On the Friday before Memorial Day, nearly the entire Ohio State football team met at 7:30 a.m. in the team room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The room was abuzz with energy, as the players knew they were one meeting and perhaps one workout away from being able to enjoy the holiday weekend.
But when Urban Meyer began addressing the team, he immediately let them know this wasn't going to be a run-of-the-mill affair.
"This is life-changing stuff you're about to hear," Meyer said.
For the next hour, Meyer turned over his third Buckeye team over to Tim Kight, who was teaching the third of four classes on Friday mornings in May about "The R Factor."
The R Factor can be summed up by the simple equation "E+R=O," or event plus response equals outcome. In other words, one cannot control which events happen in their life, but one can control his or her response, and the final outcome will hinge on the way a person reacts to each situation.
Kight spent the morning teaching Ohio State players the philosophies he uses when working with companies – and now football teams – across the country. His Dublin-based company, Focus 3, bills itself as "committed to organizational culture," and Kight teaches a belief system of honesty and clarity that works in the business world and should carry over just as well on the gridiron.
On this morning, Kight spoke of acting "above the line" – a purposeful, skillful way of living free of impulsive and reckless behavior. Learning to do so should result in success both in life and on the field as the Buckeyes chase a national championship.
Meyer illustrated many of Kight's points by hopping up from his seat at the front left of the meeting room and giving real-life examples of how E+R=O could make an impact on the field, in the weight room or in the classroom.
"As a leader, your reaction is someone else's event. That takes your breath away a little bit when you start thinking." - Urban Meyer
To some, it might sound like corporate jargon or a tired motivational speech. But Meyer and his staff believe that what Kight is teaching is one of the keys to getting the Ohio State program to the next level.
"It's definitely life-changing stuff," senior tight end Jeff Heuerman told BuckeyeSports.com.
There's more to what Kight is doing with Ohio State than teaching the equation that has been featured on wristbands around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for the past year.
This spring, Kight and his team put the assistant coaches – or, as they are now known at Ohio State, "unit leaders" – through a series of workshops designed to increase their leadership skills as well as trust with one another.
Kight, Meyer and others have worked with the veteran players about leadership, as well, and over this offseason the exact culture that Meyer has wanted in his program has been identified and preached. And the work is far from over, as Kight has a plan to keep teaching the Buckeyes through the rest of the offseason.
All of that will be tackled in future articles, but when asked what aspect of working with the Kights has had the biggest impact on him, Meyer had a quick answer.
"There's one I'll never forget," Meyer said. "It's called the R Factor – it's one of the foundations of this whole leadership training. To paraphrase weeks of work in this, you can't control the event, you certainly can't control the outcome, but you can control your response. And as a leader, your reaction is someone else's event. Does that make sense? So my reaction – if an official throws a flag and I scream like a madman, go berserk on the sideline and all that, there's 105 players seeing me do that, so they think that's acceptable behavior. That's their event.
"That's just an example, but that's very profound. Your response as a leader – Jeff Heuerman's response to any event is going to be someone else's event. And that takes your breath away a little bit when you start thinking."
As Meyer indicated, the R Factor can be applied to something as simple as arguing with an official. Heuerman's favorite example came when he was stuck in an airport on his way back from spring break and, instead of yelling at the woman at the airline counter, he pressed pause – one thing talked about in Kight's program – stepped back and calmed down, avoiding an impulse decision.
Those in the program know that everyone who sat in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Friday mornings throughout May doesn't quite grasp the seriousness of what was being taught. That's only natural when 100 different young men from the ages of 18 to 22 are being taught life lessons in a classroom setting.
But for those who have taken to the message, the impact has already been noticed both in football and outside of it.
"It can sound stupid, but it really does help if you embrace it and take it seriously," Heuerman said. "It helps, especially in workouts and stuff. Coach (Mickey Marotti), he'll throw stuff at you we've never done before, stuff where you're like, ‘You have to be kidding. After all this, we have this?' And he does a good job of embracing it and teaching it.
"It's not going to just happen like that. It's going to take some time and practice, and hopefully during the season is when we'll really have it embedded into us and we'll be able to use it and it'll help us be successful."
To illustrate his points, Kight began the Memorial Day meeting by showing a video that featured some of the top sports stars in the world and the events they've overcome in getting where they are. Tom Brady wasn't taken seriously coming out of college, not being selected until the sixth round of the draft, and his response was to work with a purpose that made him into a three-time Super Bowl champion. Michael Jordan had the flu before a critical NBA Finals game, and his response was to use his mental strength to cue up a dominant performance.
There are also lessons taken from the Navy SEAL handbook, an above the line culture in which the top participants are able to train and grow beyond their talent, thanks in part to a mind-set that allows them to power through the toughest of situations when life and death is on the line.
"It's a choice and a skill," Kight told the players.
The players met the morning of May 30 and took a 20-question exam about the R Factor. The questions were mostly multiple choice, true or false, or fill in the blank, and the assistant coaches graded the tests quickly. Kight said that not one player missed more than one question, and a quick graduation ceremony that included diplomas took place at the end of the morning session.
Of course, the work is far from over. If impact of what the Buckeyes heard in the classroom over the past few weeks will pale in comparison to the real day-to-day tests that will come up in their lives.
"There's two tests you take – the paper test and then the one out there, the life one," Kight said. "That test is every day, and it never stops. Our statement is E+R=O is the way life is. It's your job to get good at it. I was telling this to Coach Meyer earlier, my hope is that some guy will call him up when he's 35 years old and some challenging situation is happening to him in his life and it will occur to him that, ‘I was trained how to respond to this because I played football at Ohio State, and they taught us this tool set, this toolbox.' That's what it's about."
Kight likened the four-session class the team went through to the install phase that happens in the early days of a fall camp. Now, the Buckeyes will continue to practice the best way to respond to situations, work that will happen not just in life but in the weight room under Marotti.
"His job is to give difficult E's and to challenge your R," Kight said. "He is very good at that. And then Coach Meyer talked about it, our program, everything we do is built around giving you challenging E's in order to teach you. So we're equipping you with tools to have a strong R. Our purpose is to make your R stronger than any E you face.
"That's the phrase we keep using – we're training you, training you, training you. So we're going to give them to you, a never-ending flow of challenging E's that require you to step up above the line."
Meyer drove that home when speaking to the team at the May 23 lesson. He spoke of how at some point, the team in its training will be asked to do wall sits, and someone might walk in and note that, wow, the way to have a football team that can compete at the highest level is to include wall sits in its training.
But it's not about the wall sit at the end of the day – it's about is preparing a team to be mentally strong enough to handle the toughest moments. It's about building strong R's from difficult E's so that the O's ahead will be at the highest level.
"We train for when it's hard," Meyer told his team. "Do you want to win the national championship? We train for the moment that is tough. We are preparing you for a ridiculous E."
Next up: Determining the Ohio State culture