Spring practice at Ohio State brings position battles, which can put a lot of pressure on players. However, when the Buckeyes opened up spring practice, it was Kevin Wilson who had the spotlight on him as he was greeted with a barrage of questions from the media concerning his former job at Indiana.
Wilson and the Hoosiers parted ways after allegations of player mistreatment arose following the 2016 season, which left plenty of questions unanswered until Wilson addressed reporters March 9 in Columbus.
“We wouldn’t be here doing this job if those things were true,” Wilson said of the allegations made against him. “Anyone can have an opinion. I know the department over there looked into everything, and I know this school has looked into everything. I know we are very comfortable with everything we are doing and where we are at, and we are excited to move forward.”
Wilson went on to say that despite no longer being the head coach at Indiana, he still keeps in contact with some of his former players, one of whom he said reached out to him in recent weeks.
“I got a message from a kid the other night who was going through a situation and just said, ‘Hey, I appreciate everything you did for me. You made me tough as nails and I love you.’ At the same time, you move on,” Wilson said. “You wish those guys well because they are your guys. We had some great times. It was great for our family. But now we are here. And you are blessed to be at one of the great programs – great players and great leadership.
“I know a lot about Columbus. It will be a great town to continue to live. We enjoyed our six years (in Bloomington), we raised some kids who are going to college there. But now we will get over here and get moving on. We are excited about moving forward.”
In addition to the allegations of player mistreatment, a former player also accused Wilson of intimidating athletic trainers. Wilson commended the athletic training staff at IU in response.
“I think a couple of the trainers were the best I had ever been around,” he said. “Outstanding. Those guys ran the ship, did a great job. You take a losing program and have that kind of success, that is a great commitment from a lot of people.
“We appreciate the opportunity to coach those kids. I am very grateful for those kids and what they gave our family. At the same time, we are excited to be coaching these cats here.”
One of the players that Wilson is now coaching is center Billy Price, who anchors an offensive line that returns four starters from a year ago. While he said he is aware of what Wilson was accused of at Indiana, Price added he hasn’t paid too much attention to it and is excited to move forward with Wilson leading the Ohio State offense.
“Obviously in this digital social media era, we’re all very educated in the things that go on and the lines that happen. Again you know sometimes when you come to a new place you start a fresh slate. Guys transfer from here, fresh slate, new start,” Price said. “None of the things that have transpired at his prior university have impacted any of us here. And that’s not just the political answer, that’s the truth answer. Things happen. That’s my offensive coordinator so there’s nothing going on.”
Now in Columbus, Wilson is tasked with trying to improve a unit that ranked 81st in pass offense a season ago. That offense returns fifth-year senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, someone Wilson has coached against twice (2014 and 2016) and said he has admired from afar.
“The way he played as a freshman to me was uncanny,” Wilson said. “Last year we played against him and again, I really just love his command and presence. Now I am here, and you see more about him, but what he does is he affects the position. He has a strong effect on Joe (Burrow), a strong effect on the young guys, Dwayne (Haskins) and Tate (Martell), and he has a strong effect on me. He has got some great leadership skills. I haven’t met his family, but he is a blessed kid and I am blessed to have a chance to coach him.”
Wilson has been in Columbus for only a few months and is just starting his first spring practice with Ohio State. In addition to helping the Buckeyes improve on a less than stellar offensive attack from a season ago, Wilson is trying to mesh with an offensive staff that features a new quarterbacks coach as well.
He said that one of his main focuses is to connect with the new staff and Barrett to help establish a positive relationship before dealing with the X’s and O’s of the offense.
“I think that was one of our strengths over there (at IU) was to get a bunch of individuals to come in together and play as a group. That is one of the thing we are most proud of what we did over there,” Wilson said. “Over here, that is going to be the challenge. There are a lot of individual players, but it is the ability offensively to collectively bring it all together. That is what we are going to work hard to do.”
In addition to meshing with the new players and coaches, Wilson said he is also adjusting to taking a step back from being the head coach to an assistant. He said since arriving in Columbus, the intensity Meyer brings to Ohio State every day has stood out to him.
“Coach Meyer’s passion and energy and direction every day are at another level,” Wilson said. “I just feel like as a coach every day, he demands my best every day. He demands it from J.T., he demands it from everyone in the organization across the board.
“You have to take care of yourself to have the energy and the concentration whether it be in recruiting, working with your players, your staff. Ultimately I am also responsible for the offense. It is an awesome obligation that he puts on you. I respect the way he does it.”
Wilson is now one of two former college head coaches working under Meyer, joining defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
Meyer said he had concerns about bringing on a second former head coach but added that, so far, Wilson has fit right in with the rest of the Buckeye staff.
“I was worried about that,” Meyer admitted. “My first one I think I hired was Dan McCarney (who had been head coach at Iowa State) at Florida. It was a very successful hire. He came in and there was no duty that was – he just did everything. Joker Phillips came here last year, was an SEC head coach (Kentucky) and came in and did a lot of scout work for us, those type of things.
“Then you have Greg Schiano and now I have Kevin Wilson. It’s to be determined but my initial reaction is over the top. He’s jumped right in. He’s one of the soldiers and we’re going to work.”
Echoing Wilson’s and Meyer’s comments, Barrett said he sees Wilson’s influence on the Buckeyes already, specifically in the speed at which the offense is operating.
“A lot hasn’t changed,” Barrett said. “One of the main things is emphasis on our tempo. I think that got away from us last year. We are making sure we are playing fast and the main thing too is just effort. There are times where we have good effort for a half of a play. Just trying to finish those plays. Those are the things that can spring us for an 80-yarder. Or a receiver blocking downfield after a guy catches a ball. Those are things we are going to focus on this spring, and it is going to make us better."
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