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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Friday was day two of the annual Coaches Convention at Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer was the keynote speaker of the morning and gave a 25-minute plus speech to the assembled coaches on the importance of owning your program and what it takes to be elite.
Meyer recalled a story early in his coaching career when he got the call to go on his first Nike trip. He admitted that at that point in his career that he did not understand the enormity of being part of that venture, even though his wife did. After winning a BCS game with Utah, he got the call and made a mistake that he will never forget.
"I think it is going to be a great five or six-day vacation and some people look at it that way. I head on out there, I grabbed a t-shirt and it was a Reebok t-shirt, I did not even think twice about it," Meyer told the crowd at the indoor field at the WHAC. "I am on the treadmill in the morning and a guy taps me on the shoulder for Nike and looks at me like, 'What the hell is wrong with you?'. I kind of laughed, I get it, I will change my shirt because I don't know."
Meyer continued by saying that many coaches view the trip as a chance to spend several days in the pool with a drink in their hand looking for a free sandwich. That trip reasoned with Meyer and after a wardrobe change, started to listen to the executives from Nike give lessons that go far beyond the business ranks and could be utilized in team sports.
"I sat there and listened to the different personnel they have from Nike, talk about their brand and how much effort and focus they have on the athlete," Meyer continued.
Over the years, Meyer has become close with Nike founder Phil Knight. Knight will be one of two honorary coaches at the spring game on Saturday. Meyer is still learning from Knight.
"I learned a lesson from (Phil Knight) the other day, and that is that competition is good but it is very serious," Meyer said.
There is no completion more serious at Ohio State than the one against Michigan, or that team up north, depending on you like to call it. Don't expect Meyer to take it lightly however if you take the rivalry lightly.
"There is nothing funny when we are talking about the team up north. I see people smile and that must be funny, I am going to wear blue to their practice, I don't smile about that," Meyer said. "This is real. This is not a game. They want what we have got and we want what they have got. This is a war. It is called competition for excellence."
Meyer added that too much time and effort is being put into this to take it lightly and for people not to take ownership of the program.
"I am putting my life into this thing, are you kidding me?" Meyer said. "We don't joke around about that. If you are a player, you are very serious about what you do here. I challenge (you), own it."
At Nike, they call it being a "Nike Guy".
Meyer had New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on campus this week. The Ohio State campus is not an unknown place for the Patriots as they look toward the NFL Draft each season. The wording changes to "Patriot Guy" but the meaning is the same.
"I am talking about the elite of the elite," Meyer said. "The best of the best."
The Buckeyes have a deep visitor list set for this weekend. Meyer is already starting to meet with some of the players as they arrive on campus. Don't believe for a second that this speech he gave on Friday is far off from what he is talking to these prospective Buckeyes about.
"I just asked a recruit in my office, are you a Patriot guy? Sometimes, you catch them off guard, maybe they don't like the Patriots, but that is not the point. What is the point? Are you elite?" Meyer said. "Are you exceptional? Are you kind of bizarre? Are you so serious about your career, so serious about your life that you are a Patriot guy? Then if you are, we want you here."
Not everybody is.
"If you are (not), you don't quite understand everything, you are not sure and you are late for meetings, you don't want to train, you don't eat right, you might smoke a little bit or drink a little bit… we'll help you, we don't want you here," Meyer said. "You are not a Nike guy, you are not a Patriot guy."
The Buckeyes want the same thing. They want 'Buckeye Guys'. Guys that own it. You either are or you are not.
"We are getting so close here. Are you a Buckeye guy?" Meyer said. "It is a very simple question. It is either a (thumbs-up) or it is not."
Meyer was not a Nike guy when he first went on the Nike trip. He is now. The journey to being "that guy" is on each person as an individual but it is on the coaches to get them there.
"I have 100 guys in there, could they all be Nike guys? They should be. Are they? No, not yet. But that is our coach's jobs, that is my job," Meyer said. "The human spirit says, 'Hell no', the human element I call it. There is too much chaos. When you walk around campus, on High Street, walk into a bar, are those all Nike people? Are you kidding me? No, they are not."
A team that does not have players owning it is probably not a very good team according to Meyer. He takes it very personally when he sees players not taking ownership of the program.
"If I see a player take a drink out of a bottle and throw it on the ground, I have a problem with that. This is our program. We put our life into this thing," Meyer said. "I am spending 15 hours a day here away from my family to work and you are going to throw that paper cup down in front of your locker? Then you don’t own it."
The Buckeyes owned it in 2014 when they had a 4th-and-short against that team up north. Meyer called the offense over during a timeout as the game and maybe a shot for the CFP waited in the balance. Obviously, we all know how this story ended up with the first CFP Championship. But Meyer looked at the offensive line right in the eyes and asked them what the call should be. That decision was made long ago, however.
"They did not make it at that moment, when did they make it?" Meyer said. "Throughout that whole journey. Because they owned their program, their team, their unit. They were Nike people, they were Patriot guys and they are Buckeye guys at that moment."
And Meyer is still looking for more "Buckeye guys". He knows how he wants a coach to honestly answer him when talking about a prospect.
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"I want that high school coach to say, 'You are damn right he is. He is a Buckeye guy because he owns our program.'"
2016 did not end the way that the Buckeyes wanted as the team came up short whereas they were able to get over that hump in 2014.
"When we won it in 2014, that is what happened. We did not win it last year and then we are not. So guess what we are doing? We are working our ass off to get back to that," Meyer said.
The message to the coaches is the same message to the team.
"Be what you are supposed to be, do what you are supposed to do, own the program."