids have to be able to trust you.”
Meyer strikes that balance better than most.
“He’s an amazing guy. I feel like he really cares about me,” Dixon said yesterday, adding that Meyer called him every day to make sure he was doing well.
There’s a soft side to the across-the-table stare after all.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.