Meyer has picked up three prospects from Cass Tech, a Motor City power and a school long considered a Michigan “pipeline,” the past two years, including highly touted running back Weber and teammate Joshua Alabi in the 2015 class that signed Wednesday.
But now that Drayton, Ohio State’s running backs coach and a coach that was close to Weber throughout his recruitment, accepted a job with the Chicago Bears on Thursday, the story has sparked a wide-ranging debate on whether Meyer’s program misled Weber, Ohio State’s future at Cass Tech and more.
The story has it all – the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan, personalities on both sides with deep-seated allegiance to each side and intrigue upon intrigue. It’s no wonder it’s reaching a boiling point.
And Wilcher, a Michigan alum who played with new U-M head coach Jim Harbaugh at the school, poured gasoline and lit a match whether he meant to or not during an interview on 105.1 FM in Detroit.
"I think Urban Meyer will have to step his game up; we're going to have to talk," he said. "He has come to my school and got the No. 1 athlete two years in a row. You cannot come over here, come up to the north and walk out of here with your pockets full and not give us respect.
"That's not gonna happen again, I can tell you that right now."
Wilcher also added, "(Weber) wanted to stay committed, he wanted to show he understands about commitment. That's what he showed Ohio State in the end. They're at least supposed to show him the same type of courtesy. It's a black eye on the university. They're out there getting these young men under false pretenses."
The comments at the end there might be a bit over the top, though I'm willing to give Wilcher -- who has said he’s just speaking out publicly to defend his star running back, a Scout 100 prospect who tweeted he was “hurt” by the situation -- the benefit of the doubt.
Wilcher is for sure in an awkward situation. I have no doubts he is speaking up for his player, but there are also plenty of politics in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry involved too. Ever since Kerry Coombs has arrived under Meyer and proclaimed his love of planting flags in “That State Up North,” this has threatened to be explosive. All it required was the right situation, and it got it with a new coach at U-M in Harbaugh, the right recruit in Weber and the right turn of events with Drayton.
“It’s Ohio State, so that as far as I’m concerned you’re bringing a great message, but I think it’s important when you go to any high school to make a connection with the high school coach and develop a relationship with him,” Coombs said on National Signing Day about building a relationship with Cass Tech.
“Just think about the pressure that high school coach was under,” Coombs added. “He went to (Michigan) and played in the backfield with (Harbaugh). He’s a good guy. There’s a lot of people under pressure. I understand that because I was a head coach in this state.”
When asked about whether Ohio State would have to do anything different with the school now that Harbaugh is at Michigan, Coombs agreed.
“I think we’re going to have to fight and crawl and scratch even harder than we already have,” he said.
There’s obviously more to it now. Drayton accepting the job with Chicago upon being offered it Thursday – and let’s make it clear he’s far from the only coach to switch jobs the past few days – muddies the waters even further, and Wilcher’s public comments show that is the case.
But as much as this story can sell papers – again, it’s got enough rivalry, intrigue and potential deception to show up on Soap Opera Network – it should be more about Weber.
I can’t help but feel for the kid, who is caught up in a typhoon of forces much stronger than just his individual decision. He's allowed to be hurt, as he posted on his Twitter account. Imagine going through a long, complicated, exhausting process making an important decision about your future, and a day later, one of the instrumental people in that decision exited the picture. You'd be upset too.
Between Michigan bringing in running back Karan Higdon on signing day – a move that Weber said publicly he didn’t anticipate and helped push him to Ohio State – and this, Weber got a crash course in big-time college football the past few days.
It’s all coming on top of a personal choice about his future, and that’s tough. The way recruiting is viewed by fans, it’s easy to view kids as commodities, not people, but that simply isn’t the case.
The reality is that recruits should sign with schools, not coaches, but the No. 1 thing prospects point to when picking a school is comfort and relationships – aka, people. You always know going in that those people can change, but you never expect it to happen so quickly.
Just because Drayton – someone who has long had aspirations to move up the ladder in coaching circles – wasn’t likely to be Weber’s coach for his entire career, or that OSU is likely to hire a qualified individual who might mesh well with Weber, doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t hurt Weber in the mean time.
As for the future, this could end as a circus or fairly tamely. If Ohio State is unable to smooth things over and Weber asks for a release from his letter of intent, things will get messy quickly. You can bet schools around the country would not be happy if the Buckeyes granted it – the precedent sent would change the system for good, for better or worse – and Ohio State would be under no responsibility to grant it. But not doing so could also be a public relations nightmare, if it comes to that.
There are a lot of factors at play here, and I could write about 1,000 more words on all sides of it. Many will blame Ohio State and many won't, but as I see it there was no easy way for the Buckeyes to handle such a dynamic situation. There might be hurt feelings or it might get smoothed over at the end. It's a difficult situation for all involved with bad timing, but it can also be salvaged.