On more than one occasion, I have heard John Cooper say something to the effect of, “If you are coaching football at Ohio State, you’re going to win games if you don’t screw it up.”
Win games Urban Meyer did, and at a higher rate than anyone else ever has.
(The fact “anyone else” includes six College Football Hall of Fame members is probably worth mentioning.)
Meyer did not face the rebuilding job Cooper did when Cooper was hired in 1988 or have as many fires to put out off the field as Jim Tressel reportedly did when Tressel replaced Cooper 13 years later.
But Meyer did arrive to almost impossibly high expectations and came about as close to meeting them as anyone could, winning three Big Ten championships and a national championship.
In light of news he plans to retire next month, it is appropriate to acknowledge Meyer did what he was hired to do — steer Ohio State through the wake of the NCAA mess that ended Tressel’s time, continue dominating the Big Ten and win the national championship again.
As high as the program rose under Tressel, Meyer was expected to bring it to another level and he did.
Now in tapping Ryan Day to replace Meyer as head coach, Ohio State is betting not only is Cooper correct the program is practically too big to fail but also that Meyer unlocked the best practices for maximizing its potential.
“Our program does not need disruption,” Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith said. “It does not need to blow up and have people come in and try and adapt to our standards of operation and try and change the infrastructure that we've put in place for the student-athlete.”
There is room to improve, but not much.
Making the College Football Playoff every year seems impossible — but Alabama has done it.
Clemson, meanwhile, just earned its fourth bid in a row.
As Meyer likes to say, “That’s real.”
Ohio State fans have a reputation for high expectations — another famous Coop-ism is, “Ohio State fans are with ya win or tie, and don’t tie many!” — but the Scarlet and Gray faithful are far from alone in straying into the realm of unrealistic.
Meyer added that there is more to winning at Ohio State than outscoring people on the field, too.
“The expectation, like I told Ryan Day, here at Ohio State is win every game (and) you forgot a couple things,” Meyer said. “Win every game, graduate. With Gene Smith, have them over a 3.0. Every player stay out of trouble and every player be a high draft pick.
“And as I usually follow up with it, "Go get it, tiger."
As successful as Meyer was on the field, there is still the feeling the reputed offensive guru didn’t quite maximize his talent advantage after the Buckeyes won a surprise national championship in 2014.
His brand of spread offense, innovative at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, grew stale as defenses learned new tactics and recruited more athletic players to execute them.
That is where Day came in two years ago, hired along with Kevin Wilson to update the attack.
How Day continues to tweak the offense (with or without star quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who could leave early for the NFL) will be fascinating to watch, as will what he does with the rest of his staff.
Even if the other offensive assistants are retained, he will need to replace himself as quarterbacks coach.
Questions are much bigger on defense after the Buckeyes gave up more points than any team in school history.
Fans want defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s head, but whether or not his scheme or a dip in talent after nine defensive players were drafted over the past two years is more to blame for the defense’s decline is up for debate.
The players too often failed to carry out their assignments (or simply be in the right spot or get the ball-carrier on the ground), but were they being asked to do things they weren’t ready to do?
That’s the type of question Day is getting the big bucks to answer now.
Of course regardless of scheme, the Buckeyes won’t keep winning without players.
No one has to tell Day that, though Meyer said he did anyway.
The ultimate deciding factor for Day’s success will be if he can maintain the recruiting pace Meyer established over his seven seasons in Columbus.
That’s always the biggest question with a first-time head coach, more so at a place where keeping pace with Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (not to mention holding off Jim Harbaugh) is a must.
If Day can’t, complaints about Smith not calling anyone else about the coaching vacancy first will grow loud quickly.
Day knows football. There is no doubt about that. He saw how to run a program from Meyer, so that figures to be another advantage for him over most first-time head coaches.
The other half of Meyer’s vaunted infrastructure will make more of a difference.
Was Meyer’s recruiting success more a result of the groundwork done by his assistants, or was it his being a three-time national champion coach?
College football will soon find out.