Unit Culture Key To OSU's Outlook

Our last look at Ohio State's decision to deepen its culture this offseason focuses on the work the team's assistant coaches put in with Urban Meyer and Tim Kight. To get the culture the Buckeyes want, Meyer has taken the approach that it must be taught from the ground up in the team meeting rooms.

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 five-part web series about the subject, which concludes today.

Every football coach wants a specific culture in his program.

So, what's the best way to reach the 100 or so athletes on your team to install that culture?

You can have team meetings. You can put motivational posters in the office space and weight rooms. You can reference your beliefs in speeches and talks.

But what really helps that message get through to more than one hundred athletes at 10 different positions, all of whom have different backgrounds, different upbringings, different work ethics and different motivations?

"It has to be communicated by a unit leader," Tim Kight said. "It can't just be a speech from Urban Meyer. If they hear four to six, A to B, and they just hear it from you as a pregame speech and they don't hear it in their rooms, it's not going to happen."

As previously discussed, the culture that Ohio State wants has been established. But one of the secrets to actually getting that culture to take hold has been identified as teaching it from the ground up, and at Ohio State, that now means teaching it in each position group and then going from there.

Getting more than 100 players to believe in a group dynamic is difficult – nearly impossible, if you think about it. But if a mind-set develops that each position group is like a family, then closer and closer bonds can be developed and that culture can take on a deeper meaning.

To this point, Ohio State's assistant coaches – or, as they're now called inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, unit leaders – are fully on board with that philosophy.

"Here's what I think, and I think this is at the core of everything we've talked about all spring," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said this spring. "I know you guys are getting tired of hearing ‘power of the unit' and ‘four-to-six seconds,' but here's the reality: If that is what is truly important and it becomes important to our players that 11 guys show up to the ball and it doesn't really matter which number gets there first – and in fact, maybe it matters which number gets there last – then it's really, really important, and our guys are playing like that."

LINK: Part 3: What Buckeyes Mean When They Say Leadership

The goal will be to get nine units working at maximum capacity one year after Meyer said he thought the Buckeyes had six units at that spot. If the Buckeyes can get to that point, the head coach believes, then no one will be able to keep them from reaching the top.

To help that process along, Meyer entrusted Kight with putting his nine assistant coaches through leadership training this spring in order to make sure those coaches – who spend the majority of the time with their players at the team facility – were prepared for the challenge.

It's something Meyer had never done before but something he now feels is a necessary part of the Ohio State experience.

"How many universities in the history of college football have put their unit leaders through leadership training? In the history of the game?" he said. "Maybe zero. Maybe someone did. But is it one out of 1,000?

"That would be a great study. Imagine that statement right there. What if it was zero in the history of college football? If the answer is zero, that's kind of embarrassing. Do you think Nike puts their leaders through leadership training? Do you think Apple does?"

Coaching Coaches
The result was that Meyer allowed Kight to teach classes – held a few times each week, generally about 90 minutes, even during spring practice – this spring that explained methods for the coaches to better relate to their players and continue establishing the culture that is desired.

Kight seemed somewhat floored that Meyer allowed him such access during the spring, but that just shows the program's dedication to the process.

And to be honest, asking a coach who has done his job – and generally done it well – for decades to change could have been received in many ways, not all of them good. That's not what has happened at Ohio State, though.

LINK: Part 4: Honesty Best Policy In OSU's Program

"I would say enthusiastic wouldn't adequately describe their mind-set," Kight said. "I would say totally committed, extremely impressive group of men in terms of their willingness to grow and get better. There was no sense of compliance; there was every sense they were compelled to get better. They didn't participate in this because Urban Meyer asked them to do it, they participated in it because they wanted to.

"Hungry would be a great word for these guys – humble in that willingness to identify strengths and use then and identify gaps and get better. Humble, all of them, to a man."

When the assistants were asked about the sessions, a theme emerged – that their desire to improve as people drove their thinking.

"We're all life-long learners," Coombs said. "I'm 52 and there's a whole lot of things I still need to learn in this world. I think the only things in this world that educate you in life are the books you learn and the people you meet. Coach Meyer is providing us with both people and things to read that are impactful.

"We're still a learning vessel," tight ends coach Tim Hinton added. "Think about every year with X's and O's, what do coaches do? They go out and they learn. They go out and see other coaches, and other coaches seek them. It's a constant conversation, ‘OK, how can I improve?' You're constantly challenging each other in a staff room, ‘Is there a better way to do this?' That vessel, it won't fill up."

Hearing those words would likely be music to Tim Kight's ears. Coaches spend much of their time asking players to trust their methods and devote themselves to getting better, so to see them live up to that message in their own lives has been fulfilling to those who are part of the process.

To hear Coombs tell it, the feeling is mutual.

"The experience here is unique in many, many ways, but what Coach is doing with us as staff and as men this offseason is remarkable," he said. "I don't know that I can limit what I'm getting out of it to any singular thing, but it is a passion for being a man, leading, doing things right, communicating.

"Relentless effort, four to six is all football stuff, but it goes so far beyond that. Being able to have that conversation with my kids every day has been a remarkable experience."

In Conclusion
After each of his first two campaigns as Ohio State's football coach, it's clear Urban Meyer is able to find one takeaway from the team's previous campaign and focus on it as he goes into the offseason.

Whether he's speaking at a coaches clinic, on the banquet circuit or at any other get-together of Ohio State's prodigious fanbase, Meyer has shown a desire to have a go-to topic clearly at hand each offseason.

After the undefeated 2012 campaign, he traveled around the state and country discussing the incredible behind-the-scenes journey of how the program's coaches and players came together to improve from 6-7 to 12-0.

This spring and summer, he's spent much of his time talking about culture and leadership. And he's done so in a fashion that has made it clear that he's not just giving lip service to the topic.

"I can honestly say I've never worked on anything as hard in my life since that day we walked off the field in South Florida to make sure that we have the exact culture that I want, that we all want at Ohio State," Meyer said at this year's Coach Meyer Spring Kick-Off Luncheon in April.

Some may wonder what exactly the topic has to do with wins and losses on the football field. Some may wonder if it's a project that will ultimately fall flat, if it's just a series of buzzwords that will at the end of the day have no more impact than what is happening all across the country in similar football programs.

But Meyer and the Kights clearly believe it's an undertaking worth doing. If developing a better culture of leaders and a more common purpose in everything the Buckeyes do helps the team achieve its biggest goals – as they believe it will – then it's fair to say the entire process would be a success.

Those goals include more than just football games, but for Buckeye Nation, that is where the program will be measured perhaps most strongly. And the belief at Ohio State right now is that the Buckeyes are primed now more than ever to have great success on the gridiron thanks to what is happening behind the scenes.

"There's no technique or in business there's no strategy that is going to overcome an absence of those things," Brian Kight said. "You can't pass block well enough to overcome an absence of leadership in your unit, competitive fire or not going hard. You can't do it."

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