Mullen, who coached with Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida before accepting the head coaching job at Mississippi State, clearly took plenty of Meyer’s methods with him to Starkville, Miss. From the alignment of the coaching staff to the constant competition, there was plenty there that mirrored Meyer. Even the body development pictures Mullen had on a slide resembled those Ohio State posted of Joshua Perry.
But for all the elements of Meyer’s program that were present in that presentation held in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, there were also signs that Mullen does things his own way. Afterwards, he told reporters he’s kept a notebook throughout his career of things he liked and things he’d do differently when he got a chance to run a program. That approach has allowed him to put him own stamp on the program while also taking what he liked from others.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, who worked on the staff with Meyer and Mullen on Utah’s undefeated team in 2004, said the worst thing a head coach can do is try to copy another coach exactly. Mullen couldn’t agree more.
“I can’t be Urban,” Mullen said. “Urban is Urban, and he’s pretty darn good at being Urban. There’s only one. You can’t try to imitate him or be like him. You have to be like yourself. You use this outline and apply it to your beliefs, and you’re going to be successful.”
When asked about what they took away from their time with Meyer, his former assistants all give a variation of the same answer. Their unanimity is striking, especially considering the vast differences of Meyer’s four coaching stops – Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State.
Everyone interviewed for this series rattled off odes to Meyer’s ability to use exquisite planning to get the most out of everyone in program.
“He does a great job of developing coaches and putting you in a position to be successful,” Mullen said. “He has a plan in place of how to run a program. I feel very fortunate. I got to see the plan from day one at Bowling Green, at Utah and at Florida, and that’s where you learn that the outline is the same but how you implement it is very different because those are three very different programs.”
“The thing about Urban that really makes him so successful is he’s just so driven,” said Texas coach Charlie Strong, who was Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Florida from 2004-09. “He has so much passion and is committed to preparing his team to play their best each and every week. The thing that makes his teams so good is he makes sure that everybody knows their assignment and they all play with great fundamentals and technique.”
Many of those coaches both past and recent note that what they learned in Meyer’s program has come in handy as they’ve set out on their own careers.
“His overall organization, just the day-to-day operations of running a football program, is unbelievable,” Whittingham said. “He had a complete blueprint for the year and Urban is a very detail-oriented guy, very organized. There’s nothing left to chance. Everything is mapped out. We hung onto a bunch of the organizational aspects of what he brought to the program.”
“When I was around Coach Meyer I saw firsthand how important the alignment of a staff is, and not just the nine assistant coaches – the strength staff, the training staff, the academic staff, you name it,” said Houston head coach Tom Herman, who worked as Meyer’s offensive coordinator at OSU from 2012-14. “The players are only in your building a few hours a day, and the other 21 hours they’re getting bombarded with different messages, ideas and agendas.
“When they come into the football building, the message has to be aligned with everyone that talks to them, touches them and interacts with them, and there can’t be any hidden agendas or human element, as Coach Meyer says. It has to be exactly the same when they come in, and I didn’t realize how important that was until I spent three years with him.”
The benefit of Meyer’s formula, as Herman went on to say, is that it’s not regional. Some coaches rely on recruiting connections in one part of the country and stay in that region their entire careers, but Meyer has worked in the Midwest, the West and the South. He’s recruited well enough to stockpile serious talent at each stop, but it’s his planning and attention to detail that put his teams over the top.
That blueprint can work anywhere, and his former assistants are currently testing that theory. It’s hard to imagine a wider-reaching tree than Meyer’s. In addition to Whittingham at Utah, Strong at Texas, Herman at Houston and Mullen at Mississippi State, the tree of current FBS head coaches also includes Steve Addazio at Boston College, Gary Andersen at Oregon State, Tim Beckman at Illinois, Doc Holliday at Marshall and Dan McCarney at North Texas.
“If you hear guys talk, there are a lot of similarities,” Addazio said. “You have to be who you are. I’m myself. But I’m also smart enough to know that the stuff Urban does works. It’s founded on timeless principles. If you buy a McDonald’s franchise, it succeeds. It’s well put together. We all have overwhelming evidence of our roots, and it’s been successful for all of us.”