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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The Reptile At Courtside

Normally I don’t pay much attention to coaches.  I may hate opposing players, or think they are overrated, or wish we had them on our team, but the opposing coach is more of a non-entity.

That’s why I find the revulsion I feel for Tom Crean, the head basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, so interesting.  I’ve come to really despise him, because he seems to have every despicable quality in the book.  He’s a poor sport who won’t give the opposing coach an honest handshake if the Hoosiers lose.  During games he stalks back and forth like a reptile in a pet shop cage and ventures far out onto the court in violation of the rules.  He’s a braggart in victory and a whiner in defeat.  When he loses, he’ll sulk for extended periods before facing the media and answering their questions.  And recently he weirdly berated the assistant coach of an opposing team.  He just seems like a thoroughly unpleasant guy who has some deep-seated issues.

He’s done a fine job at Indiana, I’ll give him credit for that.  He took a fabled basketball school that was on its knees after years of futility and some bad head coaching hires, he recruited some excellent players and coached them well, and he turned things around to the point that the Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season championship this year.  Some of his former players say he has been a tremendous friend and help to them.  But, what Tom Crean possesses in recruiting and basketball savvy he seems to utterly lack in charm and sportsmanship.  If I were an Indiana fan, I’d be celebrating his success but cringing with embarrassment at some of his antics.

I’ve always thought that coaching was an honorable and important profession, because coaches can have an incredible impact on the young people they mentor and teach.  For that reason, I think coaches should be role models and always strive to exhibit the qualities — like sportsmanship, and generosity in victory and graciousness in defeat, and accepting responsibility — that are so important to success in life.  Crean doesn’t do so.  In my mind, that makes him somebody who can figure out how to win basketball games, but not a very good coach.

When A Coach Earns His Pay

After the Wisconsin game, I tuned out college football for a few days.  I skipped the post mortems, avoided the Ohio State message boards, and didn’t analyze the game with friends.  Why add to the pain?

Coaches don’t have that luxury.  Jim Tressel and his staff had to immediately swallow their disappointment and get to work at deconstructing the Wisconsin game and developing plans for the next game.  When I was deciding to practice an avoidance approach, they were watching film of the brutal loss.  They had to decide what to tell players who had played poorly at Madison and what to do to keep opponents from running kickoffs back for touchdowns, among countless other preparations.  The Wisconsin game — tough though it was — is only one game of a long season.  There are many more games to be played, like tomorrow’s game against Purdue at the Horseshoe, and when you have a bad game you have to bounce back.

This is where a coach earns his pay.  Great coaches help their players shrug off a bad game and understand that they can still have a successful season, and then get them to play hard the next game and get back on track.  Coach Tressel managed to do that last year after Ohio State had a painful loss at Purdue.  This year he faces that challenge again.

Another Fine Season For Coach Thad Matta

Without much fanfare outside of Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State fans, Thad Matta has coached the Ohio State men’s basketball team to another excellent season.  The Buckeyes are 24-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big Ten, and have won the Big Ten title for the third time in Coach Matta’s six years at the University.  They rattled off wins in 13 of their last 14 games after starting out the Big Ten season 1-3.

Coach Matta has a reputation as an excellent recruiter, and that reputation is richly deserved.  He has brought some tremendous players to Ohio State — slashing point guards, talented 7-footers, deadeye outside shooters, and other players, like Even Turner, who are good at just about everything.  His recruiting skills are a bit of a double-edged sword, however, because a number of those recruits have left Ohio State early for the NBA, leaving holes to be filled.  Coach Matta has done so.  One of the most impressive things about his record at Ohio State is that he has won at least 20 games every year, with different collections of players.

This year also has shown once again that Coach Matta and his staff really can coach, and not just recruit.  He has melded his players into a very strong unit that plays well as a team.  The players seem to genuinely like each other, respect the coaches, and follow the system.  Good coaches tend to have players who are good people, and this year’s Buckeyes are a very likeable bunch.  Another sign of good coaching is the development of the specific skills of the individual players.  Each of the current starting five players has shown significant improvement during his career with the Buckeyes.

One reality of coaching at a major school with devoted fans, like Ohio State, is that you are going to be second-guessed unless you win every game by more than 20 points — and maybe even then as well.  This year, the primary complaint has been that Coach Matta has relied too heavily on his starting five, not developing bench strength and risking wearing down his players as the season has progressed.  So far, at least, the opposite seems to have occurred.  The team has gotten stronger and, apparently, more confident with each passing game; it played very well against the Big Ten’s best teams down the stretch.  The players may run out of gas come tournament time, but there has been no sign of that so far.  Maybe it is just time for fans to recognize that Coach Matta knows what he is doing.

In the meantime, we also can appreciate Coach Matta and his record.  We can be thankful that he is prowling the sidelines with great energy and intensity, chewing his gum furiously, wearing ties selected by his kids, showing great affection for his players, and bringing great college basketball to Ohio State and its appreciative fans.