By V.R. BryantPublished September 1, 2012
By V. R. Bryant
When you’re a child, you relish the weather warming out of spring. It signifies the arrival of summer, and as such, summer break. The anticipation is almost too much to bear – a sensation that wanes as the weeks pass and the season dwindles.
When you’re an adult (in Columbus, at least), that feeling is more common now, at the beginning of fall. Temperatures – with any luck – drop a bit, kids go back to school, and Ohio State football looms close.
This year, things will be different. More different even than things were last year, when Luke Fickell inherited an unbroken, undisciplined colt of a team that Woody Hayes himself would have had a difficult time wrangling. It was a very unpredictable situation, the only relative certainty being that Fickell needed to perform a minor miracle to keep the job he’d been handed.
In 2012, there’ll be much less to ponder in that sense. There will be no bowl game. There will be no title, conference or otherwise. On the surface, one could argue that this year’s NCAA-stifled Ohio State football team doesn’t have much to play for.
Moreover, new head coach Urban Meyer will have this job for as long as he chooses, and with his hand on the tiller of this patched-up skiff of a program, we can hold reasonable hope that sanctions are a thing of the soon-to-be past. The waters look calm and clear.
Even the end of the season has been predetermined: still bloated from our Thanksgiving binge, most of us will sidle up to our televisions, the echoes of Ohio Stadium crackling across this flat, featureless landscape of ours, and we will watch the Buckeyes play the Wolverines once again.
And, win or lose, that will be all. At least for us.
Yet, for the fans, there is and will be plenty to talk about in 2012. Meyer, his new offense, his freshmen; where the team would rank, could rank, should rank … right down to what the Buckeyes would have been doing come January if they weren’t banned from the postseason.
For all the jabbering we the fans do, however, there’s something more important going on in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, on the practice field, in the locker room. Meyer runs counter to what people around here are used to seeing on the sidelines.
Last year, Fickell brought youth and energy – qualities that Meyer (at 48) has, too. But, he also brings the experience and pedigree that Fickell lacked. Jim Tressel was stately, smart, and conservative. Meyer commands respect in much the same way, yet is more direct and far less cryptic. John Cooper recruited well, as does Meyer. Unlike Coop, Meyer has been at his best in the biggest games. The differences abound.
But perhaps the biggest and most eyebrow-arching contrast of all is that Meyer wants a very specific kind of athlete, one wired in a very specific way.
He wants Warriors. Raiders. Conquerors. He says he wants a hungry, angry, pissed-off team.
If Tressel was The Senator, consider Urban Meyer the captain of the pirate ship Revenge.
No minced words. No pulled punches, no nonsense, and no excuses. You want to keep your spot on the ship? You’d better be prepared to fight for it. Meyer’s now-famous ‘circle drill’ keeps energy high and muscles taut. More importantly, it helps the team understand the concept of fight-or-flight.
“There are winners and losers,” said senior linebacker Etienne Sabino regarding the drill. “There’s no gray area.”
There’s no gray area for Meyer, either. From what people have seen and heard in the time he’s been at the helm, it isn’t so much ‘fight-or-flight’ as it is simply ‘fight.’ It’s a mentality. It’s what’s between your ears – intensity that we all saw in his Florida teams, whether we were able to admit it at the time or not, that we didn’t see in our own. Tressel will always be beloved, but he was rarely feared.
In every fight, Meyer has said, there’s a point at which one man, one team says, “Enough. It’s too much.” He simply won’t allow it. You quit, and you can consider yourself fired.
From the very beginning, he’s been far from reluctant about calling guys out. He demands effort and energy at all times. He demands results. And, as we all knew coming in, he demands sacrifice. His health and his family suffered once before as a result of the sacrifices he made in the name of football. While he now strives for balance in his own life, what he expects of his players hasn’t changed.
And how will this team respond? This is the third coach in as many years for most of these young men, and for all the confidence Meyer exudes, change is never easy.
Interestingly, a year ago, there was so little external hype, such low expectations from the fans and the media. A 6-7 finish – the team’s first losing record since 1988 – wasn’t what anyone had hoped for, clearly, but the circumstances were less than ideal. Now, with neither a Big Ten nor a BCS Championship in the cards, Meyer will still insist upon perfection – and so shall we.
Should that perfection be attained, Meyer will have exactly what he wanted: a pissed-off football team.