The best-case scenario for both coach and fans comes with a new wrinkle…reports this week that the new coach of the Buckeyes comes with some of the same issues that forced the old coach to leave.
Columbus – Meet the new coach, same as the old coach…or so it appears after The Sporting News dropped a payload on Ohio State’s Urban Meyer this week.
If you haven’t read Matt Hayes’ three-month investigation of Meyer’s tenure at Florida, http://bit.ly/IjovzR it should come with a warning to OSU zealots who’ve happily convinced themselves their school found a man of impeccable integrity to replace a man of, uh, impeccable integrity.
This may seem like bad news to the Buckeye faithful, but in fact it is good news.
Very good news.
Because if what The Sporting News writes about the culture within Florida’s program under Meyer is true – and there’s no reason to suspect it’s false – Meyer has landed in the perfect spot to never make those same mistakes again, and thus never subject OSU to the same sort of chaos.
To summarize, The Sporting News found that Meyer coddled star players – particularly Percy Harvin – and went light on discipline when his difference-makers stepped out of line, including failing drug tests.
Meyer won a national championship his second season at Florida in 2006 – 41-14, Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Az….ring a bell? — with Harvin a key cog on that squad.
While it is nice to believe that coaches parcel out the same brand of discipline to every player on the roster, the truth is that talent always trumps baggage. The more talent, the more baggage allowed, hence Harvin gained a longer leash because of his importance to the Gators.
The hope is always that veteran players will rein in such knuckleheads, but The Sporting News found that Harvin and others only grew more problematic as their careers progressed.
At that point, Meyer had a choice: He could kick away a chance for another national championship by booting the troublemakers on his squad, or he could try to manage the situation. That’s a nice way of saying he could look the other way if need be to keep his playmakers on the field in the biggest games.
Meyer – like anyone else in his position – did the latter and Florida wound up winning another BCS title in 2008.
That, of course, only made Meyer’s problem grow, because no knucklehead will knuckle under once he’s knuckled his way to two national championships. So, predictably, Florida underachieved in Harvin’s senior year and imploded after he departed.
You remember how it ended, with Meyer quitting one day, changing his mind the next, returning to coach in 2010 when he looked like he’d rather be anywhere but the sideline, and finally quitting again after an 8-5 season.
Thus it makes sense that shortly after that, Meyer went on a conscience tour and railed against anything smacking of cheating or entitlement in college football. He also dabbled as an ESPN analyst, probably all the while thinking what any of us would have thought – “If I ever get in that kind of a situation again, I will never make those same mistakes again.”
About that time, Jim Tressel’s aversion to truth-telling showed up in the headlines, setting Meyer on a collision course with a second coaching opportunity of a lifetime.
Unbelievably, it got even better for Meyer when the NCAA handed the Buckeyes a one-year bowl ban several weeks after his hiring.
That’s right, it got better.
Why? Because now Meyer walks into a first season when whatever he does to prove himself the new sheriff in town carries absolutely zero risk to the on-field product.
He can suspend half the team if actions require it. No one will blame Meyer if OSU goes .500. It will be Tressel’s fault for leaving him no talent or a team full of idiots.
Meyer can suspend anyone he wants, any time he wants, with no risk of blowing a trip to the Rose Bowl.
So, expect Meyer to play Dirty Harry, daring his charges to, “Go ahead, punk. Make my day.” The tougher he is, the better he ingrains the lessons he couldn’t impart at Florida, where the consequences of suspending a Harvin-like talent far surpassed the non-existent risk Meyer faces his entire first year in Columbus.
It is the perfect environment for him to put behind the mistakes he made in Gainesville and establish a culture in which such behavior should never surface again.
Very few of us in life get a do-over.
Meyer has an even rarer opportunity.
He gets a second chance without the first hint of risk, which should help set him up for a long run of success in Columbus.
Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of The Troy Daily News. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story,” and the host of The Hooligans, 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR Cleveland.