As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last three years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started with #10 – The Colt Concussion, next was #9 -Key Cavalier Wins. We broke down the Baron Davis Trade and talked some Tribe at #7. Kirk was on the Pat Shurmur hire for #6. We stuck with that Browns theme and discussed the big draft day deal involving Julio Jones and Phil Taylor (#5). We went back to the Red, White, and Blue with #4, the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Yesterday TD touched on the Cavaliers winning the draft lottery and picking Kyrie Irving at #3. Today, it’s time to talk about the moment Ohio State was saved from falling off the cliff.
#2: The Ohio State University Hires Urban Meyer as Head Football Coach
The Urban Meyer story at Ohio State is, by nature, about so much more than just Urban Meyer.
Indeed, to understand just how big of a deal this was, you have to consider the entire context of just what all went down. If we start at the beginning, and by beginning I actually mean the end of the Michigan game in 2010, Ohio State football was in something of an age of renaissance. They had just beaten Michigan (for the 7th consecutive year, and 9th time in 10 tries). They had wrapped up their 6th consecutive Big Ten title. They were headed to their 8th BCS bowl under Tressel (they would go 5-3 in those BCS bowls under Tressel). They had played in 3 National Championship games, winning one.
As great as all that was, there was no end in sight to Ohio State’s dominance in the Big Ten. Coming off that 12-1 season, and with returning senior leaders such as Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Mike Brewster, and Andrew Sweat. Ohio State seemed primed to compete for the National Championship in 2011. Pryor’s heir apparent was in tow. Braxton Miller would have a whole year to sit and learn before taking the reins. The recruiting class of 2012 was already shaping up nicely with commitments from Kyle Kalis, Brionte Dunn, and Warren Ball, with plenty of other big in state recruits seemingly leaning toward Ohio State.
Just when it seemed nothing (other than SEC teams in National Championship games) could stand in Ohio State’s way, it all came crashing down in the weeks leading up to the Sugar Bowl matchup with Arkansas. Word came out that Pryor, Posey, Herron, Adams, and Solomon Thomas has illegally (by NCAA standards) sold some of their awards in exchange for free tattoos. From there, everything snowballed.
First, the NCAA strangely allowed the players to play in the Sugar Bowl, but suspended them all for the first 5 games of 2011. This was a clear blow to any National Championship hopes. Only, Ohio State fans at that had no clue how laughable it was to worry about a title in comparison to what was yet to come.
In early March, in one of the most poorly executed press conferences ever pulled off (with such a stunning display of institutional incompetence), Ohio State announces that Jim Tressel was tipped off to the violations by his players. Tressel claims he never told anyone at OSU. In response, Ohio State does two incomprehensibly dumb things. One, they announce a 2 game suspension for Tressel (somehow thinking a coach covering things up is actually not as bad as the players selling their stuff), and two, Gordon Gee claims there’s no way OSU is firing Tressel and that he just hopes Tressel doesn’t fire him.
Fast forward a bit. Tressel’s suspension is changed to 5 games. More accusations come out. Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann writes a supposed expose on Jim Tressel, painting him as some kind of inherently bad man. Rumors of inappropriate car sales to football players come out. Ray Small talks to The Lantern. Etc, etc, etc. On May 30, Jim Tressel is disgracefully and unceremoniously asked to resign from his post as steward of the Ohio State football program.
Unfortunately for OSU fans, even this wasn’t the end of the misery. More allegations, more suspensions, more inappropriate contact and benefits with boosters. Kyle Kalis switched his commitment from OSU to Michigan. Brionte Dunn began to waver on OSU. Top recruits who were high on Ohio State all went elsewhere. On the field, OSU started with Joe Bauserman, switched to Braxton Miller who went through all the freshman struggles. Luke Fickell appeared overwhelmed by the job at times. And Ohio State lost games. A lot of them. Including Michigan. Ohio State was a sinking ship with NCAA sanctions looming overhead.
Ohio State needed a life preserver. Someone who could stop the sinking. That man was Urban Meyer.
The rest of the story remains to be written, of course, but the instant Meyer stepped foot on Ohio State’s campus as the new man in charge, things turned around. Wayward recruits such as Se’Von Pittman and Tommy Schutt returned to OSU. Brionte Dunn, who almost certainly appeared ready to flip to Michigan, changed his mind after Urban Meyer sold him again on OSU. The recruiting landscape for the class of 2012 flipped dramatically and spontaneously upon Meyer’s arrival.
Urban Meyer is maniacal recruiting. He eats, sleeps, and breathes to recruit. He has returned a level of optimism back to OSU football that has been missing not just over the last year, but really since the days of Woody. Not that fans didn’t full appreciate Tressel, but with that coach’s emphasis on defense and field position, it created a brand of football that was reserved and not always appealing to the eyes. You can’t argue with the results, but plenty of fans loved to argue with the style.
Under Urban Meyer, the pedal is being pushed now. Recruiting philosophy will change. Heck, it already has been changed 180 degrees. But recruiting is just one part of the equation. Urban Meyer has a coaching pedigree almost unmatched in college football. He has won everywhere he has been . He won at Bowling Green, he won a BCS bowl at Utah, and he won 2 titles with Florida. That’s the coach that Ohio State inherited, in a climate where there was so much sadness, so much despair, so much uncertainty with sanctions, and so much shock over the reversal in fortunes.
In the end, Ohio State and Urban Meyer were just a perfect match. It’s one of the most prestigious college football programs hiring one of the most prestigious college football coaches. There were plenty of huge stories in 2011 for Cleveland sports, but the Urban Meyer hire changed the whole perception of the college football landscape. A program that was apparently headed to a period of certain decline was suddenly pulled back from the ledge and put back in control of their own destiny. Sure, Ohio State has to sit out a bowl game. I doubt Urban Meyer cares too much. It just gives him a free year to implement his system and acquire the pieces he want to make Ohio State into a true national powerhouse again. And that is the Urban Meyer story.