Meyer Looking to Build ‘Elite Eight’ Leadership Committee
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer is putting together a circle of trust at Ohio State.
Before everyone panics, it’s not what you might think.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It certainly won’t be called the ‘circle of trust,’ a term used in the recent Sporting News article which Meyer claims he has never heard in his life. It will, however, be a reward-based system, where certain players are treated differently than others by Meyer and his coaching staff.
“Not based on athleticism but based on their commitment to the program,” he said this past week at the Ohio State Football Coaches Clinic in Columbus.
“That article talked about some great players who were treated very well, but it forgot to mention all the walk-ons.”
Receiver Percy Harvin may have been the star of Meyer’s 2008 BCS National Championship team at Florida, but it was walk-on long-snapper James Smith who became Meyer’s go-to guy.
When Meyer had an issue with the Gators, he went straight to Smith, not Harvin, to make sure his message got across to the rest of the team.
“He was the first guy I spoke to, not because of his athletic ability, but because of his overall commitment and belief in what we’re trying to do,” Meyer said of Smith, who was a semifinalist for the Draddy Trophy and served as a team captain for that Florida team in 2008.
“He’s the guy I trusted more than anyone else because he did it the right way. I wanted to motivate the other guys to act like that guy.”
Motivating players through a system of rewards is something Meyer learned, both from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
“He wanted to treat players the way they deserve to be treated, not treat them all the same,” Meyer said of Wooden.
“Because that’s not preparing them for life. It’s an injustice to say, ‘I’m going to treat you the same as that guy.’ Then they go get a job and they’re not motivated to be that guy.”
Meyer has often compared his treatment of players to the way employees are handled in the workplace. The ones who work hard and commit themselves to the job end up with corner offices and all-expenses-paid vacations to Cancun and Costa Rica.
The ones who don’t buy in, well they end up looking for another place of employment.
That’s why Meyer doesn’t spend a lot of his time and energy worrying about the group of players he calls the ‘defiant disinterested.’ Every team has them, the guys who don’t want to work hard on the field, in the weight room or, especially, in the classroom.
“They’re the guys on your team who don’t go to class. They’re the guys that have a two-o’clock workout and they show up at 2:25,” Meyer said.
“You pull your hair out, driving yourself nuts because you are constantly trying to change the 10-percent defiant disinterested.”
Many coaches will spend countless hours trying to change this group and pull them into the fold.
“Don’t waste much time there,” he told the high school football coaches from around the state of Ohio.
“Do the best you can. God did not make us to change people. Put a program in place, mentor, do the best you can, but at some point you have to move one.”
The key, in Meyer’s mind, is make sure that group—the defiant disinterested—doesn’t infiltrate the rest of the team. For that, Meyer plans to build his circle of trust—or as he calls it, the Elite Eight Leadership Committee.
“I’m going to build a leadership committee of people that I trust,” Meyer said.
“They’re those freaks we’re talking about. They’re different. Not necessarily the fastest guys on the team, or the strongest, but they are going to be the most committed guys in our program. We want our entire team to watch exactly how we treat the elite.”
Meyer and his strength coach Mickey Marotti—who he refers to often as his right-hand man in all player issues—almost made what he calls a “terrible decision” back in January.
They had just taken over the reins of the program from interim head coach Luke Fickell, and Meyer was looking to strengthen the elite.
He planned to start by putting together his leadership committee immediately following a disastrous, somewhat leaderless, 2011 campaign that ended with the school’s first losing season since 1988.
“In places I’ve been, we let the players vote on leaders. Sometimes it work, sometimes it doesn’t,” Meyer said.
“If you let players vote on it without really knowing your players, they might vote on their boys. Now you’re stuck with a leadership committee that at some point will infiltrate the elite. If they infiltrate the elite, and the elite’s not real strong, they could be brought down.”
Ohio State saw that first-hand with the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Boom Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas—all of whom would have been considered leaders at this time a year ago.
Herron was even picked as a team captain following the 2011 season, despite missing six games for committing multiple NCAA violations. Meyer plans to meet with every one of his players this week to make sure he has the right guys leading his first Ohio State football team.
At least one of them should be a no-brainer.
“One guy is No. 54 John Simon,” Meyer said. “He’s a freak.
“He has the self-discipline and work-ethic most of us can only dream of. I’ve not been around a guy like that other than my quarterback, that left-handed kid at Florida.”
He turned out to be a decent leader.
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