Honesty Best Policy In OSU's Program

In the words of one assistant coach, honesty and transparency is where Urban Meyer's Ohio State program can hang its hat. BuckeyeSports.com takes a look at why that's the case and how that is impacting the program even after the tough end to the 2013 season.

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.

Previous stories include an inside look at the classes taught by Kight to the team during the month of May, a definition of the culture Ohio State hopes to build and what leadership means in the Buckeye program.

When the Ohio State football team met for its session with Tim Kight on May 23, words were not minced inside of the team room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

One offensive player who will likely be counted on in 2014 was chided for not bringing the right mind-set every day in the weight room. He wasn't the only one to get what some might have felt was a tough assessment, while some players were pointed out and praised for their outlook on the day-to-day efforts needed to excel in college football.

Meanwhile, some team leaders from a season ago were pointed to as examples for others, being described as "animals" who attacked off-the-field prep work with zeal. On the other hand, one other veteran from the 2013 campaign received a less charitable description based on the mind-set he carried each day.

Welcome to a day in Urban Meyer's program.

The head coach has pledged to operate a "transparent" program, a directive that he's sent pretty much from the first day on the job.

"Here's what it is – he is brutally honest," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said last spring. "If there's a thing that you can hang our program's hat on, it's honesty."

That has only increased since the program has started working even further with Tim Kight and his crew. The mantra that Meyer and his staff have embraced this offseason after last year's unfortunate end – there will be no blaming, no complaining and no defending – is at its core a call to honest self-reflection and owning up to one's mistakes that is part of Kight's lesson.

That's partly because honesty – especially when it comes to self-evaluation – is one of the bedrocks of everything the Kights do.

"It's everything," Tim Kight said. "Self-deception is a cruel animal, and we're all very capable. What we do is this – we behave below the line, we don't get the outcome that we want, and so we blame, complain and defend."

The old saying goes that honesty is the best policy, but the truth is that it also be a tough one to live up to. That's especially true in an evaluation-based environment like a football program, a place where egos and can be bruised and feelings can be hurt at the drop of a hat.

But for those who understand how life works, that honesty can unlock a lot of things both on the field and off.

"I think it's pretty beneficial," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "Being sheltered your whole life and being told everything is OK I think really screws people up in the end in the long run of life. … I've had my conversations with Coach Meyer where you walk out and you're like, ‘Damn, that's not really what I wanted to hear,' but that's the truth."

"Direct Teaching"
That's the phrase Ohio State tight ends coach Tim Hinton uses when discussing the honesty he uses in his room. A veteran of more than 30 years in coaching at the high school and college levels, Hinton has been around the sport long enough to have decided that is the best way to communicate with his charges.

"I think the longer I'm in it, I've seen that a complement that wasn't earned is false," Hinton said. "There's something false to it, and the kid will never believe the complement he gets that is real. The kid still knows that that was probably false, I really didn't deserve it. They know. They don't want to admit it, but I think that's where the honesty part continues to grow.

"Is it negative saying to that young man, ‘You made a really good play, but your ball security was awful'? That's truthful. It's truthful that you made a really nice play but you're getting a minus on the play for your grade because your ball security could have prevented the play from very good. Now it didn't, we got lucky, but that's honesty. But you have to give kids small victories sometimes."

As Hinton alluded to, honesty doesn't always mean being negative toward a player. If you've been around the Ohio State coaching staff for any length of time, encouragement can come just as easily as criticism.

"There's a lot of people that just don't like honesty," Hinton said. "Now, if you're going to give it – that's why I really complement Coach Meyer. He's not only honest on the negative end, he's very honest on the positive end. I've not been around many guys who are as positive."

But at the end of the day, it's hearing what you don't want to hear that can make the biggest impact on a person – or be the toughest thing to handle. Someone like offensive lineman Joel Hale found that out when he arrived as an early enrollee in the winter of 2011.

"Whenever you first come in – Jeff (Heuerman) and I came in super young because we graduated early and were midyear guys, super young," Hale said. "So I'm super young, just went through all the recruiting BS, so everybody naturally coming in here is going to feel that they have an edge or they are the man.

"But our open, honest program helps deflate that because if you have that kind of mentality in a conceited way, it can crush a unit because you're more focused on yourself than you are the unit. Therefore, you're draining the unit down rather than dropping your ego and helping that unit excel to the max. That's the way I look at it."

A Player's Perspective
Now that he's a senior leader, Hale also feels as though he can provide a service in that regard.

"I'm a huge jerk," he said when it comes to dealing with teammates who are falling short of the program's lofty standards in some regards. "My goal when I came to Ohio State wasn't to be a leader because I am that. My goal is to help the team be the best. Sometimes you have to be a jerk to get the job done, to get people doing the right things."

"You can't have a gray area," Hale continued. "I've been through that talk with Coach Meyer 100 times. There's no gray area. It's either yes or no. There's no ‘Uhh, maybe.' No. It's not that. You're good enough or you're not good enough. You're doing your stuff right off the field, you're not doing your stuff right off the field.

"That's why any little mess up in the academic side is a big deal because there is a standard here at Ohio State that you don't miss tutoring, you don't miss any classes, you do your homework, everything. It's an honest, transparent program that you are going to know everything."

And as many have said, that honesty helps avoid a lot of problems down the road, both within the program and in life in general.

"I think it really helps guys grow and helps guys understand the real world," Heuerman said. "In the real world, people aren't going to BS you. In the real world, people are going to be honest with you, and it's going to make or break a lot of things – make or break your job, make or break your family. I think Coach Meyer's program really gets you ready for your second phase of life after football."

Next up: Developing unit leaders


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