First year Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, via Chicago.
Debuting at his first Big Ten Media Days, Urban Meyer appeared at ease. Being no stranger to these sorts of affairs, Meyer addressed a number of questions, mostly focusing on the differences between the Big Ten and the SEC (which given his almost unprecedented success while at Florida is hardly a surprise).
Meyer took the stage following Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, and Purdue's Danny Hope, opening with a brief, concise, prepared statement:
Thank you and I'm honored to be here representing the Big Ten and Ohio State University. I look forward to starting training camp a week from Friday (August 3rd, 2012). With that I'll answer any questions.
Asked about how he felt about his inaugural group of Buckeyes, Meyer had the following to say:
I like our players, I like our team. We had a conditioning test that our players are telling me about. The energy level on our team in Columbus is real high right now. The thing I don't understand or have a real grasp of is our opposition, our opponents. I don't know the league real well. I'm anxious to get going.
On how he viewed the way the Big Ten played football before joining the conference as a head coach at one of the league's major power brokers and what he sees today:
You know the SEC the last few years was the king pin with the success they've had in the BCS. I watched a lot of Big Ten as we got ready to play in bowl games in recent years, though. I've seen the Big Ten change dramatically. Eight of the 12 teams are running some sort of spread offense right now. And then there's two option offenses and two traditional pro set offenses. That's obviously a dramatic change. There's some great defense in the league. There are several teams right now playing as good of defense as any teams in America.
The one thing about college football is that it's very cyclical. The Big Ten, for many, many years, was the number one conference in America. Right now, we're not. But there are a lot of coaches and players intent on making it the best conference in America.
On whether or not he viewed 2012 as a transitional process given the NCAA sanctions and the adjustments that will be necessary to get his particular brand of football to take in Columbus:
There's no such thing as a buffer year. Certainly not at Ohio State, not in college football. One of the concerns I have, I've shared with my athletic director, relates to the preparation time after our last game; the kids are gone. I've never had to deal with that before. That's a lot of times away from our guys. I'm going to do some research, i'm going to continue to do some research. We've got to put together a plan in place and that's obviously going to be for the '13 season. But we're going to line up and try to win every game we play.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, when pressed on whether or not he has a problem with the way schools are soliciting current student athletes at Penn State, Meyer had the following to add:
I have a problem with that. Yeah, I have a problem with that.
When asked on a follow up to elaborate Meyer added (and made it clear Ohio State won't be actively pursuing any current Penn State players):
I don't know enough about it. I don't know enough about the rules. If a player reaches out and says he wants out of here, "I'm gone", he should have the right to go where he wants. To actively go get a player on another team? I'm not sure. I really don't understand the rules. A young man has a right to play wherever he wants to play. However, when he's part of a team, you're getting in a situation I'm not quite very familiar with.
We're not going to get very familiar with it.
After a reporter pointed out the charges against Jake Stoneburner were dropped (which editorial aside, were they? I thought that report was proven false/out of date/inaccurate) and asked about how he felt about he and Jack Mewhort returning to the team, Meyer added:
Yeah, they're not reinstated yet. They are actively working out. They do have the fulfil their penance or obligation we've asked them to do. Obviously the kind of people that they are, the families that they are from, we took away their scholarships. They had to pay for their summer schools. That was a very expensive mistake. As of right now they'll be reporting to training camp a week from Friday.
In one of the odder questions of the session, a reporter asked Meyer to elaborate on the concept of reverence in college football, particularly with how it pertains to the NCAA and Penn State. The reporter wanted to get at who in his life (professionally and personally) helps keep him balanced and gives him perspective to prevent something like at Penn State from occurring. On the topic, Meyer stated:
That's a tough question. I'm not quite sure what you're asking. You said reverence?
There's a lot of things in my life, but I've never approached [reverence] that way. How do I keep things in order, in check ? Humility and also understanding we're a product of what's around us. It's never about the head football coach. It's about the players and the second most important thing is the group of choices. There's a very clear delineation of who's in charge. I report to somewhere.
So the word reverence? I've never really had to deal with it. I've never even looked at it that way.
Next, Meyer was pressed to elaborate on what it would take for the Big Ten as a conference to reach the level of the SEC:
They have to win. They have to go win some bowl games. The bottom line is go win. However, how far are we from doing that? Coaches that have been in the conference for a while will know better than I do. When you ask me at this time next year, I'll know a lot better. I know one thing, I know there are some very, very good teams in this conference, so I anticipate winning is not that far off.
Asked on what challenges, if any, were created by the NCAA's sanctinos on Ohio State and how he's felt the team has dealt with the issues introduced there in?
We talked about this last December when we got hit. We got hit with that 2x4 that said "you can't go to a bowl game" It was a two and a half week barrage of negativism. Number one is a recruiting issue, we had to deal with (Penn state will too). You find out who wants to really be an Ohio State Buckeye. There aren't going to be half ins, anymore.
Number two thing I had deal with is the free agency part of the process. Our seniors were allowed to leave. We were very fortunate that none did. The third component is not being able to play in a bowl. I"m still struggling with that a little bit but I have some incredible leaders on this team. We've started a leadership committee. At the appropriate time, we're going to start having these conversations with them [about not playing in a bowl].
The offseason's going too well [to do that now].
On what spending a year in the broadcast booth did in terms of giving him perspective, Meyer stated:
It gave me a great respect for what you folks do. Especially for those that do it the right way and are respectful. It gave me an opportunity to go visit some other programs. You can't do that [as an active coach]. It gives you an opportunity to visit other staffs. Maybe it's paranoia, but previously we didn't let anybody in (or anybody out). To be able to go discuss college football with your peers on a very open basis? I feel like I'm a better coach now. There's a lot of effort that goes into covering the sport.
In terms of the purported feud between he and Bielema going back to Bielema taking exception allegedly with how Meyer, et al were recruiting:
We have a very, very good relationship. You'd have to ask Coach [Bielema], but we get along fine. We had a conversation about it at the Big Ten Meetings in February. A lot of the things that were reported weren't said. We stand exactly by how we do things. Once again, it hasn't been discussed again. There's absolutely no problem with the way Ohio State does their business. That comes from the fellow coaches in the Big Ten Conference.
There's a very good relationship with everyone in that room at the Big Ten Conference.
On the single biggest difference between the SEC and Big Ten being the defensive front 7 speed, Meyer said:
I think that might be it. I also think overall team speeds. We're addressing it. I notice it in special teams and in spring practice. Whether you're 3 or 4, your next best player. I think in overall athleticism, we're a little bit behind. But we're recruiting with that in mind.
I think without question, I'm not the only one that say that. The defensive front 7 is the overall difference maker, but it's a little bit deeper than that.
In terms of what he thought about the forthcoming matchup with Bill O'Brien, Meyer spoke of knowing O'Brien's mentors George O'Leery and Bill Belichick adding what he was thinking about in terms of that game specifically:
[I'm thinking about] having a very good plan on 3rd down and 6, taking care of the football, tackling well. I can't speak for Coach O'Brien. I have a lot of respect for how he's handling everything and what he's saying, but I know how he's thinking. "Have a 45% conversion [rate] on 3rd down." That's what coaches think about. They're not worried about "the stuff", just making sure they execute on Saturday's.
And finally, on whether he planned to do anything different to add to the importance of The Game between Ohio State and Michigan at season's end:
Sure. I don't know if you can add any more importance to it, and the big reason is hopefully because there are two really good football teams that are going to play each other [then]. Hopefully there's going to be a buzz about it. I haven't made a decision about how we're going to tackle that, other than it's the biggest game of the year.
He closed by thanking the crowd, breaking the social media platform Twitter in the process with his sheer charisma and presence.