Meyer's Coaching Staff Coming Together

Urban Meyer put a lot of thought into who he would hire as his nine assistant coaches when he took the Ohio State job. There's no question his search for assistants came up with quality coaches, but there was no denying many of them hadn't worked together or with Meyer in the past. That hasn't seemed to be a problem thus far, though.

January 12 was a big day at Ohio State, and in many ways a joyous one, too.

On that day, the new members of the Buckeye football coaching staff, those tabbed by Urban Meyer to lead the squad he grew up rooting for, met with the media to discuss their philosophies and make it clear just how excited they were to be donning scarlet and gray on football fields and in living rooms across the country.

There was only one problem, Meyer pointed out.

"I've not worked with many of them," he said. "This is shocking."

Indeed it was. The only members of the staff that Meyer had worked with closely over the past few seasons are running backs coach Stan Drayton and wideouts coach Zach Smith, both of whom had been with Meyer at his last stop of Florida. Even that stat is misleading, as Smith was never a full-time assistant, having worked only as a graduate assistant and quality control coach with the Gators.

So as the storylines around Columbus this spring have been about how the Buckeye players are adjusting to the new staff, its new practice tempo and a new spread offense, there's the little fact that the coaching staff has its own comfort level to reach.

The early returns show that so far, things have been going well.

"It's been great," new safeties coach, assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. "Like I said, it's a credit to Coach Meyer and the way he's developed the staff. It's always a credit to Coach (Luke) Fickell, Coach (Mike) Vrabel and the guys that have been here. They've really welcomed us in and allowed us to be a part of it. This is a special place. It's been great to be welcomed into the family."

Six of the staffers hired by Meyer came in from outside of Ohio State, though some like offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Ed Warinner and tight ends/fullbacks coach/recruiting coordinator Tim Hinton formerly worked as graduate assistants at OSU.

The group of new assistants – which also includes cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman in addition to Smith and Withers – joined Fickell, Vrabel and Drayton, though none of that trio has the same role as a year ago.

Fickell, of course, was the interim head coach for the 2011 season before returning to the linebacker position he coached for the preceding seven campaigns and adding the mantle of defensive coordinator for the first time. Vrabel moved from mentoring the linebackers to the defensive line, where he was a star at Ohio State in the mid 1990s, while Drayton flipped from wideouts coach to running backs.

With all that change – which doesn't even take into account the fact Coombs was Meyer's third choice for his job following Taver Johnson and Bill Sheridan – it seems natural that there would be some time needed for everyone to get on the same page.

Meyer did his best to accelerate that process, creating what could be described as a symposium during winter mornings in which each coach would address the other members of the staff on the core philosophies that would come to characterize their position.

"The most underutilized resource on a staff is each other, and I'm not going to let that happen," Meyer said March 13. "I'm going to use everybody. There are a lot of good coaches on this staff. They've been a lot of good places with a lot of great ideas. Let's use them. By noontime I'm ready to go jump out a window. I'm tired of sitting in meetings with coaches, but it's been very good."

The head coach also said he had the assistants do practice walk-throughs before drills began March 28 so they would be ready to work at a high tempo – at least more ready than the players – while knowing what was going on during the rough two-hour-per-day sessions.

When it comes to questions of on-field philosophy, it appears everyone is meshing.

"If you could spend 45 minutes in that defensive staff room with us, you'd see that it runs very well together," Fickell said. "There's no egos. The personalities are unbelievably matched. It's a joy. It really is. I know that we can say that in the media, but I'm telling you, it's really a good time.

"We all have our opinions, but the No. 1 thing is nobody has an ego. When that happens and you can all be aligned, I'm not worried about what's best for me. Coach Withers isn't worried about what's best for him. We're worried about what's best for Ohio State."

The adjustment is similar on the offensive side, where the transition is buoyed by the fact both Drayton and Smith worked with Meyer at Florida. The other coaches have extensive experience working in a spread offense as well, so the particulars are not overwhelming.

"I've been doing it a long time," Hinton said. "I've been in a lot of systems and each one of them is unique to themselves and each one of them have certain integrals that you have to have. You have to continue to develop, learn, study, watch more video and somewhere along the line manage recruiting and somewhere along the line do the things you have to do to make sure our offense is working the way it needs to work."

There wasn't any worry by members of the staff that things would all work out, especially because Meyer brings instincts that are easily trusted given his success at Florida and his focus on the task at hand is laser-strong.

"At the end of the day you have a guy like Coach Meyer that hires nine guys, so you know there's going to be similarities," Smith said. "He's not going to hire a coach that's vastly different from another coach because that would mean one of them is vastly different form him. That means you have nine guys who have the same approach to coaching so that makes it easier.

"Obviously at a place like this you won't have a bad coach. You have nine coaches that they all know what the heck is going on and they all know what they're doing and they're all really good at it."

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