Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball career as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites, and for eight years served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by Morningside Books, in Dayton, Ohio.  Widely knowledgable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the country.  Involved with a number of writing projects, he and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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The coach of the Buckeyes, the presumed messiah, opened up Thursday on what he coaches and how he coaches…and made a wonderful first impression!

Columbus – You could have heard a pin drop when he walked into the room.

Dressed in a salmon-colored golf shirt and tan shorts, Urban Meyer looked cool, suave, and confident.  And to a room of paying lunch guests at the Ohio State Faculty Club Thursday, he gave them what they wanted to hear.

No, not so much about football, the new coach of the Buckeyes took the time…enough time…to assure the assemblage of 100 that he and his staff were committed to doing things the right way.

Sound familiar?  The previous coach used to talk the same talk.  And for a decade the faithful, and yes, some of the same sitting in the room Thursday, fell in line as he walked the walk in presumed fashion.  They all believed…hook, line and sinker.

Urban Meyer spoke as if he was aware of the embarrassment felt by so many in Buckeye Nation…of the indiscretions of the football program under a previous regime having stained the image of the entire school and its proud alumni.  He gave a passing mention of mistakes having been made.

And while the word was never used, he spoke responsibly in the manner of one who realized the significance of what he represented on and off the football field.  Urban Meyer, admitted or not, is a “messiah” figure to the Ohio State University.

Awareness?  He made it a point to emphasize the word “The” with his every reference to the school.

"The 'elite' is an underutilized resource," says Meyer. "We need them to be the examples. We need others to change through the example they set."

“I want to do well here,”  he said after introductions, taking his place at the rostrum.  “This is my school.  This is my state.  This is what I missed for the year that I was out of coaching and working with ESPN.  This is a very special place and there’s some very special work to be done here, and that’s why I wanted to come back to coaching.”

* He spoke in terms of change, and the importance of change…not just for the sake of lip service, but for the realization that everyone has it in them to become better at what they are and what they do by their embracing “change”.  In his words, we live in a day of “change, or die.”

“It really boils down to 10% of the people you deal with on a daily basis being the elite in terms of their abilities and work habits,”  he explained.  “Then there’s another 10% who are disengaged and defiant.  And then there the other 80%, who are talented, but lack the direction and commitment to change their habits and maximize their potential.

“Understand,”  he said.  “Everyone at this level is a good football player.  Everyone has good football players.  You have to find a way to make those people come together, work together, help each other, and change.”

*  He highlighted two current Buckeyes.

“Jordan Hall has been a career 2.1 GPA student at Ohio State.  Good person, wonderful kid…a smart person.  He just never saw the need to change for the sake of being the best that he can be.  Until now.  Something’s happening to Jordan Hall.  He’s now a 3.4 GPA.  Has he changed?  Not completely, but he is changing, on and off the football field.  He’s taking ownership of his opportunity.  And when you have players taking ownership and putting their stamp on a program things can, and will, change.

"There was a time when you could tell a player to run through a wall and they'd try to do it. Now you tell them to do that and they'll ask, 'Why? What's in it for me?'"

“John Simon is one of the best people you’ll ever be around.  Great football player.  Great student.  Great leader.  One of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet.  He’s part of that elite 10%.  John Simon is in the weight room every morning, including Sundays, lifting at 6 am in the morning.  His commitment and discipline are so great you don’t even question.  He’s the kind of guy you want to coach on your staff because of his example. Except, that’s going to be awhile because John Simon’s going to be playing in the NFL for a few years.  But I’m going to hire him just as soon as he’s done playing.

“We’ve told John…he can’t come in anymore to lift at 6 am.  Not unless he brings someone with him from the 80% that could benefit from his discipline and commitment.  We under-utilize the elite…people like John…in that respect.  We need them to be the examples.  We need others to change through the example they see in John Simon. That leads to change within a program that brings tangible results on the football field.  Everyone can benefit from change.  In today’s world it’s change, or die.”

*  He spoke of methods, of the difference in communicating to modern athletes over those in past eras.

“It used to be that you could intimidate a player through fear,”  he said.  “That you could tell him to run through a wall for you and he’d try to do it.  There was a coach here forty years ago that would hit ‘em right between the eyes when they made a mistake (which drew an appreciative laugh from the crowd).  Now you tell them to do something and they’ll ask you, ‘Why?  What’s in it for me?’  Credibility is so important, and it helps to have the championship rings and jackets from past jobs.  It’s important for kids to believe…in the program, in themselves, their teammates, and the coaches.”

*  He spoke as a coach who gets it…who gets modern football, modern football players, and the expectations of modern football fans.

“We want players to get “A”s and “B”s in the classroom,” he emphasized.  “But we want them to get “A”s and “B”s in football, as well.  Nothing else is acceptable.  We want them to understand their assignments and responsibilities, just like the classroom.  Because when they’re out there on Saturday in front of 107,000 people they don’t expect to see them fail.  They want to see them pass (with honors).”

Meyer posed with the faithful and assured, "I've already met with the director of the marching band, and we'll continue every Saturday tradition as much as we can...and more."

*  He spoke as a coach who recognizes the importance of public relations and tradition…of bringing the community and the football team together in as many ways as possible.

“I can assure you that I’ve spoken already with the director of the marching band, several times,” he told one lady who questioned his knowledge of Buckeye game-day tradition.  “I started the practice at Bowling Green, of the football team singing the alma mater with the band after the game.  I continued that when I went to Utah.  They had no such tradition at Florida, so we started it there.  And we will continue to do that here at Ohio State as much as we can…as often as we can.

“I think it’s important for as many people as possible to think of Ohio State football as being ‘their’ team.  We’ve brought little kids out on the practice field already so they can get a feeling of what it’s like…of seeing a field goal attempt from up close.  We want that sense of people taking ownership and having first-hand experience of what’s going on.”

To one questioner who asked if quarterback Braxton Miller would be improved this year, Meyer responded.  “He was an 18-year-old freshman trying to play quarterback for Ohio State last year.  That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen.  You’re supposed to have a couple of years to assimilate into the position.  Braxton has grown.  He’s maturing, and he’s already better.”

And finally, Urban Meyer gets it relative to so many in “Buckeye Nation” who were upset over the recent negative image of football compromising the image and integrity of their school, their alma mater, their Ohio State University.

“I would tell them to not worry about it,”  he said with a wry smile and a wink, getting into a waiting car outside the Faculty Club. “The media is going to write what they write.  They wrote about me at Florida the same as they wrote about Ohio State.  Ohio State University is one of the great educational institutions in this country.  There’s nothing about football that can compromise that.”

I might add that the caesar salad lunch served up by the Faculty Club kitchen was perfect, and fitting.  Like the words of the new coach, it for a time fulfilled a need, a hunger. Everyone left, craving more.

It digested well…lunch Thursday, with Urban Meyer.

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