Beyond The Winners Manual

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 22, 2012 at 10:00a
Prelude to a catastrophe.You only live twice: Once when you're born and once when you look death in the face. - Ian Flemming

To the informed observer - yes, that would be you - the photograph above is as haunting of a football image as you can imagine.

Ohio State is the undefeated Big Ten champion, carrying a wire-to-wire #1 ranking and having vanquished two second-ranked challengers with one more left to defeat in order to claim its second BCS title in five seasons. Ted Ginn Jr has just fielded a kick which he will return for a touchdown for the seventh time in his three-year career.

At this moment, all is well. You waited almost eight weeks following the win over #2 Michigan to get to this instant. At this moment in January of 2007 you believed you were four hours from experiencing the capstone on an undefeated season that began to materialize back in November of 2005.

This photograph is haunting not only because of how those devastating four hours transpired, but because of the damage those four hours levied not only to the entirety of the Buckeyes' 2006 season but to the overall Ohio State football brand. The collapse against Florida scarred every single memory from that year.

The irony wasn't lost on anyone then, nor is it any less obscure right now: Ohio State's adversary came from within. Urban Meyer's incursion on Ohio State's entitlement wasn't quite the same 1969-Schembechleresque type of inside job, but Meyer was still a native son with strong Buckeye bloodlines.

The architect of the Buckeyes' destruction in Glendale (with apologies to Troy Smith's In-N-Out Burger soliloquies and all of those gravy boats of entitlement and beef tallow on the banquet circuit which were merely checked luggage on this Hindenburg) is now back in the barn after a 25-year sabbatical from the Ohio State sideline.

Meyer coming to Ohio State doesn't change that night in Glendale, but it does significantly alter how the business of Ohio State football is conducted.

Making meaningful changes to a program that achieved the level of success Jim Tressel enjoyed over the last decade would normally be greeted with some degree of skepticism. After all, Tressel went 106-22* and ended his tenure with a sixth* consecutive conference title.

Meyer's Town Hall meetings were big at Florida too.

You won't find another streak like that anywhere in school history. Preserving Tressel's approach to guiding the program - his documented compliance challenges aside - would virtually guarantee that a similar run couldn't occur in the future.

As we painfully learned in 2011, Tresselball without Tressel is nothing we ever want to experience again.

This is where Meyer's track record, Ohio roots and historically-transparent methods all collide. We got a glimpse into the future with his immediate impact on the recruiting trail, resuscitating the beleaguered program with a strong finish to the incoming 2012 class that still seems impossible.

Spring football took on an entirely different direction from its largely mundane past: The competition was more livelier. The conditioning program was more rigorous. The largely-manufactured optimism was replaced by comments about the receiving corps being substandard and the offensive line being in unacceptable physical condition.

Suddenly, Ohio State's own self-assessment overlapped with that of its most ardent observers, instead of delivering meandering coachspeak insulated from scrutiny on account of a 106-22* record.

Meyer's Spring was very still formulaic, but this was an entirely new and different formula. It's been proven to work, too; just refer back to that haunting photo at the top if you need a reminder of its efficacy.

take me to your leader

Last week's Town Hall meeting served as much more than just an open display of outreach and fanfare for Ohio State's current inhabitants.

"It basically capped off and ended an 18-month transitional span," said Jared Kamrass, who served as the event's student emcee.

The junior Political Science and Strategic Communications major was appointed to the university's athletic council in June of 2010 and is now finishing the second year of that two-year term. He was recently appointed to another two-year term and will continue to serve in the same capacity, which exposes him to the inner workings of, among other things, the Buckeye football program.

The council consists of Kamrass, another undergraduate student, one graduate student and one advanced-degree candidate, all of whom are heavily-involved in the decision-making around the NCAA. So when Kamrass suggests last week's Town Hall capped an 18-month span, it's consistent with his tenure on the council.

"I've served on the council for two years," said Kamrass, "and I'm on my third football coach."

The underlying allegations of Tatgate surfaced in December 2010, six months after Kamrass began serving what eventually became his first of two terms.

"Those 18 months included the initial allegations, Coach Tressel's exit from the program, the 'lost year' during which the program was in limbo, our hiring process, the release of the NCAA's sanctions and now this Town Hall," said Kamrass.

"Brah, in the first row. Not you, brah - the other brah. Yeah, you. G'ahead, brah."Vrabel - only in his second year - is a staff veteran. (Pic: OSU)

"Beyond his initial press conference and the basketball game where his staff was presented, the Town Hall was the first opportunity for students to meet him in an informal setting."

While the event was branded as "The Urban Meyer Student Town Hall Meeting" it was anything but the Urban Meyer show. The event is simply one of the distinctly Meyeresque methods he has developed and made portable throughout his coaching career.

In this first edition at Ohio State it took on greater significance because technically, Meyer's predecessor isn't Tressel. It's Luke Fickell, who now reports to Meyer.

"People are so grateful to Coach Fickell for his stewardship during what was obviously a terribly difficult situation," said Kamrass. "Coach Meyer had no working relationship with Coach Fickell when he arrived here, and he acknowledged how important he was to maintaining continuity."

"Coach Meyer hasn't made Coach Fickell any less visible; on the contrary - he's deliberately worked to give him a larger platform in the community. It's a true partnership."

A partnership that should pay dividends for both the program as well as both men on a personal level.

"Coach Fickell was the head coach for most of the players on this roster," said Kamrass. "Coach Meyer realizes he cannot just abruptly relegate Coach Fickell to a position role. He needs Luke as much as Luke needs him."

Fickell has not made it a secret that he has head coaching aspirations and said as such when he was introduced last summer as Tressel's interim replacement. Meyer needs Fickell for program continuity; Fickell needs Meyer for the same reason as well as for his own career.

At the same time, Meyer has made no secret that he cannot continue down the same path that jeopardized his health at Florida. He won't be in his office 80 hours a week, and a stabilizing force like Fickell who has lived the role is a significant asset to Meyer holding up his end of the bargain with his family.

"They have such different personalities," said Kamrass. "They're equally hard-working and have the same values. It's obvious they get along great, even though their relationship basically started as a shotgun marriage, it's worked out even better than (the university athletic council) had hoped."

"When the day arrives that Coach Fickell is offered a head coaching position, he will part with Meyer on very good terms."

something new; something borrowed

When Tressel arrived in 2001 he retained Jim Heacock from John Cooper's staff. There was some familiarity between them from their days at I-AA Youngstown State and Illinois State, respectively.

Similarly, Meyer knew Stan Drayton, who came to Ohio State from Florida prior to last season. Fickell and Mike Vrabel were unknown commodities to him, but they both possessed three important attributes that directly resulted in their retention: Coaching ability, recruiting appetite and Ohio roots.

"Coach Vrabel absolutely loves the role he has now," said Kamrass. "It's not secret to anyone that he and Luke are best friends. They're both Ohio State guys. They're home."

The rest of the staff may be new to Ohio State, but with only one exception they all have those three vital attributes possessed by Vrabel and Fickell.

MAKE YOU STRONGAS&C Coach Mickey Marroti did the drill at Florida as well.

"Tim Hinton earned his master's degree from Ohio State during Meyer's final year as a Buckeye assistant," said Kamrass.

"Kerry Coombs is a Cincinnati legend. Mickey Marotti attended Ohio State and was a grad assistant. Every single coach on the staff except for Everett Withers has roots here. They're all recruiters. They're all great coaches. They almost all have Ohio roots."

Those who follow recruiting closely will note that while Ohio roots may hold importance for the coaching staff, the players being pursued have a decidedly-national flavor not seen since the Cooper era. This is a marked departure from how Tressel's staff operated.

"I don't think you'll see a 'pipeline' type of school for Ohio State recruiting," said Kamrass. The days of taking a Glenville kid every single year are over. Coach Meyer will bring in kids from Omaha, Providence, San Francisco - it doesn't matter. If he's the most talented kid, he will be pursued regardless of geography."

That doesn't mean Ohio will be neglected or ignored during that all-important second season.

"The lifeblood of Ohio State football is Ohio high school football, and Coach Meyer not only understands that - embraces that," said Kamrass. "Look at the recruiting map in the (Woody Hayes Athletic Center) and there’s still much more focus on the Ohio map than the national map."

buckeyes, everywhere

"All things being equal - the coaches will pursue the Ohio kid," said Kamrass.

That philosophy isn't terribly different from Tressel's, though he was known to keep more than a couple 'casual recruiters' on his staff, most notably Jim Bollman and Heacock.

"The biggest difference is that Mark Pantoni is doing a lot more homework and due dilligence to find the kids from outside Ohio than what was done before," said Kamrass. "They're still going to find the bulk of their kids from Ohio high schools."

"The staff understands high school powerhouses and appreciates the relationship, but they're going after the best players," said Kamrass. "There's no point to having a talented kid on the roster if he cannot stay eligible. I don't think you'll see as many academic risks as you did in the past."

The aforementioned Glenville pipeline was very inconsistent in this regard: For every Troy Smith and Ginn Jr-type of success there seemed to be at least three fellow high school alumni who couldn't survive as college students. It's widely-known that Tressel himself went to admissions to make a case for Ray Small, who was flamed out of school in predictable fashion.

Despite the academic risks Tressel took, APR was never higher at Ohio State than it was in his final season. Meyer has no plans to jeopardize the standard; as with on-the-field strategy he has a different philosophy for the classroom.

"Both men have very different ways of breeding success," said Kamrass. "Tressel was far more laid back. Players were more accountable to themselves than the coaching staff. They kept track of their own progress."

"With Coach Meyer it's all about intensity," said Kamrass. "Players are still accountable to themselves, but they're accountable to the coaches too. The intensity is not just on the field during practice. It's the same mentality."

Everything is 100%. The same intensity you see during practice at the Woody carries into the classroom now."

And to the informed observer - yes, that would be you - this intensity uptick has been welcomed by program holdovers as warmly as you would have imagined.


Comments Show All Comments

M Man's picture

I can't believe that I am the first to comment on this wonderful bit of sportswriting.  The Dispatch has some really excellent sportswriters; but this must make them envious.
The hold-your breath moment of Teddy Ginn Jr. running back that kick is such a great touch.  Injured, in the end, by the endzone-celebration...
Great writing, Ramzy.  Well done all the way around.

buckeye76BHop's picture

I'm sure in some strange way that makes you feel special...too bad this isn't a TTUN site...which to me...makes this blog all that more strange.  Oh well...thanks for coming to check out OSU stuff MMAN;-)

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

MediBuck's picture

I'm always amazed by how polite and levelheaded you are on this site, M Man. Never thought I'd say this to an Ann Arbor puller, but your respectful opinion is definitely a boon for 11W :)

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

Ethos's picture

I had never been more sure we lost a game then when I saw Ginn injured at the end of that play.  AT that moment I turned to my friends and said "well that's it".  I of course am now blamed by all of them for the loss.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Alhan's picture

So YOU'RE the one!  I'll be sure to let all my family and friends know so we can curse you each night before bed.

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

Ethos's picture

haha, every time Florida scored they all glared at me haha

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Poison nuts's picture

Damn you (shakes fist).

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

741's picture

That photo represents the singular moment of anticipation and joy I experienced while inside that godforsaken stadium.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I agree with M Man, very nice piece of sportswriting, Ramzy! Pithy yet thoughtful, with each paragraph building on the previous paragraph. Another 11W classic.

spqr2008's picture

I love the Bond quote to start off the piece

3technique's picture

I still remember that moment. I was jumping around! It was the last amount of joy. Aside from the dismantling of out Oline I felt the players looked soft. That game changed tressel's recruiting philosphy completely and led to getting guys like Shazier!

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

That game was a nightmare to every single Buckeye fan - even worse for me, I had a city full of beered up Gator fans to add salt to a gapping wound.  Since Urban was hired at OSU, that game only emphasizes what could be an incredible era forming in Columbus and opening game day cannot arrive quick enough!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

buckeye76BHop's picture

As I disagreed harshly over your opinion(s) over the up coming play off systems, I must agree wholeheartedly with you on this one.  I feel UFM victory over his favorite team just proves how he'll win as our coach...I'm SO PUMPED! I tell my wife all the time I wish I could make a time machine and go forward in time to 2013 lol ;-)  I have an eerie feeling this year will end with us wondering what could have been if the bowl ban never happened...gotta love ole GS and Gee...they're SO SMART aren't they...???  Anyone hear about Miami "U" or Penn St. yet....????  Oh that's right...we won't be hearing anything about them...bc there won't be any NCAA sanctions coming their way!  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

Devin1024's picture

What a great article!  This is the kind of writing that has kept me coming back to the site for so long!

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

You are prolific, Ramzy. If Urban were a writing coach, he would love your motor.
Loved TRessel, but the '07 game epitomized my frustration with him: He preached managing the game so much that the players would sometimes try to manage the game instead of playing to win.
Now I can't wait to see the Buckeyes play with their hair on fire!

buckeye76BHop's picture

Great piece Ramzy...and as I've always said to many, you can't compare what Tress did to what Urban's about ready to do (or possibly may do better).  The run VS. TTUN will not be beat bc Urban won't be there long enough and as for the other things like games VS. top SEC teams in Nat. Title or other yet to be seen.  All I know is I've wanted Urban since that night after the pic above was taken (that Teddy G Jr. KR only thing to get excited about and then cry about due to sadness right after...and for the next 3+ quarters of that game was all crying).  Urban's relentlessness and intensity will be the difference between him and Tress.  As well as Urban's will to create a coaching staff to make these kids machines on and off the field (not too many were left wondering why Fickel, Vrabel and Drayton were the only ones kept on staff lol).  So far A+ in my book and I'm sure it will be after 5 to 6 years or so.  I just hope Urban stays longer than 6 years ;-)

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

DefendOhio's picture

Glenville had Donte Whitner too, just sayin. Great article though.

cplunk's picture

My fav defensive player of all time. Not the best of all time- thats a high hurdle at OSU- but my fav.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Don't sell him short man, Whittner was a beast. He pushes Doss on my all time 00's Safety Depth Chart.

poop's picture

First play of the game: Booyah! There's some speed for ya! What now b*tches!
After that: <Windows blue screen>
Then Michigan went and got demolished by USC. The sugar coating came off and, even though no one wanted to admit it, the B1G's reputation was severely damaged. Even though Tressel dominated the conference I still can't help but feel that it dulls the shine of his accomplishments a tad, especially after some the embarrassing losses to the elite teams. Even if we're not as consistently good as the Tressel teams I hope Meyer can thump the USCs and Alabamas of the world while laying waste to the B1G most years. Oh and awesome job Ramzy.

German Buckeye's picture

I love the picture captions when you mouse over them - hilarious! 
Ramzy is a 11W legend which I hope and pray never leaves the 11W family for more mainstream journalistic associations.  Although he should be making some serious coin being a freelancer...Ramzy you are doing that I hope....

BTwrestle04's picture

I have never experienced such a high after that kick to such a low going into half-time in my entire life. I remember seeing Urban Meyer in the Phoenix airport after he kicked our ass with a giant grin on his face. I'd never dispised a coach so much in my life. Never figured at that moment he would be the coach of my team. 

Maestro's picture

The parenthetic portion of paragraph 6 might be the best parenthtic reference that I have ever read. I live in parethetic references so they mean a lot to me. Fantastic writing and I am so freking ready for the season to start that I can smell a sweaty locker room in my memory (did you know that smell is very strongly tied to memories and right next to Grandma's chocolate chip cookies a sweaty locker room is forever a scent that I will never forget).

vacuuming sucks

pcon258's picture

this, ladies and gentlemen, is why espn is going to be forced to adapt (hopefully to just carrying sporting events, and no commentary). People like ramzy who are better writers, have better information, better insight, less hateable (Stephen A. Smith...), than anyone sports analyst we see on ESPN or any other network. And though I doubt anyone on 11w will ever top barry melrose, it is sites like this that will finally crack espn's monopoly

ShadyBuckeye's picture

cant say we would've won if Ted Ginn didnt get hurt on the first play but I damn sure know the score wouldnt of been 41-14. 41 points? thats like 4 or 5 additional kickoffs ted ginn gets to return, not to mention punts as well. Obviously losing ur #1 receiver doesnt help, kinda like Rob Gronkowski in the super bowl, if hes healthy I say the Pats win. when Ginn went down I had the same reaction as "ETHOS" did.... who's to say some of our players didnt have that same reaction as well. Idk, Ive went over this game 1,000 times in my head with a 1,000 different excuses. i'll never know what went wrong, hopefully the 11W staff can talk to UFM himself and ask him.

buckeye76BHop's picture

FL D-line kicked our Offensive Lines ass on every play on almost every down.  Not to mention our Offense was predictable (even though it may have been the best statistically in Tress's history). Anyways...the list is LONG and UFM having almost a month to prepare for that predictable offense probably would be one thing he'd say played a LARGE role Shady B...IMO any ways ;-)

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

ShadyBuckeye's picture

yeah I guess I overthink it sometimes. Like a napoleon complex syndrome or whatever its called. How could the best OSU team I ever saw get manhandled like that. ur right it really came down to our O-line getting its butt kicked on EVERY SINGLE PLAY and the lack of creativity on offense. aw well, now we have Urban Meyer, now we're recruiting plenty of thoroughbreads on the D-Line, now we can make some other fan base feel like I did that night. although I dont wish that on anyone... except SEC fans:)

WoodysGlasses's picture

As long as Meyer makes OLine more of a priority than Tressel, we should be fine. 

Kurt's picture

That game was about much more than an offensive line getting beat up by a defensive line.  It was about a team with coaches using great schemes trouncing a team with great coaches (minus Bollman) using out-dated schemes.  We had the talen in that one.

WoodysGlasses's picture

Don't you mean Greg Mattison having a month to prepare?  Haha jk...

M Man's picture

I see what you did there.

Bucksfan's picture

I hate that game.  I hate the SEC.  I hate admitting Ohio State deserves a lot of the blame for the SEC's current dominance of college football.  I hate the fact that Ohio State for whatever reason cannot seem to win one of those god-forsaken 2nd-tier bowls and shut those *ssholes up when all the other Big Ten teams seem to have no problem winning one.
This is like a cold that won't go away.  I'm constantly hacking up slime in the shape of the SEC logo.
It's possible I need therapy.
I'm going to go hump the fridge.

Maestro's picture

Use lube.

vacuuming sucks

yrro's picture

And the Rose and Sugar Bowl wins had (I thought) finally put an end to that mess, when the whole Tattoo mess threw it all out the window again.

Buckeyeholicwompa's picture

There's some what if's we'll all have after the armageddon in the desert in January 2007. My biggest one is what if OSU was playing with their hair on fire? What if the play calling was like that when Tressel played against TSUN? I think it would have been a hell of a game if it was high scoring and close. Similar to when we won the 2002 title. Nowadays I only see it is if that entire 2006 football team treated that one game like it was the last game they were ever gonna play and each held the intensity up but I think after TSUN, that whole team laid back and felt like they accomplished enough. And most of all.........that ain't gonna happen with Urban, I guarantee it.

WoodysGlasses's picture

What makes you so sure?

BSTP DeCon's picture

Meyer's bowl record appears pretty solid

RedStorm45's picture

The '02 Title game was 17-17 at the end of regulation thanks to a last second Miami FG, not exactly high scoring.

OfficerRabbit's picture

That game was during my senior year of college.. my housemates and I threw a big party for it. I curse the guy who came up with, "lets do a shot every time Florida scores, and shot-gun a beer every time we score". My only really clear memory is seeing how slow and helpless our offensive line looked.... every damn play. Maybe TSmith did come in out of shape, but Vick in his prime couldn't have done much behind that O-line that night.



ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I'm glad I watched that game at someone else's place, because if I watched that at home, I'd have thrown shit, and probably have broken the TV, among other things.  I'd have screamed, cussed, and probably had a sore throat the next few days.  I don't even want to know what happened - I just want to forget about that game and pretend that it didn't happen.  Vacate that. 
Love the article.  Love what this new coaching staff is bringing to this team.  If Michigan thought they were revitalized - we didn't suck for the last 3 years.  We had the one 6-7 season where we were really 5 or 6 scores away from once again being a 10 win team and a contender in the conference race.

Class of 2010.

RedStorm45's picture

I like how the score was so bad that no one ever really got too pissed at Roy Hall (i.e. it didn't get to Ryan Hamby death threat levels) for stepping on Ginn's ankle/foot.  I remember being pretty pissed at all of our defensive coverages and how easy they exploited it.  That said, the defense was really young (a lot of sophs), while they offense featured more juniors and seniors.  Sure didn't help being the only undefeated team having toppled two #2's already...there was just no motivation or will and you could see it.