Determining The Buckeye Culture

Our web series on Ohio State's behind-the-scenes work this offseason continues with a piece on the culture Urban Meyer has established within the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. It's a clear, concise mission statement that the Buckeyes hope to teach and follow.

Many have written about the work the Ohio State football program has done over the past year with Tim Kight and his son Brian when it comes to establishing the leadership and culture Urban Meyer wants in his program. But BSB was curious about exactly what was happening and Meyer's specific thoughts on leadership and culture, resulting in a frank one-on-one conversation with the head coach about the subject as well as a chance to sit in on two of the classes taught by Tim Kight during the month of May. The result is this weeklong web series about the subject, which continues today.

It's an easy narrative.

Ohio State lost its final two games of the season, so changes needed to be made.

There were some high-profile changes with the coaching staff, as two defensive assistants went elsewhere.

And behind the scenes, Ohio State brought in Dublin-based organizational culture specialist Tim Kight to work with the program.

Of course, narratives are rarely quite that simple.

Kight actually began working with the team a year ago, installing his E+R=O system, after meeting Meyer at a get-together in May 2013.

And while it is true that Kight's work with the Buckeye program has increased over time, to call Meyer's acceptance of Kight into his program as a major shift in philosophy at Ohio State would be to mischaracterize the situation.

"It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to blame, complain and defend. Donald Duck can do that. Who can't?" - Urban Meyer

Simply put, Meyer sees somewhat of a kindred spirit in Kight, someone who specializes in taking the vision the head coach has of what he wants in his program and breaking it down in a way that it can be taught to more than 100 players from different backgrounds.

"I wasn't looking for a change because if you evaluate the last 13 years, it's worked well," Meyer told BSB. "We have a saying around here – if something is going well, always strengthen, enhance it. I met this guy, Tim, and to the core, we believe in the same philosophy. He has just done it for 30 years. He has a systematic way of teaching our culture. So when I see ‘changing,' we're not. We're enhancing and making it stronger. If you have to change, you implode the whole thing and start over again. We're not doing that at all. We're making it stronger.

"The thing that is so appealing to me and to him, when the two of us get together, Tim and myself, is that to the core, we have the same exact philosophy. He just has a very systematic way of teaching it the same way you teach football, the same way you teach engineering, the same way you teach sociology 101. You don't just go and throw it at them. That's kind of what coaches do."

So when the Buckeyes lost to Michigan State and Clemson at the end of last season, there were some options on the table for Meyer. He could have gone nuclear, especially on the defensive side where Ohio State struggled immensely at the end of last season, and simply make changes for the sake of making changes.

But Meyer also knew there were a lot of good things going in the program – he had good people, good players and a track record of success. Meyer's approach has won a lot of games and two national championships in his time in college football, and the Buckeye staff he had put together had piloted the team to a school-record 24-game winning streak in its first 24 games on campus.

So the offseason was not the time to blow up the whole thing, nor was it a time to assign blame for what had gone wrong. It was not the time to complain about the rough ending of the season, and it was not the time for people to make excuses or defend their actions. It was merely a chance to figure out what had gone wrong and get better.

Luckily enough, Kight and his crew have an acronym for that – BCD. Ohio State's staff would not blame, complain or defend.

"We invented that," Kight said. "It's our description based on our observations of leaders around the world, and we observed this: Leaders, when they're not getting what they want, which demonstrates they're not very effective leaders, they blame, complain and defend. That's what lesser leaders do, which only makes the problem worse."

"I think there's a BCD epidemic around the world and so does (my son) Brian. So when I introduced that, it sure motivated (Meyer) and he picked up the language."

Meyer confirms that it didn't take him very long to take to the language of BCD.

"I was like, ‘Wow, that's exactly what people do,' " the head coach said. "And you have to teach your players not to do that. Think about the first thing when a team loses, who do the fans blame? Coaches and players. The players aren't good enough? That's nonsense. Everybody has great players. Everybody. This team lost seven games two years ago. Did they lose because of bad players? No. There were issues. Did they lose because of really bad coaches? Of course not, those are all good coaches. There was something wrong. You have to figure out the issues, and we did and we won 12 straight, 24 straight."

"I just have to make sure we're not doing that, and the first guy I have to make sure is me. Because that's easy to do. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to blame, complain and defend. Donald Duck can do that. Who can't? Name a person who can't blame, complain and defend. That's every person's reaction to tough situations. It takes an incredible amount of guts, an incredible amount of time and effort to get it cleaned up and get it fixed."

So that's what Meyer set out to do, and much of that involved identifying the exact culture the head coach wants at Ohio State, work that was done with Kight's help.

If you read stories about Ohio State throughout the spring or even heard Meyer or his players talk at any point, you probably come across some of the core beliefs of the program. Terms such as "competitive excellence," "the power of the unit" and getting from point A to point B and playing each play with four to six seconds of relentless effort have been identified.

Those bullet points have often been stressed in Meyer's program, but now they are the front-and-center mandate after the Kights had Meyer put together a cultural blueprint that encapsulates what the Buckeyes want and expect out of their players, with the goal in mind for the team to prepare to win every day in everything they do.

"The three core beliefs that I've heard you articulate are relentless effort, No. 1," Kight recalled telling Meyer. "Competitive excellence is No. 2. The power of the unit is No. 3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the Urban Meyer culture. That's what you believe in the bottom of your heart.

"So then the behavior of relentless effort is go as hard as you can for four to six seconds, A to B, that's the behavior you want. Then there's an outcome you get from that, and you can recover from any situation you can possibly face.

"For competitive excellence, the behavior you want and you communicated is that you're constantly taking mental reps or game reps – you're always preparing either mentally or physically. The outcome you get from that is a la Kenny Guiton, when your number is called, you perform.

"The power of the unit, the behavior is an uncommon commitment to each other and the work ethic necessary to achieve our purpose. The outcome we get from that is a brotherhood of trust and the willingness to do what needs to be done.

"Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the Urban Meyer culture. And he's like, ‘I've never seen my beliefs spelled out that clearly and that concisely.' I said, ‘That's it. That's your culture.' "

That, in a nutshell, is what Ohio State wants its players and its program to live by. But how does it go about getting those results?

Next up: What it means to create leadership


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