COLUMBUS — It turns out the message Urban Meyer delivered his first season at Ohio State when he was re-shaping a football program that had unexpectedly fallen on hard times was very close to what many people would have guessed.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett was a sophomore in Meyer’s first season at Ohio State in 2012 and remembers the new coach made it very clear who was in charge.
“He came in and said, ‘This is my program. You can stay if you want to, but it’s going to be done how I want to do it.’ It has worked out really well,” Bennett said.
“He came in swinging. I’m sure that’s what a lot of coaches have to do when they come into a new program. Guys weren’t used to it and weren’t ready for it. We were teenage boys and we had that idea we had to fight back and that nobody was going to punk us down or that mentality.”
Some people resisted and were no longer part of the team. But it was a far cry from 2001 when Meyer, in his first year as a college head coach at Bowling Green, had 21 players quit by the end of their first spring practice with him in charge. He even had to put an advertisement in the student newspaper, seeking walk-ons to fill out the kickoff team.
Ohio State was 6-7 in 2011 after coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign and several of its top players were suspended for all or part of the season.
OSU was a team that needed to change direction when Meyer took over in 2012. Bennett remembers 2011 as a season when some of the older players appeared to have written it off before it began.
“I think some of the seniors that year were like, ‘This is a messed up year already,’ so they weren’t concerned with that year. When Coach Meyer got here, the new thing was it was cool to work hard. Some of the defensive backs and receivers thought it was cool to not go hard and then go out on Saturdays and make plays. But then it became the cool thing to work hard.
“It was odd. I can remember before games, (defensive lineman) Joel Hale and I were freshmen and he and I were getting pumped up almost to the point of crying. The other guys were joking around like they didn’t care at all. We were taken aback by that. But now everybody is just pumped up before games and ready to go. That’s what we expected coming in,” he said.
Like he did at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer told OSU’s players to believe in his plan and they would be successful.
It has worked at all those places, maybe nowhere more successfully than at Ohio State where Meyer’s teams have won 37 of 40 games, have not lost a regular-season Big Ten game and will play Oregon for the national championship on Monday night.
“All year, all we’re prepared to do is excel in tough situations. All winter, spring and summer all we do is prepare for the big lights. You don’t come to Ohio State to play a lower level team. You come to Ohio State to play for championships and win championships,” Bennett said.
“He beats that into our brain when we get here. Everything we do is preparing us for what we see in December and January. You have to take care of business the rest of the season. But when you get into those situations, guys thrive in that. That’s why you come here and that’s what you’re prepared for.”