A little over a week ago, Eleven Warriors posted a poll on the site asking whether Urban Meyer has to win a title for his tenure to be considered a successful one. Although it wasn’t expressly stated, the “title” refers to a national championship and not merely, say…a Pinstripe Bowl title.
In perhaps the most lopsided poll in 11W history, nearly 1,200 voters overwhelmingly said “yes.” More than 90% of you (92%, to be precise, as of this writing) determined that a national championship is a requirement for considering Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State a successful one.
Obviously a national championship (or multiple championships) is the desired outcome. I think we’d all be happy if Ohio State never lost again. That’s not an entirely realistic expectation, as much as we’d like it to be. But is it realistic to expect a national title under Meyer?
The quick and easy answer is yes, it is. After all, Meyer did it twice at Florida. Ohio State lands elite talent each year on the recruiting trail. And the Buckeyes have all the facilities and resources to produce a championship-caliber team seemingly every single year.
Still, championships are incredibly hard to attain. Even James Patrick Tressel, a man who left with one of the highest winning percentages in college football history, won only one out of three national championship games. And getting to that game was easier than it will be to reach the playoffs and then advance past a minimum of two elite opponents—more when playoffs are eventually expanded—to win a title.
It’s realistic to desire a championship, but given these new circumstances, is it realistic to “expect” one? Or to consider Urban Meyer a “failure” as an Ohio State coach if he doesn’t win one?
That’s a tough standard to hold someone to.
Let’s consider two coaches. Coach “A” won 76% of his games and 79% of his Big Ten games. Coach “B” won 75% of his total games and 77% of his B1G contests. Both coached for nine or more seasons in Columbus. Going simply by those numbers, Coach A was only slightly more successful than Coach B. Both won AFCA and Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year awards.
But one of those coaches is much more highly considered than the other. Coach A won five national championships. Coach B didn’t win a single one. Both men won five postseason games. But Coach A won 13 Big Ten titles and Coach B won four. Yet Coach B never had a losing season at Ohio State, while Coach A had two.
Coach A (Woody Hayes) and Coach B (Earle Bruce) are both generally fondly recalled by Buckeye Nation as successful coaches, despite Bruce not winning a championship.
Tressel had a higher overall (81%) and conference (81%) winning percentage than either Hayes or Bruce (or anyone else prior—except mighty John Eckstorm, who equaled the 81% overall winning percentage in 29 games from 1899-1901). By anyone’s account, Tressel was a very successful coach at Ohio State.
All Meyer has done in two seasons is post an overall winning percentage of 92% and a perfect regular-season conference record of 16-0. Sure, he’s 0-2 in the postseason (so far), but if there is anyone who thinks he has been “unsuccessful” at Ohio State, that is a very difficult person to please.
How long will Meyer coach the Buckeyes? Given his past medical history, there’s really no way to tell. It could all end after the 2014 season or 10 years from now. It all depends on how he copes with the pressure, adheres to his doctors’ advice, and follows his family contract.
Let’s say he coaches Ohio State for 10 years, of which two have already passed. How many title games do people realistically think he can reach? Even reaching the four-team playoff in the next eight years would be considered by most rational folks to be a smashing success. Putting your team in the top four isn’t easy.
It would most likely mean a Big Ten title game win those years, which in itself has become a more difficult accomplishment since the B1G Championship Game was installed.
Meyer would then have a 1-in-4 chance in both of those playoff seasons in order to claim a national championship. The other three top teams in the nation would have a lot of say in whether or not Ohio State reached the pinnacle. That’s back-to-back games against top-four teams.
While I wouldn’t bet against Meyer reaching more than two playoffs, or even winning multiple titles, this is absolutely no sure thing. Yet 92% of the voters in our poll would consider Meyer a failure if it doesn’t happen?
Rather than focus on championships, I’ll choose to enjoy the ride. If history has taught us anything, it is that we will see some spectacular victories and some crushing defeats. We’ll be delightfully surprised by some favorable results and shocked and dismayed when expected victories fall short.
In this way, college football reflects life. Better to enjoy the good times as they come than to place lofty expectations that are difficult to attain.
If Meyer maintains his winning percentage, or anything above Tressel’s, he’ll be a success in my book, championship or not.
*Addendum: Commenter BroJim brought up a good point about The Game. We generally consider Ohio State coaches successful if they have high winning percentages and beat Michigan. Woody was 16-11-1 vs. TTUN and Earle was 5-4 for Earle. They are fondly remembered. We're harsh on John Cooper largely because he was 2-10-1 in the game. And of course Tressel posted a ridiculous 9-1 mark. So far, so good for Meyer (2-0).