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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At The End Of The Show Cause Order

Today marks the end of the NCAA penalty imposed on former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel.  For five years, any school that wanted to hire Tressel to coach football would have had to “show cause” as to why it should be permitted to do so, and receive approval, before he could once again return to prowl the sidelines of the gridiron and coach young men about football, and life.

Five years is a long time, and this five-year period seems like it’s been been much longer.  Ohio State football has moved on from the Tressel era and has enjoyed enormous success under current head coach Urban Meyer.  True Buckeye fans will never forget Coach Tressel, however.  He was the man who lifted the Ohio State program from a period of ever-present heartbreak and big-game failure and returned it to its rightful position as one of the preeminent programs in college football.

20140512jhlocaltressel06-4Coach Tressel remembers, too.  He’ll always be a Buckeye at heart, but he hasn’t sat idle, pining for a chance to coach.  He is a man with a lot to offer, and other people know it.  He’s now the very successful president of Youngstown State University.  Odd, isn’t it, that he has been effectively barred from coaching a sport, but he can run an entire university with 13,000 students — a university that has its own successful football team?  But that’s just one of the many curious elements of the “tatgate” story — involving player violations of NCAA rules, in trading merchandise for tattoos, that the New York Times story linked above describes as “quaint” compared to some of the serious, criminal wrongdoing that has come to light in college sports since that time.  The NCAA determined that Coach Tressel learned about the player misconduct, and he failed to report it — and that started the dominoes falling toward the five-year ban.

But even though the NCAA penalty has prevented Coach Tressel from formally coaching young men, that’s still what he does, informally but routinely.  Eleven Warriors, an Ohio State football website, has a terrific reflection on Tressel’s continued connection with his former players and assistant coaches and what steps he takes — instinctively, reflexively, as part of his core and character — to try to help them.  In the Webner family, we know what kind of person Coach Tressel really is from our own personal experience, when he befriended our family’s most diehard Ohio State fan, Aunt Bebe, became her pen pal, and then graciously showed up for her memorial service.  It’s the kind of small but deeply meaningful personal gesture that is all-too-uncommon in the modern world.

Rules are rules, and Jim Tressel made a mistake.  We’re human; we all do.  But no imposition of an NCAA show cause order could ever change what kind of person Coach Tressel is, deep inside.  This is a good man, and what he’s done and continues to do just confirms it, over and over again.  Our very best wishes go with him.

Countdown To Kickoff

Today Ohio State plays its first game of the 2016.  At noon at Ohio Stadium, a crowd of more than 100,000 will roar as The Best Damn Band In The Land makes its ramp entrance and this year’s version of the Buckeyes sprints onto the field to face the Bowling Green Falcons.

It’s an exciting time in Columbus, the capital city of Buckeye Nation, where following the Men of the Scarlet and Gray is an annual rite and heartfelt passion, and wins and losses can affect the whole city’s mood.

ar-131119242This year’s team is an intriguing one.  Most of last year’s starters have ended their college careers, and many have moved on to the NFL.  Familiar names like Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Darron Lee aren’t on the roster any more.  In their places are a bunch of new guys.  We don’t really know them — yet — but we’re eager to see whether they can fill the big shoes of some of the finest players ever to don the Ohio State uniform.

On offense, virtually all of the skill players are new.  The one exception is junior J.T. Barrett, the multi-purpose pass-run threat who already ranks as one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history.  Head coach Urban Meyer will be counting on Barrett to provide the steady hand and experienced leadership to help his young, newbie offensive teammates to perform up to the high Buckeye standards.  On defense, there has been a similar exodus, and junior middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will be playing the J.T. Barrett role.  On both sides of the ball, there is a lot of four- and five-star talent — but how do they perform when big-time college football games are played, crunch time comes, and the game is on the line?

We’ll find out, starting today.  Bowling Green has a very solid football team.  And in two weeks the Buckeyes will be in Norman, Oklahoma to play the third-ranked Sooners in a clash of two of the best programs in college football history.  Later this season, of course, rivalry games against Michigan State, which knocked the Buckeyes out of the college football playoffs last year, and That Team Up North loom.

These young Buckeyes had better grow up fast.

The Spring Game

It’s a beautiful day in Columbus.  After weeks of crappy, rainy, even snowy, unseasonably cold weather, spring finally has arrived in earnest and brought some warm weather.

img_1616-1000x750-2b938vhFor Ohio State football fans, today marks the semi-official start of spring — and starts the countdown to Buckeye football in the fall — with the playing of the spring game.  The Ohio State team will split in half, with the Scarlet squad vying against the Gray team in Ohio Stadium.  Tens of thousands of people will show up to watch.  Last year, a record 99,391 members of Buckeye Nation made the trip to the Horseshoe to watch the spring game.  Why not?  It’s fun, there’s no pressure in the result, and it’s a way to scratch that need-to-watch-football itch that’s been tormenting OSU fans since the Buckeyes trounced Notre Dame in their bowl game.

The spring game is a kind of glorified scrimmage, but it’s one that is broadcast on national cable TV (tune in at 1:30 on the Big Ten Network!) and this year it’s got an interesting story to it.  A huge number of Buckeye stalwarts of the recent past — Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Adolphus Washington, Eli Apple, Michael Thomas, Taylor Decker, and Braxton Miller among them — have moved on to the NFL, so the Buckeyes have a lot of holes to fill.  Here’s a chance to see the newbies don the pads and the uniform and begin to show what they’ve got.  They’ve been working hard for weeks with Urban Meyer and his coaching staff in spring camp,  and now they get to run out onto the turf at the fabled Ohio Stadium venue and soak in the cheers and applause of the Buckeye faithful.

Who’s going to be the next great Ohio State running back?  Who’s going to harass opposing quarterbacks, make the clutch catch in a big game, or make the key block that allows the Men of the Scarlet and Gray to cinch a game?  The Spring Game might provide some answers to those questions — and it also lets you start to work on your tan.

Another Great Season

Look, I know a lot of pundits and Ohio State fans are at the point where the Buckeyes have to win every game by 50 points and win the national championship, or the season is deemed a failure.  I think that’s ridiculous, but it is what it is.

635776004767032555-ap-ohio-st-virginia-tech-fooThis was a great season, by any rational measure.  If you are an Ohio State fan, you define season success by whether you beat Michigan.  This year, the Buckeyes trounced the Wolverines, in Ann Arbor.  Michigan was a darned good team — they smashed an SEC team, Florida, in their bowl game today.  And then Ohio State won its bowl game today, convincingly beating a very solid Notre Dame team in the Fiesta Bowl.  Those of us who lived through the Cooper era will never forget it, and will always treasure every win against That Team Up North and bowl game opponents because we will always remember, with a grimace, what it is like to end a season with a painful belly flop.

People are upset because Ohio State lost one game, played in a driving rainstorm, on a last-second field goal.  But when your team finishes 12-1, wins its crucial rivalry game and pounds a traditional power in a New Years Day bowl game, you can’t fairly be heard to complain.  If you do, you’re really as spoiled as the appalling Affluenza Kid.

A lot of Buckeyes have made the last few years really enjoyable for those of us in Buckeye Nation and will (in some cases probably) be moving on. Thanks, Braxton Miller!  And Joey Bosa.  Ezekiel Elliott.  Cardale Jones.  Taylor Decker.  Adolphus Washington.  Joshua Perry.  Jacoby Boren.  Other seniors who have won 50 games in their four years.  And, perhaps, some other juniors who think it’s time to take their talents to the NFL.  They have accomplished everything you could ask for, and I will always remember cheering myself hoarse and screaming “ZEEEEEKE” as last year’s national championship game wound down and I got to celebrate a year where my team and many of these same players and coaches won it all.

Thanks, guys, to all of the players, to head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff, and to everybody else who is part of the Ohio State football program.  It’s been a pleasure, and today was the cherry on top.

All’s Right With The World

Yesterday’s Ohio State win over Michigan was very satisfying, and allowed all members of Buckeye Nation to sleep more peacefully last night.

It was satisfying because it was so dominating.  The Buckeyes ran the ball at will and made the Wolverines’ defense look totally overmatched.   We’d been hearing about the great Wolverines D early this season, but there was only one great defense on the field in Ann Arbor yesterday, and it was wearing scarlet and great.  The telltale sign was that Michigan couldn’t get stops when it absolutely had to do so — whereas the Buckeyes D could, and did.

IMG_4577It was satisfying because the Buckeyes finished.  With the game close at halftime, the Buckeyes reeled off four straight touchdowns on methodical drives.  They executed and beat the Wolverines physically.  As the second half wore on, it became clear that the Michigan defense just wanted no part of the OSU offensive line, or Zeke Elliott, or J.T. Barrett.  I think the Buckeyes could have hit 50 if Coach Urban Meyer hadn’t called off the dogs.

And finally, it was satisfying because it had to be soul-crushing for the Michigan faithful, who view the hiring of Jim Harbaugh as the harbinger of a return to the glory years.  It reminded me of OSU during the Cooper era, when Buckeye fans would have high hopes that this would be the year they would knock off mighty Michigan, only to have a Michigan running back with a long name rush for 300 yards.  In a rivalry game, there is nothing sweeter than beating your opponent so convincingly on their field that their fans are streaming out with 10 minutes left in the game.

Ohio State has now beaten Michigan 10 of the last 11 years.  When that happens, all’s right with the world.

The Game, 2015 Edition

Today football fans the world over get to watch, once again, the greatest rivalry game in college sports.  In a few hours Ohio State and Michigan will square off at the Big House for The Game.

IMG_1835Don’t believe those who say this contest has lost some of its luster after Ohio State’s stunning loss to Michigan State last week.  If anything, that makes The Game even more important.  Ohio State does not want to end its season with two soul-crushing losses — and the Wolverines would like nothing more but to send Ohio State back to Columbus, whipped and beaten and clearly knocked off the top of the Big Ten pedestal.

I have no idea what to expect from this match-up — other than that it will be hard-hitting and hard-fought, because The Game always is.  Jim Harbaugh has turned Michigan around quickly, and made them a tough, power team with a good defense.  His old coach, Bo Schembechler, would be proud.

As for Ohio State, you wonder where the Buckeyes are, mentally.  Are they still reeling from a bad game, or are they primed to go out and show the world that last week’s dismal offensive showing was a rain-soaked fluke?  This is a week where Urban Meyer earns his paycheck.

Go Bucks!