By now, you’ve probably already seen the Urban Meyer quotes flying through Twitter and Facebook. Seeing Meyer unexpectedly dunk on a former assistant coach was not the way I was expecting to start my morning, personally, but here we are.
In case you missed what all the hubbub is about, Meyer spoke with Dennis Dodd at CBS about excuses some coaches make about the state of their roster when they take a new job, especially highlighting Tom Herman at Texas and Will Muschamp at Florida. Here’s the money quote:
"C'mon man. I don't know where that came from," Meyer told CBS Sports. "It's like a new generation of excuse. [Herman] said, 'I can't rub pixie dust on this thing.' He got a dose of reality. Maryland just scored 51 points on you."
If we look at this alone, it’s a valid, and kind of funny quote. After another breathless offseason of TEXAS IS BACK, the Longhorns did, in fact, give up 51 dang points, at HOME, to Maryland, and managed to lose even after Maryland’s starting QB left the game due to injury. According to the 247 Talent Composite Rankings, Texas has the 13th most talented roster in the country, with 36 blue-chip players. Maryland is 28th, with just 18.
That’s the fun quote, that makes the great social graphic, and that’ll be what probably drives the conversation over the next day or so. But personally, I think the most illuminating quotes from Urban Meyer come later in this interview.
Per Dodd, Meyer followed that burn with this important reminder.
"Players read that.”
Meyer is right. Players listen to these press conferences. They read the tweets. They know what’s being said about them, from their coaches, from major analysts, and even bloggers. Trust me. I have the DM receipts.
Certainly, not having “your players” is not an uncommon excuse for newer coaches, even if the sentiment is expressed slightly differently in public. But as Meyer points out in perhaps his most illuminating quote, that’s not a fair thing to say.
"Those are your players. I hear TV guys [say], 'Wait until they get their own players in there.' They're our players. What do you mean 'their players?' The minute you sign a contract, they're your players.
"You didn't choose me, I chose you. You're mine, absolutely. I love you, and I'm going to kick the shit out of you, and we're going to do it right …
When a coach takes a job, they aren’t just choosing a new, fatter paycheck, the school’s logo, donor base and geography. They’re also signing up to coach the current roster. The players did not sign up for that, and that distinction is critical.
I think if Meyer had wanted to complain about the roster he inherited when he took over Ohio State, in private anyway, that could have been justified. He had to play a fullback at linebacker because depth at that position was obliterated. Playmakers at wideout, or even the offense generally outside of Braxton Miller, were limited. The defensive line was not of the quality that Buckeye fans now take for granted. It certainly wasn’t a bad team, but there were significant holes, and it wasn’t championship quality.
That Buckeye team, of course, went 12-0. I know some fans think they were cheated out of a national title by Gene Smith, but I think if you take a serious, long look at that roster, and their game by game performances, you’d probably agree that was much closer to a 9-3 squad than a true national title contender. They finished 16th in S&P+ for a reason.
If Meyer put that team’s roster balance on blast, I missed it. Meyer instead said things like “The quote I'd like out there is I think this team could play and compete with any team in the United States of America as of now”, or imploring people to write a book about Zach Boren. His tendency to brag about players as the “best X I’ve been around” is almost a meme among those who write about Ohio State football.
That doesn’t mean that Meyer is soft on his players, or unafraid to critique them, or push them hard. It’s about knowing when, and where, to communicate.
There are plenty of college football coaches who are quick to offer excuses, even after starting with some sort of “I take responsibility” line in public. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly gets constantly roasted by the internet for this, for example, but there are plenty of others. So and So failed to execute, or had a bad attitude. Or the weather, or the Body Clocks, or the “Fat Little Girlfriends”, or a litany of other factors.
One of the hardest things about building a successful college football program isn’t just the talent acquisition, or the talent development, or the behind the scenes administrative mechanizations. It’s about building culture. It’s culture that coaxes consistency out of notoriously inconsistent 20 year old boys. It’s culture that pushes people to take those extra reps at the squat rack when their legs are on fire. It’s culture that encourages everybody to think outside of themselves. It’s why Meyer spends time, money and energy on culture and leadership training, and harps constantly on the power of the unit.
And that’s not just true of college football players. That’s true of successful companies and all organizations as well. You remember the boss who threw you under the bus in public to save himself. You didn’t give 100% for that boss.
I think Tom Herman understands this, and a charitable reading of his quote may indicate that’s what he actually meant to be talking about. And I think Meyer understands it even better now, seeing as his track record over the course of his entire career is certainly not spotless (see, Florida era).
Building that culture, I think, requires the total trust and buy-in of players. It requires players to believe that coaches value them holistically, a value that may be rare in a world where coaches can change jobs and abandon rosters at will, and are sorely tempted to pull redshirts or perform other actions with their, and not the player’s, best interest at heart.
All of this is not easy to do. Not for a football team. Not for a media company. Not for a sales team. Not for a church. Not for almost any organization.
The dunking on Texas is funny, because a team with the budget that’s larger than the GDP of small countries losing to Maryland is funny.
But it’s worth digging into the whole interview here. Meyer, in my opinion, has a point.
When you lose a game you should win, blame yourself. Eat crappy pizza in a lonely stadium concourse. Get memed by a marching band. That’s the gig.
But don’t blame the kids. At least, not from the podium. Because it ain’t just bloggers that are watching. The players are too. And they’ll remember.