Urban Meyer is finally headed home. In an unlikely twist, as bad as the Jim Tressel situation became, it shockingly may have all been worth it for an Ohio State program that just landed the premier head coaching free agent in college football.
The 47-year-old Meyer -- who transformed a moribund Bowling Green program (averaging more than 40 points per game) in the early 2000s -- also led Utah to a 12-0 record and Fiesta Bowl win, preceded by his 65-15 record at Florida amid two national titles in just six seasons.
His arrival in Columbus cannot come soon enough.
Under interim head coach Luke Fickell this season, the Buckeyes were an embarrassing 6-6, culminating in a defeat by Purdue and giving up 40 points in a loss to arch-rival Michigan to have its first .500 season in more than a decade. Ranking 76th in the nation in points scored, its offense was consistently inconsistent, but mostly predictably bad.
Unlike many coaches who stick to one system, Meyer is known as an offensive guru, willing to adjust his playcalling depending on his personnel. He produced a No. 1 draft pick in Alex Smith with a dynamic spread offense, won a championship with Chris Leak (ironically over Ohio State) with a controlled passing game that kept Leak in the pocket, only to win a title two years later with Tim Tebow by utilizing the read-option and (of all things), the jump-pass.
In its newly minted leading man, Ohio State has a guy that flat out gets it. An Ohio native, Meyer understands the passion this state has for its football, both at the college and high school levels. He understands how to recruit kids and how to pitch a program. In each of his three head coaching stops, his teams improved in their first seasons ... by an average of more than four wins. His all-time record in bowl games is an astounding 7-1.
Pundits will point to the fact that Meyer is somewhat handicapped moving forward given the Buckeyes' loss of five scholarships over the next three years, or that his health concerns will hold him back. Both reasons are erroneous. Let us not forget that he took over a Florida program under complete disarray in 2005 after the firing of Ron Zook. The Gators had lost at least four games in each of Zook's final three seasons, becoming a second or even third tier SEC program. Meyer went on to become the fastest coach ever to win 50 games in conference history. His overall winning percentage of 81.9 is the highest among active coaches with at least five years of experience. Simply put, the guy is an absolute winner.
In terms of his inherited roster at Ohio State, it is worth noting that Meyer lacks the sheer caliber of athlete he had in bulk during his tenure in Gainesville.
One of the main reasons for Meyer's success there was having extremely versatile athletes on both sides of the ball. Specifically, on offense, he had tremendous speed in Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Percy Harvin. The closest thing to that type of player he inherits is 2011 true freshman Evan Spencer. A dynamic athlete in space, Spencer is an explosive receiver who ideally can also line up in the backfield as a pitch-man. Meyer will most certainly go after this type of player in his recruiting efforts, but in Spencer, he at least has something to work with. Fellow freshman Devin Smith -- who caught four touchdowns this season -- is another speedster on the perimeter who could logically assume such a role.
Of course, none of this matters if the quarterback isn't a threat. In Braxton Miller, though, Ohio State has just the type of talent necessary for Meyer's system to thrive.
To be sure, the freshman is still a work in progress. He completed just 50 percent of his passes this season, far too often failing to get rid of the ball and allowing coverage sacks. He is not yet accurate enough to fully trust in the pocket, and still lacks the ability to make pre-snap reads. Then again, Miller is a special athlete with all of the natural tools to flourish under Meyer. He has a huge arm, excels in the open field, and with his quick feet, appears to be the perfect option in running the zone-read (think Tebow). And, perhaps most of all, Miller is fast.
When Meyer was at Florida, he had a sign in the coaches' room that infamously read, "Recruit the fastest team in America," which is precisely what he did. Of course, he won't have the same speed in the Midwest region as he did in Florida, but don't forget that this is Ohio State we are talking about here. Just ask LeBron James himself; this program is national. Right now, Meyer has until Dec. 17 to go into recruits' homes and make his pitch. For the rest of the Big Ten and even parts of the SEC, that is a scary thought. This is a guy who consistently fielded elite recruiting classes in Florida, reloading on premier talent (and speed) every season.
Ohio State football has undoubtedly endured one of its hardest years in the past half century. A 6-6 season at the Horseshoe is not only intolerable... it's considered sacrilegious. Akin to Brady Hoke returning home to Michigan, Urban Meyer -- even more so -- not only represents hope, but he represents success. He represents five-star recruiting classes, double-digit win seasons and national championships. More importantly, unlike his predecessor Jim Tressel, he represents both substance and flash without the burden of multiple NCAA infractions.
Get ready Buckeye fans: Life in Columbus is about to be restored back to normal.
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