Urban Meyer knows all about trying to win again after reaching the pinnacle of college football. He did it twice at Florida, with the pressure of following through on a second national title driving him ill, ending with a hospital visit and ultimately early retirement.
You know the story. Meyer stepped away from coaching for a year to work as an ESPN analyst before heeding a phone call from Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith and accepting the head coaching position at the place where he got his start in college coaching under Earle Bruce.
Three years later, the Buckeyes took home the first-ever national championship of the Playoff era.
Early in year four, however, Meyer and his coaching staff are doing their best not to let the national championship banner hanging above them at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center be cause for distraction.
"It's borderline insanity on how we're just nine strong, nine strong, nine strong," Meyer said Monday. "I just want to see nine units perform."
Ohio State fall camp isn't even a week old, the main reason Meyer and Co. are preaching the basic fundamentals to their players despite returning 15 starters from a team many think is primed for a repeat.
"It's borderline insanity on how we're just nine strong, nine strong, nine strong. I just want to see nine units perform."– Urban Meyer
The Buckeyes have holes to fill even though there's so much talent coming back, mainly on the defensive line, wide receiver and finally cornerback. Able bodies are present due to a series of stellar recruiting classes, but Meyer wants nothing more than to keep that talent grounded and yearning for improvement.
"We make it very uncomfortable still and sometimes it just makes us find other ways to create that discomfort. We didn’t have to do that last year," co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said Wednesday. "We had a lot of outside sources that helped create that discomfort and that challenge to them mentally."
National pundits wrote Ohio State off following a Week 2 home loss to Virginia Tech, and then again when J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the regular season finale against Michigan.
It's different this year. Outsiders believe the Buckeyes will rip through their schedule with ease and make the College Football Playoff once again.
"We have a lot of things we need to improve on. We had a lot of guys who didn't go through spring. We have to get our chemistry back, our continuity back," offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said Wednesday. "Then everybody's got to earn their right to their spot. Just because you started last year doesn't mean you're handed a spot. You have to earn that right to keep that spot, especially with the depth that we've recruited. There's a lot of guys that are feeling that pressure."
The roster is riddled with talent every way you turn, and Meyer knows that. He just wants to see it perform and those veteran players to show why they are exactly that: Veteran players.
"I'm not looking for execution, I'm not looking for footwork, hand placement, those kinds of things at all," Meyer said. "It's — we ask you to go five yards, go seven. Four to six, and A to B, that's all I care about for really the first 10 practices."
Luckily for Ohio State, Meyer's been through the whole process of trying to win again after taking the crown in the sport. It nearly killed him before, but he's learned from it, according to those closest to him.
Which is why forging the incentive to not sit on the team's laurels is not a worrisome topic.
"Motivation is something that you don't have to worry about as a coach, you take care of your unit. The head guy's got a master's of all the motivations and changes and those kinds of things to make sure there's discomfort for all of us," Fickell said. "That's one of those things that you don't have to put a whole lot of thought into."