Kudos To A Coach

I can’t say that I was shocked by Urban Meyer’s announcement today that he is retiring as the head football coach at The Ohio State University.  There have been too many news stories — and way too much speculation — about his health issues to make the decision a true surprise.  And I can’t say that I regret his decision, either.  He obviously needs to put his family, and his health, first.

urban-meyer-1024x576I’d like to thank Coach Meyer for his hard work at a very demanding, and at times thankless, job.  He’s provided some great moments for the millions of members of Buckeye Nation.  We won’t forget his perfect, 7-0 record against That Team Up North, and I’ll never forget the Buckeyes’ dominant performance in Dallas when they brought home a national championship.  Coach Meyer brought the football program at The Ohio State University to a higher level than it has ever occupied before.

But Coach Meyer wasn’t just about wins and losses.  He has been, first and foremost, a coach.  Anyone who’s ever been coached, or has ever tried to coach others, knows how difficult it can be.  Coaches are motivators, teachers, mentors, supporters, challengers, and a mixture of a bunch of other important characteristics and roles.  Good coaches can mold young people and make them better, and great coaches know when a player could use a hug — and when a player needs a kick in the butt instead.

Urban Meyer is a great coach by anyone’s measure.  His record establishes that beyond any rational argument.  But if you really want to know what kind of coach he was, pay attention to what his former players say about him.  Their tributes make it clear that he has been a influential figure for many young men who appreciated his guidance and learned from his teaching and his example.

Some people hate Coach Meyer and have long been eager to malign him.  I suspect that much of that ugliness is due to resentment about his astounding success.  But if you really want to know what kind of figure he has been at The Ohio State University, you should listen to the players.  They’ll tell you in no uncertain terms what kind of coach, and person, Urban Meyer really is.

Good luck to you, Coach Meyer, and Godspeed!

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Kings Of The Big Ten . . . Again

Yesterday Kish and I drove over to Indianapolis to join friends and watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Northwestern Wildcats in the Big Ten Championship Game. We had a lot of fun, and I’d recommend the experience to any members of Buckeye Nation.

The only downside was that I was seated next to Mr. Negativity during the game. He was the kind of angry, muttering jerk who talked non-stop about how much he hated watching the team and voiced loud obscenities after even marginal plays, like a run for no gain. He added a decided element of danger to the game, because you never knew when a bad play might make him start swinging. Fortunately, the Powder Keg never was fully set off. I wonder if he even dimly realized that everyone sitting nearby thought he wasn’t a “fan” at all, but rather a colossal ass.

As for the Buckeyes, it’s been an interesting and successful season. The team is now 12-1, beat Michigan, and topped a gutty and game Northwestern team to win the Big Ten Championship Game. Dwayne Haskins dissected another tough defense and has rewritten the record books, too. Now we’ll just have to see whether the College Football Playoff Committee is considering this question: wouldn’t it be interesting to see what Dwayne Haskins could do against Alabama, and vice versa?

Not Jinxing It

We’ve got a pretty big game to be played in Columbus, Ohio today.  On this rainy Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines line up again for the best rivalry game in all of sports.

jinx-killer-oilNormally I would set up the DVR function on our TV and record this year’s version of The Game.  I’m not going to do so this year, however, because every time I have recorded the Buckeyes they’ve played horribly.  On the other hand, when I haven’t tried to record them, they’ve played well.  Given that track record, the proper course of conduct is clear.

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’m a firm believer in jinxes.  Of course, it’s ludicrously far-fetched to think that the activities of an old guy far away from Ohio Stadium could possibly have an impact on a football game — but then we’ve all heard of the butterfly effect.  Maybe the mere act of setting up a recording disturbs the ether and karma just enough to affect how Ohio State plays.  Who knows how these things work?  I just know I’m not going to take a chance on upsetting the mystic balance and feeling like I’m responsible for another less-than-stellar performance.  If not recording The Game somehow gives Ohio State a minute advantage, that’s good enough for me.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in this sentiment.  All across Buckeye Nation, fans of the Scarlet and Gray are donning lucky apparel and avoiding activities that seem to be somehow associated with failure.  Of course, fans of TTUN are no doubt doing the same thing, and fervently hoping that their individual activities will produce a win.  With two devoted fan bases each working to promote maximum luck and good fortune and avoid the dreaded jinx, who knows how the balance will tip?

Either way, there’s no recording of the game today.  Go Bucks!

Now Comes Michigan Week

Most Americans think of this as Thanksgiving week, when it’s time to give thanks, embrace our common humanity, and be generous to our fellow man.

Not so in Buckeye Nation. As soon as Ohio State eked out an overtime win over a feisty Maryland team yesterday, Ohio State fans breathed a sigh of relief, wondered what in the hell happened to the Ohio State defense this year, and then immediately thought: “It’s Michigan Week.”

Michigan Week used to be the week before Thanksgiving week, but a few years ago the Big Ten changed the schedule and moved The Game to the Saturday after Turkey Day. I wish they hadn’t, because bloodthirsty thoughts don’t fit comfortably into the expected Thanksgiving mindset. Before, Buckeye fans could hope to kick the ass of That Team Up North, watch The Game, and then after the violent clash ended shift gradually into pleasant, huggy Thanksgiving mode. Now we think about breaking Michigan hearts right up to the point the turkey gets carved, piously give thanks while we’re really pondering crushing tackles and Statue of Liberty plays, and then after the plates have been cleared abruptly return to full Michihate mode for the remaining hours leading up to the tilt with the Maize and Blue.

It’s jarring, to say the least. But hey — it’s Michigan Week!

A Few Modest Observations About The Buckeyes

It hasn’t been an easy year for Buckeye Nation. I went to the game yesterday, and that wasn’t easy, either, as Ohio State eked out a win over Nebraska. The game featured the painful aspects of this year’s team that have become all too familiar — a very shaky defense that routinely gives up big plays, a running game that often misfires in the clutch, and an absence of the big plays we’ve become used to seeing.

Ohio State fans are scratching the heads and wondering what has happened? Why aren’t the highly rated recruits we’ve been reading about crushing every opponent? Sure, the team is 8-1, but it’s a very uncomfortable 8-1.

I wonder if Ohio State hasn’t been, to some extent, a victim of its own success. Every year, a bunch of Ohio State players leave college early to go to the pros — often being drafted in the first or second round. Every year, Ohio State coaches move on to better jobs. Other than Urban Meyer, the turnover has been extraordinary. How much better would Ohio State be if all of those talented underclassmen were still playing, and those coaches were still coaching their systems?

I’m not making excuses, just an observation. Ohio State has been able to overcome the constant turnover and jell as a team in prior years, but that doesn’t mean it will happen every year. A lot of being a good team is continuity, experience, knowing the scheme, and playing together as a team. When you’re shuffling the deck every year, it’s hard to achieve that. How many of Ohio State’s struggles are due primarily to a bunch of new guys trying to learn to play together?

One positive sign from yesterday: at the end of the game, when the Buckeyes really needed to run the ball and keep Nebraska off the field, they were able to do that. Maybe the offensive line, at least, is starting to learn to play together.

Testing The Young Gun

Tomorrow night the Ohio State Buckeyes play under the lights in Dallas, Texas, where they will be matched up against the TCU Horned Frogs.  It will be a coming out party of sorts for Ohio State’s new quarterback, Dwayne Haskins.

For four years, J.T. Barrett held the QB position for the Buckeyes with a vice-like grip.  He was a terrific leader and a real winner — literally.  He set just about every offensive record that a quarterback could set, and under his guidance the Buckeyes achieved great success — but they never quite got to the mountaintop with Barrett at the helm.  Some Ohio State fans, possessed of the loftiest expectations, complained that J.T. didn’t have the arm or the accuracy, and was too quick to pull down the ball and run.  That very vocal segment of Buckeye Nation has been clamoring for a drop-back passer at the QB position.

usatsi_10422300-2Well, now they’ve got one, and his name is Dwayne Haskins.  In two games, he’s looked terrific.  Haskins has completed almost 80 percent of his passes, has averaged 270 yards through the air per game, and has thrown for 9 touchdowns against only one interception.  And, so far, at least, his passes are a thing of beauty — arriving on time and hitting receivers in stride and in the hands.  Haskins looks like the real deal.  He may just be the pure passer that Ohio State fans have been dreaming of since Woody Hayes made “three yards and a cloud of dust” synonymous with the Buckeye offense.

But . . . not so fast, folks.  Oregon State and Rutgers, Ohio State’s first two opponents, aren’t exactly national championship contenders.  TCU is a different story.  It’s been in the talk for a berth in the college football playoffs in recent years, and this year it’s ranked in the top 20 going into the game.  And its head coach, Gary Patterson, is a reputed defensive mastermind who will be sure to throw lots of blitzes and weird coverages at Haskins, who’s a redshirt sophomore who will be making only his third start, in hopes of enticing him into turnovers.  TCU knows that if it can get a signature win over Ohio State it will rocket up the rankings and be part of the college football playoff chatter, so we can expect that they’ll leave everything on the field in trying to baffle Haskins and beat the Buckeyes.

Right now, Dwayne Haskins is the young gun.  Tomorrow night, in Texas, we’ll get a better sense of how truly he fires under pressure.

Farewell, J.T., And Thanks

Ohio State won the [insert corporate name here] Cotton Bowl last night.  With the defense smothering the USC Trojan offense, relentlessly pressuring and sacking its quarterback and forcing turnovers, the Buckeyes rolled to a 24-7 halftime lead and then endured a scoreless second half to get the victory.  It’s the first time the Buckeyes have beaten Southern Cal since 1974, and the dominant defensive performance gives Ohio State fans the ability to argue that the Buckeyes should have made it to the College Football Playoffs this year.

usa_today_10505433-1514599547The Cotton Bowl win was also senior quarterback J.T. Barrett’s last game at the offensive helm for Ohio State.  In fact, the game was a bit of a microcosm of Barrett’s career at OSU.  He scored both offensive touchdowns for the Buckeyes and became the Big Ten’s all-time total offense leader, but the offense became predictable and J.T. run-oriented and was stopped repeatedly in the second half, when with a few additional scores the Buckeyes could have blown the Trojans off the field and really made a statement.  That’s why many members of Buckeye Nation view JTB with mixed emotions — they acknowledge him as a winner and appreciate his skills as a runner and a leader, but they also think about what could have been if he had just played a little bit better in the handful of losses that have marred Barrett’s overall record.

I’m not one of the JTB doubters, because I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect perfection from college students.  J.T. Barrett has rewritten the Ohio State offensive record books.  He’s got a perfect, 4-0 record against That Team Up North, he’s come up big in a number of crucial games, and his play as a redshirt freshman was essential to putting Ohio State in position to win the first national championship in the College Football Playoff era.  Ohio State has been in the national championship conversation during each year J.T. Barrett has been at the controls on offense.  The fact that the Buckeyes have fallen short during three of those years shouldn’t take away what Barrett has accomplished.

So I say thanks, J.T., and godspeed!  You will be missed.