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April 23, 2012
New Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has brought his cutthroat SEC mentality to the Big Ten while also achieving a better work-life balance—for now
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April 23, 2012

Another Urban Renewal

New Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has brought his cutthroat SEC mentality to the Big Ten while also achieving a better work-life balance—for now

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"Those first three days [of spring ball] are gonna be very depressing," Meyer said in mid-March, "or I'm gonna be very excited."

A week into spring ball he seemed closer to the former, feeding local reporters such sound bites as "I'd expect our offense to be a little bit more competitive right now" and "I just wish we would make more plays."

Ohio State fans have reason to be excited, regardless, and not just because Herman is an offensive genius—literally, he is a Mensa member—with a record of breathing life into moribund attacks. In two years at Rice, his offenses broke 40 school records, and in his last three seasons, coordinating the offense at overachieving Iowa State, the Cyclones racked up wins over Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas. Herman warns the Buckeyes faithful that the offense "might look different than what you're used to." Miller will operate primarily out of the shotgun; the offense will no longer huddle. Usually. Like Alex Smith, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow—all ex-pupils of Meyer's—Miller will run a zone-read option, "to give us that extra-hat advantage," says Herman.

Traditionalists unsettled by these developments can take comfort in the assurance that Herman is quick to add: "We're coming off the football, we're hitting people in the mouth, we're bloodying noses, and we're gonna be the most physical offense in the country. Those premises will never change around here."

Asked for early impressions of Meyer, Herman replies, "Intense. Very intense. But not irrational. There are a lot of intense, irrational people."

It was, of course, a burst of irrational intensity that ended the career of Woody Hayes, who punched a Clemson noseguard in the throat in 1978 and never coached again. Hayes was quickly forgiven by many of the faithful, including one Bud Meyer, Urban's father, a chemical engineer who idolized the legend and, at times, emulated him. As Urban recalled for SI in 2009, he once took a called third strike during his senior baseball season at St. John High. As punishment, Bud made him run the eight miles home.

Like Hayes, Meyer prefers not to let the word Michigan cross his lips, referring to it only as "that school up north." When a reporter recently arrived at his office in a navy button-down, the coach declared, "We might have to find you a different shirt." When the reporter smiled, Meyer turned to an assistant and said, without smiling, "He thinks I'm kidding."

After playing tailback and defensive back at St. John (he wore number 45, his homage to the Buckeyes' two-time Heisman winner, Archie Griffin), Meyer played in the secondary at Cincinnati, from which he graduated in 1986. Not long after he moved to Columbus, where he was a graduate assistant for coach Earle Bruce, who entrusted him with such tasks as flushing out spies from rival schools. The week before Ohio State played Illinois, Bruce instructed Meyer to scour parking lots around the football facility, making note of cars with plates from the Land of Lincoln.

In those days Hayes still roamed the campus. Meyer made it his business to introduce himself to the great man. "Any chance I could get," he says, "I'd talk to him." One night at a recruiting dinner, a throng of admirers clustered around the old coach, now wheelchair-bound. Shelley, who hails from Frankfort, Ohio, was Meyer's date and pleaded for an introduction.

Noting the crowd around him, Meyer suggested they wait. He promised to take her to Hayes's office in the ROTC building. "But he passed away that spring. She never got to meet him."

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