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Ohio State bucks tradition with Urban Meyer hire

Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor

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Urban Meyer is the biggest name Ohio State has ever hired as head football coach.

At least that’s how Jack Park, long-time OSU football historian, sees it.

Meyer, who won two BCS national championships with Florida and served as an assistant coach at OSU under former coach Earle Bruce, was hired as the Buckeyes’ next head coach Monday.

On top of his national titles, Meyer also brings a résumé which includes coaching a Heisman Trophy winner (former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow), a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft (former Utah quarterback Alex Smith), two SEC championships and several coach of the year honors.

Park said no other head coach at OSU has taken the job with that kind of pedigree.

“In terms of what the coach has done before he took the Ohio State job, it doesn’t get much bigger than this one,” he said.

The only other coach who came close, Park said, was Bruce. Bruce served as head football coach at OSU from 1979-1987. Prior to coming to OSU, Bruce amassed a 36-32 record as head coach at Iowa State, and also served at Massillon High School, leading it to its only undefeated season in school history.

Other head coaches at OSU had respectable backgrounds — John Cooper won a Rose Bowl over Michigan while helming Arizona State and Jim Tressel won four Division I-AA titles at Youngstown State — but none have measured up to the name Meyer has built for himself.

“In a way, it’s kind of breaking with tradition that Ohio State has done this,” Park said.

Still, Meyer does have, in some respects, the same qualities previous OSU head coaches had.

Meyer was born in Toledo and raised in Ashtabula, Ohio, where he attended St. John High School. Meyer went to college at the University of Cincinnati and played defensive back on the school’s football team. He got his masters degree from OSU and served as a graduate assistant at OSU during Bruce’s tenure.

From there, he later went on to become head coach at Bowling Green State University, where he won MAC Coach of the Year and Sporting News Coach of the Year in 2003, before leaving for Utah, where he won a BCS bowl (the Fiesta Bowl), and later shipping off to Florida.

Meyer left Florida citing health concerns last season and took a job with ESPN as an analyst.

OSU athletic director Gene Smith made note of Meyer’s Ohio ties during the press conference announcing his hire Monday.

“Being from Ohio, born and raised, having an opportunity to coach here under Earl Bruce, fortunate enough to marry his boss from Ohio; he gets it,” Smith said. “At different times in organizations, teams, groups, whatever, there’s the right time for certain leaders. This is the right time for Urban Meyer to lead our football program.”

Meyer isn’t shy about his Ohio ties.

Meyer has a photo of Woody Hayes hanging in his house. He said the relationship he built with Bruce was “extremely close, second only to his father.”

He also said seeing Script Ohio while calling a game for ESPN this season made him emotional.

“I’m up there with Chris (Spielman) and (ESPN announcer) Dave Pasch getting ready to broadcast that game, and that band came out of that tunnel — I was wiping tears out of my eyes and all the memories came back,” Meyer said.

Park said those Ohio ties have helped him, and other coaches, get hired at OSU.

“I would think that many of the people he’s going to bring on his staff here … a lot of those assistant coaches will have Ohio ties,” Park said. “It’s good to do that but I don’t think it’s mandatory anymore. Football has become so national anymore.”

For example, in terms of players, Park said only a “handful” on OSU’s 1954 and 1961 national title teams came from outside Ohio, but now, the team can have about half of its roster from outside the state.

“It’s an advantage to have Ohio ties but I think there’s probably other things more important,” Park said.

One of those “more important” things could be recruiting.

OSU has recruited players outside of the state of Ohio, but under Tressel, was able to “build a fence” around Ohio, per se, to keep many of the state’s top talents instate and signed by OSU.

However, with Meyer taking over, who was able to rake in recruiting classes with Florida talent ranked higher than his in-state competitors such as Florida State and Miami, Park said he expects Meyer to take advantage of his Southern ties and recruit the same type of players to run his spread offense.

“I think what we saw at Florida and the type of offense he ran at Florida, the type of defense he ran at Florida, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s pretty much what we see here,” Park said.

That system will be noticeably different from what OSU is known for.

OSU built a reputation for the bruising, “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” offense Hayes implemented and the conservative “Tressel-ball” style that Tressel ran. Meyer, however, will be running the spread, which will focus more on the passing game than previous schemes.

Steve Helwagen, managing editor of Bucknuts.com, said Meyer will use what he has at his disposal now, then work to find the athletes required to run the spread, which he doesn’t believe will be a big deal.

“I don’t know that it will be as big a transition as some people think it might be,” Helwagen said. “I think he’ll play to his team strengths on the field next year and take it on a year-to-year basis. He and his staff are obviously going to be looking for guys who fit what they want to do. They need to have wide receivers and skill-position athletes to make that happen.”

With Meyer on the recruiting trail preparing for a 2012 season with already-high expectations, fans can take solace knowing Meyer is “home.”

“This is my home state,” he said. “And it’s great to be back home.”Ohio

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