Lantern file photo and Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor
Almost a year after former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel’s departure from the university, President E. Gordon Gee still considers Tressel a friend. An old friend.
Times have changed at Ohio Stadium and the new blood of OSU football – Urban Meyer – is a rare breed; He’s one of few who Gee considers more intense than himself.
Having completed OSU football’s spring season, the Meyer era is well underway. Meyer’s conscious efforts to usher change into the once-embattled OSU program aren’t lost on the president, former OSU All-American Chris Spielman or the coach himself.
Gee recalled the struggles of the university’s athletic department a year ago during his Monday meeting with The Lantern, saying, “we were in serious trouble.”
“Last year at this time … we had this NCAA investigation,” Gee said Monday. “We were taking on all sorts of water because of (Jim Tressel).”
In December 2010, five OSU football players – Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Daniel “Boom” Herron, Solomon Thomas – were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season after selling Buckeye football memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos. Linebacker Jordan Whiting also received a one-game ban. Pryor departed the university June 7 to pursue a professional football career.
Tressel was forced to resign as OSU coach May 30 after it was discovered he was aware of the players’ violations, failed to report them and fielded ineligible players during the 2010 season, which was later vacated.
“Jim Tressel is a good friend of mine and a graceful man, and he did great deeds for this institution,” Gee said. “He’s from a different era too. He’s from kind of the old-time coach school.”
Gee said that Meyer, by comparison, “is a young man with a modern view.”
It might be Meyers’ modern view that has resulted in recruiting success, as well as a concerted effort to unite with the OSU community.
After focusing on recruiting during his first months in Columbus – which resulted in a 2012 recruiting class ranked No. 4 in the country by Rivals.com – Meyer has sought to bring students closer to his team.
The Buckeyes hosted an open practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for several thousand students, fans and faculty members April 14. Meyer will also host a town hall-style meeting with students at the Ohio Union May 15.
Meyer said he isn’t sure if any previous OSU coach undertook such an effort.
“So often, you get the football team separated from your student body. That’s awful. That’s not right,” Meyer told The Lantern during an April 11 interview. “We’re committed (to OSU). We’re going to do this right. We’re going to do more and more – as much access as we can give without creating issues.”
In the face of efforts to improve the quality of athletes on his team and bring the university at large closer to his program, Meyer still has detractors.
In an article published April 9, “Sporting News” senior writer Matt Hayes reported that Meyer left behind an “out of control” and drug-ridden culture at his former job at the University of Florida.
Meyer said he wouldn’t be deterred from allowing access to his program for students and media despite the report.
“We’re transparent … If you guys want to do an investigation of us, that’s fine too,” Meyer told The Lantern. “Everybody’s got jobs to do. Mine is to coach this team and work with the student body.”
Spielman, currently an ESPN analyst, said he finds it difficult to distinguish between the Meyer and Tressel eras of Buckeyes football.
Spielman said the on-field results during spring practice were evidence of Meyer’s success, though.
“I’m not saying coach (Tressel) didn’t do this, but I like the tempo,” Spielman said. “The energy at practice is really good, especially for … late in April. (The players’) focus and intensity and energy was outstanding, and the tempo of practice was really high and I thought that was good.”
Meyer’s intensity might be cause for productive practice sessions.
Gee said he thought the most intense person he knew was himself – until he met Meyer.
“I really am, I’m the most intense person I know – until I met him,” Gee said. “Which I thought was impossible. He’s a smart man. He’s very able. He’s no nonsense.”
Spielman, too, said he is convinced Meyer will succeed.
“I think (Meyer) is refreshed,” he said. “I think he has a new outlook on life. His perspective, in my opinion, is clear.”
Should Meyer ever lose perspective, or see his intensity waver, his wife, Shelley, will likely be there to check him.
For Gee, the transformation of OSU football is personified by the attitude of Shelley Meyer during the Buckeyes’ Spring Game.
Gee told of encountering Shelley Meyer in an Ohio Stadium luxury box.
“We were at the spring football game and I said, “Is this going to be the box you’re going to sit in?” Gee said.
According to Gee, Shelley Meyer responded, “‘No, I sit right out there, rain or shine. I’m right out in front, I want to yell.'”
“I love that kind of partnership,” Gee said. “This kind of shows the difference.”