Ohio State capped off the most improbable of championship seasons with a 42-20 victory over Oregon on Monday night. A team left for dead after losing by two touchdowns to Virginia Tech at home in week two, ranked behind Nebraska in the first College Football Playoff committee rankings in October, and counted out when J.T. Barrett went down with a season-ending injury against Michigan ended up winning out against the likes of Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon.
Not bad for a team “built for 2015.” Apparently they were built for January 2015.
But the story that may be lost temporarily in the Buckeye Nation joy and the third-string quarterback jubilation is the cementing of Urban Meyer as one of the all-time coaching greats. Not just at Ohio State, but in the history of college football.
His predecessor Jim Tressel (not counting interim coach Luke Fickell) was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame the week of the championship, largely thanks to winning championships at two different Division I schools (Youngstown State won four I-AA championships, Ohio State won a BCS Championship in 2002). There’s little doubt Meyer stamped his own future election to the Hall of Fame with his third national championship, all at the FBS level and at two different schools (Florida and OSU).
Of active FBS coaches, only Nick Saban can claim more than one national championship. Like Meyer, he has multiple titles between his time at LSU and Alabama (four). All of a sudden, Urban Meyer has to be listed right alongside Saban as the best coaches in college football right now.
And perhaps even more importantly, Meyer evened the score against Saban this year. These two coaching greats now stand at 2-2 against one another, and one would hope that we get treated to at least a couple more of those match ups on the biggest stage in future playoff iterations.
Looking at more statistics only makes what Meyer has done even more impressive. He has made every place he has been a head coach markedly better: Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State. His career record is 141-26 (84.4 winning percentage), including 38-3 at Ohio State (92.7 winning percentage) in his three seasons.
Ohio State was in a dark place when he took over, following a 6-7 season and sitting on NCAA sanctions in 2012. The Buckeyes overachieved in 2012 to finish with a perfect 12-0 record, but the building blocks were in place with recruits coming in and coaches developing talent.
That brings us to two more unique traits that push Meyer to the top of the profession: his desire to learn from other coaching greats (he based a lot of his Ohio State philosophy on what Oregon has built under Chip Kelly, which is ironic considering the team OSU denied a national title on Monday night), and his talent in bringing great coaching staffs together.
Certainly the likes of Tom Herman (now leaving to be Houston’s head coach) had earned some pedigree as a playcaller before joining Meyer’s staff at Ohio State, but he still had the foresight to bring Herman in and let him develop into an even better coach in Columbus. Herman and Meyer managed to deal with preparing three quarterbacks for 2015 and each one looked great, as the plays called used each quarterback to exploit his strengths.
The other coaches speak for themselves in player development and performance as well. Ed Warriner turned an offensive line with four new starters from a disaster in week 2 against Virginia Tech into a bulldozing unit that dominated Alabama and Wisconsin in the late part of the season. Chris Ash and Luke Fickell made a porous pass defense that was sliced apart by Michigan State and Clemson at the end of 2013 into one of the most effective pass defenses in America. And not to be overlooked, Larry Johnson defected from Penn State and took a great defensive line to the next level, despite the loss of Noah Spence for the entire season.
And who has brought all this talent together? Meyer. He’s just as good recruiting and reloading coaches as he is with players.
Urban knows how to motivate his players in tough situations as well. His post-season record was pushed to 8-2 with the two wins in 2015. Perhaps more impressively, the Buckeyes are 6-0 when not favored in Vegas under Meyer, including 4-0 this season (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon). There’s some magic in how he presses the motivation buttons, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with the trouble of motivating players after reaching the pinnacle once again.
At Utah, he moved on before conquering that issue. At Florida, the results were mixed with a national title two years after the 2006 championship and then his infamous flameout following the 2009 season.
If he can keep to his contract with his family and stay healthy and balanced in life while also finding a way to keep motivating and developing players to overachieve in Columbus, this one last gray area will go away and he will certainly be considered one of the greatest of all time.
Time will tell how long the story goes on at Ohio State for Meyer, but the future looks bright regardless of whether more national championships follow this 2015 championship. If nothing else, Meyer has paid back Buckeye fans for 2006 with a championship which nobody can dispute based on some silly pass interference call.
This title will stand forever as one of the most unique achievements, winning a conference title and two playoff games with a third-string quarterback.
Not exactly how it was drawn up, but then again, that’s why Meyer is so great.
Meyer has now cemented Hall of Fame status. Let’s enjoy seeing where he, Ohio State, and the Big Ten Conference go from here.