It’s a new day for Ohio State football — and for the program’s new coach. After nearly working himself to death while leading Florida to two national championships, Urban Meyer renovated his approach to life. Now he faces the task of restoring the Buckeyes’ honor after a year of off-field scandal and on-field mediocrity.
On a bright, clear day at the dawn of summer, the Ashtabula native discussed what lies ahead.
Can you describe the experience of walking into Ohio Stadium for the first time after you got the job?
I think it was probably a recruiting dinner. It’s a special feeling because I’ve always been a Buckeye. I’ve always been an Ohio State fan as long as I can remember. I understand the tradition, and I remember coming here as a kid and watching the Buckeyes play. It’s a feeling of awe. I have great love for this stadium.
The student newspaper framed you as the messiah coming to save Ohio State football. Are you used to people viewing you as a savior?
I’m just a football coach trying to do the right thing. I’ll do the best I can for Ohio State. I don’t look at that at all. I just look at it that college football is a big deal. Coaches have a responsibility to get their players ready to go. So our focus is on that and nothing else.
You were out in the thick of the action at the spring game. Are you usually that hands-on?
I try to get in the middle of most everything. And I just think especially in the spring game I want to hear what’s going on in the offensive huddle, so I try to get as close as I can and hear what’s going on and just watch how the players react in a game-like situation.
You had the players rally around for a blocking drill before the spring game. What’s that about?
It’s something we started a while back. It’s called the circle drill. It’s just a way to get our guys fired up and ready for the scrimmage. And I think our fans like to see some of the things we do. It’s good for fans as well as players. Let them be part of it.
What are some of your childhood memories of Ohio State football?
I grew up in the Archie Griffin/Woody Hayes era, so that’s when I was first exposed. And Archie was my guy. I wore No. 45 in high school, and I was a big admirer of Coach Hayes. And that’s the Ohio State football that I knew, like everyone else.
You were around the program in the ’80s. Have you noticed any differences around here since you came back?
I came back with ESPN last year for a game, and that was the first time I’ve been in the stadium since ’87. And I was completely blown away. It was just much different, much bigger. The campus is much bigger. However, the traditions and the scarlet and grey and the Buckeye leaves on the helmet, it’s still the same. So it’s gotten better, but it’s always going to be great.
College football is probably the sport where each individual game matters most. Since there’s no bowl game this year, does that mean every game matters even more?
I don’t know. I’m still working on how we’re going to handle this season as far as motivation. But we’re going to treat each game like I always have: Do your best to win each game. We’re not worried about down the road. You start worrying about something down the road, you overlook something or someone. So it’s going to be the same approach we’ve always had.
Your last job was at an SEC school. There is a lot of hype about SEC supremacy. Do you feel like the Big Ten has something to prove?
I think the SEC’s won five or six national championships in a row. They’re the No. 1 conference. But it’s usually cyclical. The Big Ten was No. 1 at one point, and this is a great conference. And we’re going to do our best to make the Big Ten the best conference in America.
Has the circus around this job been more intense than in previous jobs, or is this crazy everywhere in major college football?
It’s very similar to where I was at at Florida, when you’re talking about one of the top five programs and extremely high expectations. You’d expect it. I was more taken by surprise at Florida because that was the first time.
Have you had any crazy interactions with fans?
No, the thing that’s been crazy is everyone has access now to write whatever they want to write. Everybody’s a reporter. “I’m going to report this story.” What story? So that’s probably been the biggest surprise and at times disappointment was just nonstop, whether it be positive or negative, everybody’s got an opinion. If you have an opinion, you write it, and it makes its way into the cycle.
After everything that went down with Tressel, are you feeling more antsy than usual about keeping the guys in line? Like, if you see a player with a new tattoo, is that going to freak you out more than usual?
Well yeah, I’ve always been that way though, even before here. When I was at Florida and even Utah, I’m always worried about it. You can’t control what you can’t control. And I always try to educate our guys and keep our eyes wide open, and if you see something that doesn’t seem right, get in the middle of it. People are going to make mistakes. You’ve just got to do the right thing once they do. That’s the key.