Hustle & Flow

By Ramzy Nasrallah on March 13, 2019 at 1:05 pm
justin fields and tate martell
© Bartram, Dedmon, Maiorana | USAT Sports

Urban Meyer didn't google "Ohio State football" to learn about what he had just gotten himself into.

He had punched the clock at the university previously, back during his mustache days. Earle Bruce was like a second father. Urban's actual father had a portrait of Woody Hayes hanging in his childhood home. You could say he was overprepared for the whole Ahia thing.

It's hard to imagine an Ohio State head coach wandering into the Graveyard blindfolded, but it happens. John Cooper famously called the Horseshoe Buckeye Stadium after he was hired and didn't quite figure out the whole Michigan thing until his career was over.

He also complained that his inherited roster had too many slow, white guys. This was during the 1980s, at Ohio State - a team that was regularly on television and won often, but rarely if ever due to team speed. Coop couldn't google "three yards and a cloud of dust" to study what he had gotten himself into back in 1988, and apparently he had never seen Ohio State play football until he began roaming the sideline at Buckeye Stadium himself.

He was blindfolded in the Graveyard up until the moment he took permanent residence in it. You could say Coop was...underprepared. He brought a lot of helpful things but that was bizarre.

Joey Bosa and Evan Spencer never felt like imports in Columbus. They were Eric's nephew and Tim's kid, respectively.

During his January 2001 interview in the frantic days that followed Coop's firing - and at at the bottom of the Buckeyes' hard luck streak with the Wolverines - Oregon coach Mike Bellotti reportedly asked Andy Geiger if Ohio State had to play Michigan every season. Sidebar: Kids, adults are lying to you. Old people lie all the time - there is a such thing as a dumb question and Bellotti asked one that eliminated him from contention for a job he had traveled cross-country to pursue. Dude, read something on the plane next time.

Ohio State eventually settled on Jim Tressel, a guy whose only blindfold involved what he viewed as menial administrative and unnecessarily regulatory tasks. It worked out marvelously.

But he still went gray, quickly - and that's in large part because OSU Head Coach is the second-most important job in the state behind OSU Starting Quarterback. The Buckeyes are Ohio's team. Ohio is also where football coaches and a whole lot of players are minted at an early age, which makes them a bit of a dream too. It's a job with 10 million bosses. And you thought just having one was bad enough.

The football program, to put it mildly, is a precious asset. The pressure is immense. It only takes a few seasons for the head coach's hair to start to look like the helmet (quarterbacks mercifully run out of eligibility, but unfortunate things still happen to their hair). Tressel knew all of this, having punched the clock at the university previously during what should have been his mustache days.

And Urban knew it too. Ohio State football is historically made for and by Ohioans.

He made that messaging the primary component of his introductory press conference, and then again when he introduced his first staff - and wife - noting that every one of his hires or retentions had been made in whole or part by the great state they were intent on making proud:

That was only seven years ago. The premium on being from Ohio and participating in Ohio State football is barely discussed anymore.

Meyer inherited Huber Heights' Braxton Miller, Cardinal Mooney's John Simon and dozens of other local legends who lived everyone's dream by making it all the way to Columbus, including an entire offensive line unit that was made in Ohio. Seventy of the players on the 2012 roster were playing for their home team.

Two of the three scholarship quarterbacks were Ohio hometown heroes. The third, Kenny Guiton, committed to Ohio State from Houston without having ever been to Ohio. That's one of only two known methods for gaining honorary state citizenship.

Three seasons later, Urban's 2014 team was still largely homegrown, from the entire O-line again to the star linebacker, deep threat receiver and even the QB-Safety Bromance. Of course there were imports that were indispensable - a starting tailback from St. Louis being the most notable one. But there was more than one star who gained honorary state citizenship through legacy, the other method, which Guiton was unable to use.

The rush end from Florida and the wide receiver from Illinois never felt like imports in Columbus. They were Eric's nephew and Tim's kid, respectively. They were "from Ohio" too even if their high schools were not.

Fast-forward to present day, and new head coach Ryan Day's Ohio roots can be traced all the way back to 2017. That's when Meyer brought him in on Chip Kelly's sterling recommendation, to replace Tim Beck, whom he had brought in on Ed Warinner's recommendation. Day was New Hampshire's Gatorade Player of the Year in high school and stayed home to play for New Hampshire, where he set passing records while playing for Kelly.

Once imported into Ohio, he mentored J.T. Barrett (Texas), Dwayne Haskins (Maryland) and Joe Burrow (Athens) until Burrow transferred (Louisiana). He and Larry Johnson were Meyer's first high-profile No-Ohio-Ties-Whatsoever hires beyond the first staff with whom he also had no previous relationship (Greg Schiano, Bill Davis). Something funny happened to the premium placed on Ohio roots between that basketball halftime video back in 2012 and now. Losing nine total games over seven seasons was so shiny we hardly noticed.

The same thing has been happening, albeit more slowly, to the top job in the state for some time. Justin Zwick, Troy Smith, Todd Boeckman, Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones covered a 12-year stretch where Ohio QBs were on the roster, interrupted only by the brief Terrelle Pryor (Pennsylvania)-Joe Bauserman (Virginia/Florida)-Guiton period. In Pryor's case, Ohio State had literally it's highest-rated recruit of all time taking snaps.

The period was justified. Perhaps you're old enough to remember the unprecedented hoopla of Pryor's recruitment. The pre-Internet Joe Pickens (Ohio) recruiting saga was an afternoon tea by comparison.

Justin Fields (Georgia) just replaced Pryor atop the Buckeyes' highest-rated recruits list, albeit as a transfer. His arrival directly resulted in Tate Martell (Nevada) leaving for Miami (Florida). Fields now occupies the top job in the state along with Matthew Baldwin (Texas) and will likely be Ohio State's starter for its 2019 opener and Day's fourth-ever game as head coach (FAU).

Once he wins the job, Fields will be handing off to J.K. Dobbins (Texas) and throwing to K.J. Hill (Arkansas), Austin Mack (Indiana), Ben Victor (Florida) and Chris Olave (California). Of the projected offensive line starters, only Josh Meyers and Thayer Munford are homegrown. The coaching staff's ties only give a slight edge to Ohio. Two of the 2019 assistants who now report to Day reported to Jim Harbaugh the last time the Buckeyes played a home game (Buckeye Stadium).

This team from the head coach on down brings a decidedly-imported feel heading into 2019, a season in which Ohio State will be attempting to threepeat (Indianapolis). Fields snapped up the opportunity to play for Haskins' polymath position coach who is now situated at the program's biggest desk.

His hair has yet to show signs of anxiety. Day does not seem underprepared or overprepared. He's just prepared.

He didn't have to google "Ohio State football" to learn about what he's getting himself into, but the job he has now was not on his radar when his likely starting quarterback was a high school senior. Dreams are funny. The Buckeyes have been dominant going on 17 seasons now, with only a couple of exceptions. It's a run that spans the memories of literally every player on the current team.

Maybe that's why playing - or coaching - for the Buckeyes is no longer a regional dream. The only question is if Ohioans will be just as willing to embrace a machine that's largely manufactured with imported parts.

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