When Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer stands on the sidelines in his signature white jacket, seeing him crack a smile is unlikely.
The second-year Buckeye coach holds a 121-23 overall record in 12 seasons as a head coach, 18-0 at OSU, and that’s not the kind of record you get from taking the game lightly.
While fans might be more familiar with Meyer’s game faces of concentration, frustration, anger and disappointment, there are moments of emotion and celebration for the coach. Sometimes these moments celebrate the love he has for his players.
One such moment came when senior safety Christian Bryant broke his ankle late in OSU’s 31-24 win over Wisconsin Sept. 28.
“My goodness,” Meyer said. “Just love that kid. I just want to ask you to keep Christian’s family in your prayers.”
Meyer let his emotions show when talking about Bryant’s injury.
“That darn kid has done so much for our program, come so far,” Meyer said. “Incredible leadership skills. And he’s going to be even more valuable outside of football. I love that guy.”
At Big Ten Media Days in Chicago in July, Bryant said his relationship with Meyer has “grown tremendously since (Meyer) first got here.”
“Right now, I think everybody respects him to the fullest,” Bryant said. “He and coach Mick (strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti) are just some of the most emotional guys that I’ve met in the coaching staff, and how they feel for their players, how they interact with their players is good.”
Bryant called Meyer a “great inspiration.”
Behind the man’s generally stoic mug are close connections with some of his players, all growing since he arrived at OSU more than a year ago.
At Big Ten Media Days, junior quarterback Braxton Miller said he can call Meyer whenever he wants with whatever he needs.
“I’m glad he’s here, I love him each and every day, so that relationship is building,” Miller said. “I can call him anytime I want. Text him, he texts me back.”
He added that Meyer takes care of his players, on and off the field.
“He loves his players,” Miller said. “He makes sure his players are doing good, on the field and off the field. He loves his guys, he takes care of them.
“He just makes sure that you’re clean heart, clean soul, clean mind, just stay focused on the things that need done and don’t be doing stupid stuff or anything like that — just be focused on the things that the team needs and just be positive.”
Meyer said one of the reasons he respects Miller is his humility.
“You know I’ll tell you, the cool thing is he’s changed a lot as far as his demeanor, as far as his approach toward other people, as far as his leadership, (but) what he hasn’t lost is his, and it’s so neat to say this, is his humble approach,” Meyer said during Media Days.
Meyer formed similar relationships with his players during his tenure as coach of the Florida Gators from 2005 to 2010, resulting in an April 2012 Sporting News investigative piece about possible foul play in his organization.
The article alleged that Meyer had a “Circle of Trust” of players whom he favored, including wide receiver Percy Harvin, linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Allegations included Meyer covering up for these three players when they failed drug tests, allowing them to miss a game “with injuries” instead of publicly acknowledging they’d failed the tests.
“I am very proud of our guys that played at Florida,” Meyer said in the article in response to the allegations. “Are there issues? Yes there are with 18-22-year-olds. I have been criticized that I have been too lenient on players — that doesn’t concern me. We are going to go out of our way to mentor, educate and discipline guys the way we see fit to make sure they’re headed in the right direction. Are we perfect? I never said that. We do the best we can and I think our record has been really positive in the impact we’ve made on those people.”
In July, Meyer spoke of two of his former players — Tim Tebow, who played quarterback for him at Florida in 2007 and John Simon, who starred on the defensive line for Meyer at OSU last year.
“I always sit back and think over these great players I’ve been around, who actually (were) driven by self-discipline, self-respect. Very few,” Meyer said. “That’s what makes John Simon so special. Tim Tebow’s another guy that just was driven by self-discipline and self-respect. Everything they did. When you get a guy like that, it’s not common.”
In general, Meyer said he works to inspire his players to be men of self-discipline and self-respect.
“Human behavior is driven by self-discipline and self-respect,” Meyer said. “Then you have to go back and say, ‘OK what’s the next,’ hopefully what drives people, and it’s purpose, whatever that purpose is, whether it’s NFL, make your mom proud, big house, straight A’s, whatever your purpose is, or whether it’s spiritual purpose. Then you look at accountability and fear. Those are the different ways that drive human behavior and team behavior.”
Beyond finding an individual purpose for his players, Meyer makes sure the entire team also has a collective purpose.
“So now you have to find that team a purpose,” Meyer said. “Last year was a very purpose-driven team. And you want to be accountable to your teammates. We like to use the term ‘love.’ If you love your teammates, you won’t let them down.”
When his players grow together as men, Meyer said he finds that to be the most rewarding aspect of his job.
“There’s some great stories out there, about guys our coaching staff helped turn around,” Meyer said. “That’s obviously so much more fulfilling and ultimately what our job is. That’s why we do what we do.”