Ohio State football: Players say Urban Meyer has changed approach

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Tim May | Dispatch
Players and the head coach disagree on how much Urban Meyer has changed his approach since he took over the Ohio State program.
By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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CHICAGO — Urban Meyer said he is the same coach he was when he took over the Ohio State football program 2 1/2 years ago.

Yes, he is much more attentive to his health than he was in his final years at Florida. Beyond that, he hasn’t changed much, Meyer said yesterday during Big Ten media days. As Meyer gets set to lead the Buckeyes into his third season, the three players representing Ohio State — Braxton Miller, Michael Bennett and Jeff Heuerman — disagreed.

“He has changed a lot,” Miller said.

“Way different,” Heuerman said.

“I have (noticed a change), especially from just last year to this year,” Bennett said.

Some of that is a function of what Meyer needed to instill in the program. The team he inherited lost seven games in 2010. Five players didn’t show up for his first meeting and several more were late to his second one. The culture, players acknowledged, needed to be repaired.

“When he first got here, he didn’t really know what he was walking into,” said Heuerman, a senior tight end. “He knew it was ‘The Ohio State,’ but we were coming off that 6-7 year. He was a lot meaner, I think. He was probably more stressed out. He had a lot of work ahead of him.”

Meyer and strength coach Mickey Marotti set out to change that, primarily by removing any sense of entitlement and establishing a culture based on work ethic.

“When he came in, he wanted to clean out Ohio State,” Bennett said. “He thought we weren’t very good guys and wanted to get rid of all the refuse. Now he has kind of slowed down on that warpath thing. He’s starting to get to know the guys a lot better.

“I remember that last year he didn’t want anybody to ask the question, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Just do it. It wastes time to ask why.’ This year, he’s like, ‘We’re going to teach you the why so you are more open to it and you accept it.’ ”

The key moment in Ohio State’s 2012 season came in the pregame speech against Michigan State when Meyer told his players to stop evaluating decisions by coaches and just do what they were asked. It worked for that team, but now Meyer can see that explanation matters.

When he was growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer said he resisted certain temptations because he knew he would face the wrath of his father if he didn’t.

“I saw other people doing stuff. ‘Hey do you want to do this?’ ” he said. “(I thought), ‘I don’t know if I want to or not. It doesn’t matter because I’ll get my head knocked off my shoulders if I do it.’ We’re in a different era.”

Players today want to understand the rationale behind an edict.

“So we have ‘Why’ meetings constantly — about hydration, nutrition, sleep and obviously the drugs and alcohol issue that young people deal with,” he said.

Some of the change is a function of the work done by leadership consultant Tim Kight, who has given Meyer a systematic approach for instilling long-held values.

But it goes beyond that.

“The thing about Coach Meyer is that every single day he’s trying to improve himself,” Bennett said.

Miller spoke of having team-bonding functions, such as trips to Zoombezi Bay or a cookout at Meyer’s house.

“The first year, we didn’t really do team activities,” he said. “Now for the last couple months, we’ve been doing a lot of team activities, fun things that get people to trust each other and bring the team together.”

This is not to say that Meyer has become a softie. He still is the demanding, intense coach he always has been.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Heuerman said. “He’s still the sheriff in town. If you don’t do something right, he’ll let you know. Coach Mick will let you know, too. But I think we’ve all bought into the culture and all understand it. We don’t have as many hiccups as we did when they got here.”

If those issues were to reappear, Meyer would act quickly and sternly.

“If we had a team meeting tomorrow and five guys don’t show up, we go back to where we were,” he said. “We both have changed. The team gets it.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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