Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Urban Meyer makes Penn State his recruiting farm system

The coach with the biggest reputation rolls into Columbus and immediately takes a machete to the carcass of Penn State. Is it a sign of weakness - in Meyer?

Once upon a time there was this big bully. Which was a good thing for him, because in his neighborhood, only the biggest, strongest and most willing to do whatever it takes could survive and thrive. And he thrived.

One day the bully left his rough-and-tumble neighborhood, and not too long after settled into a new, slightly more civilized one. The boys in this 'hood had heard of his reputation, but for all intents and purposes, the bully would need to reestablish himself in his new stomping grounds.

If this was The Sopranos, then Tony (the bully) would have walked up to the biggest guy in the room, picked a fight and coldcocked him. In a "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," kind of way.

Urban Meyer apparently is no Tony Soprano. Meyer, the new Ohio State coach with two National Titles on his resume from Florida in the baddest-of-the-bad SEC, assessed the Big Ten landscape upon his arrival in late November and ... walked up to the kid with two broken legs, pushed him down, spit on him and stole his bicycle.

Classy move, Urb.

Picking on Penn State (a.k.a. the kid with the two broken legs) right now is not only beneath Meyer - he should have been able to cobble together a Top 10 recruiting class on the value of his name and Ohio State's alone - but it has assured him of eternal, passionate, voodoo-level hatred from Nittany Nation.

When you're down, you remember who extended a hand. And you remember who kicked you.

Meyer executed a Wayne Rooney bicycle kick to Penn State's groin.

On Signing Day today, Meyer and Ohio State signed four elite players previously committed to Penn State, and a fifth who was the Lions' biggest recruiting target.

Pre-Sandusky scandal, Penn State had a highly regarded recruiting class. Post-Sandusky, several big-time recruits pulled their commitments from PSU. Which is their right - this is not about the kids, it's about Meyer.

The two most highly regarded to de-commit from PSU, DT Tommy Schutt and OL Joey O'Connor, were snapped up by Ohio State. A third, 5-star stud DE Noah Spence of Harrisburg, hadn't committed to PSU but the Lions were considered a leader for his signature pre-Sandusky. Instead he signed with Ohio State.

Had that been the end of it, it would have been acceptable. Painful and questionable, but ultimately acceptable. At the time all three of those players committed to Ohio State, they were no longer committed  to Penn State (or never had, in the case of Spence). They had "opened up their recruitment,'' in the parlance of the recruiting world.

But then Meyer crossed the line. Leaped right over it with both feet.

In late January, two 4-star Penn State commitments from the same high school in Massachusetts, Camren Williams and Armani Reeves, change their commitments from PSU to Ohio State.

In other words, despite the fact both were committed to Penn State, Meyer recruited them to Ohio State.

The Big Ten has had a quaint gentlemen's intra-conference agreement: once a player committed to a Big Ten school, other Big Ten schools would stop recruiting him.

(The issue with Meyer isn't limited to Penn State: Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who both had committed recruits swiped by Meyer, have publicly called him out for his unethical tactics.)

Jim Tressel reaped fabulous recruiting classes annually in Columbus without stooping to Meyer's level.

Rich Rodriguez came careening into the Big Ten in 2008 and immediately disregarded the "thou-shalt-not-covet-thy-fellow-Big Ten-schools-commitments" agreement. Meyer blew it out of the water the past two months.

We all know what happened to RichRod.

Could Meyer spiral down a similar path as Rodriguez? It seems ridiculous to suggest Meyer won't have outrageous success at Ohio State given his track record, the Buckeyes' tradition and their "SEC school in the Big Ten" reputation. But consider the following:

Due to the Tressel/tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal, the NCAA will levy sanctions against Ohio State sometime this year (they've already administered a one-year bowl ban). It's not certain how harsh the penalties will be, but all indications are it will be more than a slap on the wrist.

Then there's Meyer's history. As was detailed on this blog in the fall, when Meyer was considered a candidate to succeed Joe Paterno - back when the world was normal and the word Sandusky just conjured good memories from the glory days - there were many reasons to doubt Meyer's ability to successfully return to big-time college coaching, despite his experiencing some extraordinary success.

Here is an excerpt from our Oct. 12 post about the possibility of Meyer taking over at Penn State (which, at the time, seemed a reasonable scenario; it's amazing to see how quickly so much of this excerpt has become dated). Much of it is applicable to Meyer now at Ohio State, especially No. 4, so be sure to read the last part:
(from Oct. 12 post)
What would happen to PSU football under Urban Meyer? Lions fans will have four big concerns:

  1. The prolific arrest record of Florida players during Meyer's tenure. In six seasons, from 2005-10, it was at least 30 arrests.
  2. Can Meyer uphold Joe Paterno's "Success with Honor" legacy by graduating his players and staying in good stead with the NCAA?
  3. Meyer's spread-option offense at Florida - and offense is Meyer's side of the ball, though he also has the CEO thing down pretty good - when Tim Tebow wasn't under center, was all too often stultifying.
  4. Is Meyer physically and emotionally up to the task, long-term? He left the Gators claiming health woes, burnout and a desire to spend more time with his family.
No. 1 - The Penn State community was aghast at times during the past decade by the number of arrests of PSU football players. It brought a lot of negative publicity, and it clearly harmed Paterno's legacy.

The past few years - knock on wood - off-field problems are down. Whether that's a concerted effort by the coaches, players and administration, or whatever, it's important: If arrests and misbehavior had continued at the high rate, it would have lent credence to the notion Paterno had lost touch, lost control and lost his clout. He might not have made it this far.

No one wants a return to those woes. You can be sure this will be discussed at length between Graham Spanier/Tim Curley and Meyer. The onus is on Meyer and his staff to investigate recruits more closely and monitor them better once on campus. It's impossible to eliminate off-field problems, but it is important to minimize them. Meyer failed in that regard at UF. Which doesn't mean he would fail again, but it is definitely a cause for concern. Meyer bristled at news reports that his Florida players were renegades, and he got testy with reporters who questioned him about it. If he coaches again, he seems likely to get a better grasp on off-field behavior.

No. 2 - Meyer is a very aggressive recruiter, and it was one of the keys to his success at Florida. Public perception - and proven fact in many instances - is that pretty much everyone in the SEC is cheating (except for Vanderbilt) and either has been nailed by the NCAA, or will be nailed. Meyer skated by without major incident. Penn State would not tolerate NCAA violations. PSU's status, along with Stanford, as the only BCS schools to never have incurred NCAA sanctions is gleaming badge of honor.

Meyer would have to toe the line. Could he do so? The infrastructure obviously already is in place at PSU. Clearly the boosters are well informed and monitored by PSU compliance, as are the players. The current coaching staff obviously is playing by the rules too, and some of those coaches might be retained. This will be another lengthy discussion between Meyer and PSU officials - there is no gray area on this one. Meyer recognizes this and would not want to tarnish his and Paterno's legacy by bringing shame upon the school. RFBS expects Meyer would not incur significant NCAA troubles.

As for the graduation rate and commitment to molding as many true student-athletes as possible, Meyer would be hard-pressed to live up to Paterno's exalted standards. Who could? But he'd have one big thing going for him: The Paterno Way has been ingrained in Happy Valley since the 1966 season. You don't change a 46-year policy overnight. It's part of the DNA of the program.

No. 3 - Meyer's offense at Florida was awful last season (2010). It wasn't even good during the first National Championship season, 2006. It just looked good in the title game mugging of Ohio State, so everyone assumes it was good all that season. It wasn't. It takes the right QB - obviously Tebow was the man, and having Percy Harvin didn't hurt - and a little seasoning for Meyer's offense to work properly. And even then it can look ungainly at times. It's a grind, for the most part. But Meyer is completely committed to it. In fact he thinks his offense is meant for a school like Penn State, as he recently labeled his version of the spread as a Big Ten-appropriate spread offense. But it must have the right quarterback, and neither Matt McGloin nor Rob Bolden are that guy. Kevin Newsome would have been that guy, but he transferred (Newsome was reminiscent of Meyer's first quarterback at Bowling Green, ultra-productive Josh Harris). Either Paul Jones, incoming recruit Skylar Mornhinweg, or a new, Meyer-recruited QB would start for PSU next season.

No. 4 - Meyer resigned twice from UF, just in the last two years, citing health issues, burnout and a desire to spend more time with his family. Is he really ready to resume one of the toughest jobs in America - head football coach at football factory that demands wins and 100,000 plus in the seats and high graduation rates and no NCAA violations and minimal player off-field shenanigans? Only Meyer knows, but there certainly is reason to be skeptical. Meyer mailed it in his final season at UF. He was not the same coach. He took a sabbatical in the spring. And that was just last year (2010). Is he ready to dial it up again, full-bore, so soon? Only Meyer and his physician know the answer. Also worth noting is that Meyer's approach might not be designed for the long haul. As a motivator, he's a little gimmicky, shtick-ish. A veteran beat reporter at Florida when Meyer arrived predicted his style wouldn't last much more than a few years before it lost effect. After five successful seasons, the Gators incurred a big decline under Meyer in 2010.

It is very impressive that with significant NCAA sanctions looming from the Tressel/tattoos scandal, Meyer was able to reel in a very highly rated class at Ohio State. And he inherits a talented team with a playmaking young quarterback, Braxton Miller.

But there's the unmistakable feeling that Meyer has lost some of his mojo - and he knows it.

If he really was still the great, ultra-confident, dominant coach we knew up through 2009, would he need to stomp over downtrodden Penn State, especially when the coach he supposedly revered, the iconic Paterno, was headed to his grave? The players Meyer swooped away from PSU, Paterno had Skyped with many of them. That just seems wrong.

How do Meyer's assistant coaches - some of which were retained from Tressel's staff - feel about this change in recruiting philosophy, about becoming the black sheep coaching staff of the Big Ten?

If Meyer 2012 was the same as Meyer 2008, wouldn't he have gone right after some Michigan and Notre Dame recruits instead, guns blazing? Or maybe ventured into his old neighborhood for some Florida State recruiting targets? Or Alabama?

Instead, he took the cheap, easy way out. It was bad form, and it reflects very badly upon him.

If there is karma in college football, things will not go well for Meyer at Ohio State. And, eventually, Bill O'Brien and Penn State would have their revenge.


  1. Im a Penn State alum from the Matt Millen n Bruce Clark era. I loved Joepa for his accomplishments and legacy. But on reading your blog I'm grateful there is much more to life than Penn State football. Seriously.

  2. Not sure I understand what you mean. Please elaborate.

  3. The way you dummies in sports write about this stuff makes me want to puke. You act as if Urban Meyer was the second coming. Oh, Gee, Golly, what can poor, Penn State do in the wake of the onslaught of the great and powerful Urban Meyer? We're going to kick the schmuckeyes' butts, left right and center. Penn State was one Matt McGloin interception from beating Urban Meyer and company last year in the Outback Bowl. Had McGloin not been so poor at throwing the ball that day, Penn State could've walked all over Florida. Meyer wasn't invincible in Gainesville. He won't be in Columbus, either. Their sleazy program will take a dump on itself again, guaranteed. Meyer is not God, that position is already filled. Penn State is NOT going anywhere, all is well in Happy Valley. Yes, there's still fallout from Sandusky's transgressions to deal with. But smart, un-con-able football players are finding out that O'Brien's program is for real. And all the "sky-is-falling" crap you sportswriters are trying to feed the world about the demise of Penn State have peed in your own Wheaties. The Nittany Nation is coming back. With a vengeance.