Cheaters. Liars. Tainted.
It’s all sketchy, right? To the fans of The Ohio State Buckeyes football program, the last decade is pretty clear: Jim Tressel won a lot of football games and, for the most part, he did it right. We can pinpoint his indiscretions, put together a quick shortlist of violators, categorize the poor decisions into specific seasons and move on feeling as though the remaining years are untainted. For us, it’s cut and dry. For the rest of the country it’s not so simple.
Extreme bias and piling on aside, there’s nothing fuzzy about the Jim Tressel Era at Ohio State in the eyes of the college football community outside of Columbus, Ohio: it will forever be remembered as a decade of shenanigans.
Is there any part of you that feels like a single moment of any John Calipari Era of basketball has been clean? What about Butch Davis football at North Carolina? We’re not UMass, Memphis, Kentucky, or North Carolina Tar Heels fans, therefore we choose to label those eras with an asterisk. Period.
Steroids, to some degree, have done the same to Major League Baseball. It’s difficult to look back over the last quarter century worth of baseball statistics and not think of performance enhancing drugs every time a number stands out from the crowd. As fans of the sport, it’s what we’re left with.
For those not shuffling through a closet full of Scarlet and Gray every Saturday morning, Ohio State football from 2001 through 2011 looks very similar – questionable at best.
Last November the OSU administration came to a crossroads of sorts. They had to reconcile the past by trying to string together a number of correct decisions in a row in order to set the future up for a cleaner image. They were tasked with restoring the good name of a program rich with tradition. In most cases, the admin in question would have only one option in trying to alter public perception: hire a clean, respected name and move forward walking firmly in a straight line (Tony Dungy comes to mind). To hell with conference and national championships. Never mind winning nine games against the team up north in the span of a decade. It can no longer be about football at this football school. The focus must shift to academics, integrity and recruiting the can’t miss good kids – Rivals star ratings be damned.
But a funny thing happened on the way to hiring a Dungy-like, squeaky clean image: Urban Meyer.
As far as national perception, this was a football move. “Ohio State traded one slimy personality for another.” From the perspective of Ohio State fans, seeing more trophies and piling up wins seemed like the quickest way to forget Christmas 2010 and the 2011 journey of a 6-7 football team, so “why not Urban Meyer.” He was our rebound, regardless of the consequences.
Unfortunately for the program, that hire obviously did absolutely nothing to separate today’s Ohio State Buckeyes from yesterday’s with regards to being a respected program off the field. That said, I’m convinced that you can’t do any better than average six wins per season and fall into that “clean” category. But is it possible for double-digit wins and a clean perception to coexist?
Urban is out to prove the answer to be a resounding YES.
There’s no doubt that Meyer is in Columbus to win football games, destroy Michigan on an annual basis and fill every trophy case in the WHAC as soon as the NCAA cuts his team loose in 2013, but he’s gone about running the program in a manner that none of us expected: transparently.
From the day he invited the student body to
attend invade practice, Meyer has put the program, his coaches and his players on display for all to see. His response to negative accusations from Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was a sign of transparency to come:
“You’re pissed because we went after a committed guy? Guess what, we got nine guys who better go do it again. Do it a little harder next time.”
The University has made a conscious effort to re-brand itself to the public, the alumni and future student-athletes, releasing Scarlet and Gray propaganda weekly for months (as seen above). What’s next, giving a major cable network never-before-seen access to Urban and his crew?
Interesting approach, Urb.
Make no mistake, The Ohio State University didn’t agree to the recent All Access series to simply appease ESPN. The Buckeye brass didn’t sit in a dark room somewhere sweating over the decision to allow, or not allow, such access by the freight train known as the Worldwide Leader. This was an easy decision, all things considered. Is it a ploy? Perhaps. There’s certainly motive behind it beyond getting the fan base amped for the upcoming season (has that ever been an issue?).
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Ohio State, possibly even the doing of Urban Meyer, invited them in for such a series.
Regardless of how this All Access series was born, it’s marketing genius for a program trying to rebuild its image after a brutal eighteen months. It may limit what can be shown from an X’s and O’s standpoint for obvious competitive reasons, but it sure looks as though nothing else is off-limits after watching the first three episodes. We’re watching Urban put his psychology degree to use with every interaction shown, be it with coaches or players. We see his intensity, the physical expectations he’s laid at the feet of his team and how he’s going about building a “family.” We get to witness the respect he’s earned from his team and how he reciprocates with respect in return. There are no shortcuts in an Urban Meyer football program, and we’re learning that more and more as each episode is aired.
So is the rest of the country.
Urban Meyer isn’t carrying briefcases of cash into the living rooms of high school recruits and then expecting to roll a ball out onto the turf at Ohio Stadium to see what happens. He’s coaching these kids up. He’s building exactly what we want to see in Scarlet and Gray: a winner in all aspects of life.
Can a double-digit win team be “clean?” Urban is about to roll up ten, eleven or twelve wins in a season that otherwise has no meaning nationally, and he’s doing it the right way. Think he’s not? Ask Dominic Clarke, DerJuan Gambrell, Jake Stoneburner, Jack Mewhort and Storm Klein.
Cheaters? Liars? Tainted? The nation can leave that self-gratifying perception back in 2011.
Credibility. Accountability. Family. That’s the new era of Ohio State football. Don’t believe it? Just ask – Urban Meyer and The Ohio State University are in an answering mood.
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