From the podium at Big Ten media days in Chicago, Urban Meyer dishes on the ethics of recruiting Penn State players, SEC speed, motivating a team banned from the postseason and more:
Q. You’ve been in the job since November. How equipped do you think this team is to play at the level that you want them to this fall?
MEYER: I like our players. I like our team. We had a conditioning test that our players are telling me about. And the energy level is real high right now in Columbus with our football team. So I’m anxious to get going. The thing I don’t understand and really have a omplete grasp of is our opposition, of our opponents, because I don’t know the conference very well. So the job is to see who plays a big part of it. As far as our football team, I like where we’re at and anxious to get going.
Q. When you were at Florida in your previous stops, how did you view the way the Big Ten played football, and do you think that it’s changed in the recent years with an influx of new coaches such as yourself and several others just in the last two or three years?
MEYER: Big Ten, the SEC, the last few years, is kind of the kingpin with the success they’ve had in the BCS. I have watched a lot of the Big Ten as we got ready to play some Bowl games in recent years. I see the Big Ten has changed dramatically. As a matter of fact, I think it was eight out of the 12 teams are running some sort of spread offense right now. And then there’s two option offenses and then traditional offenses, and that’s obviously a drastic change from historically what you think of the Big Ten. So there’s a little bit of a movement. There’s some great defense in this league, which there’s always been. But there’s several teams right now playing as good as defense as anybody in America. So I think it has changed, but it’s going to be interesting, the evolution, in the next few years with the coaching transitions that are taking place. So the one thing about college football, it’s very cyclical. And the Big Ten for many, many years was without question the number one conference in America. Right now, we’re not, but there’s a lot of coaches and players right now very intent on making it the best conference in America.
Q. You talked about your lack of familiarity with some of these Big Ten opponents. The fact that you guys aren’t eligible for a Bowl game this year, does that allow you to kind of have that buffer year in order to get more familiar with the opponents you’re going to see in the Big Ten?
MEYER: There’s no such thing as a buffer year in college football, certainly not at Ohio State and certainly not with myself and our staff and our players. So there’s no buffer year. We’ll worry about Bowl games, and one of the concerns I have -- and I shared it with my athletic director -- is that the preparation time when we play our last game, the kids are gone, and I’ve never had to deal with that situation as far as preparing for the following season. That’s a lot of time away from your guys. And so we’ve had that conversation. I’m going to do some research, continue to do some research. Our strength coach, after our last game against our rival, you simply shake their hands, give them a hug, and say see you in January. That’s going to be hard to do, so we have to put a plan in place, and that’s going to be for the 2013 season. That’s the only issue. The issue is not the 2012 season at all. We’re going to line up and try to win every game we play. It’s just going to be: How do you handle the 2013 season.
Q. Do you have a problem with coaches being able to solicit players from Penn State right now?
MEYER: I have a problem with that. I have a problem with that.
Q. Do you want to expand on that? Should there be some rules in place so you don’t have members of a coaching staff on another campus so close to a season?
MEYER: I don’t know enough about it. I don’t know enough about the rules. A player has a right to choose, especially by the rules, to go where he wants. To actively go get a player on another team, I’m not sure -- I really don’t understand the rules. I didn’t look into it. I’m not really sure of the rules with that. But as a player, a young man has a right to play wherever he wants to play. We have to keep that in mind. However, when he’s part of a team, you’re getting into a situation that I’m not quite very familiar with, and we’re not going to get very familiar with it.
Q. A question about Jake Stoneburner. Has any decision been made as far as reinstating him to the team? And Jack Mewhort as well?
MEYER: They’re not reinstated yet. They’re actively working out. They have to fulfill their penance or obligation that we’ve asked them to do. Obviously the kind of people that they are, the families they’re from, we did take their scholarships. They’ve had to pay for their summer school. Very expensive mistake. They’re doing what they are supposed to do. We’re monitoring it, and that decision won’t be made until we get to training camp. But as of now they’ll be reporting to training camp a week from Friday.
Q. What do you think it will take of Big Ten as a conference to kind of reach the level of the SEC, and do you think they can be at that level anytime in the next few years?
MEYER: They have to win bowl games. That’s the bottom line in all of this is to win. How far we are from that? The coaches in this conference would know much better than I would. I’ll know more obviously next year when you ask that same question, I’ll have a much better understanding because I’ll be in the stadiums and I’ll know the teams much better. But I know one thing: I’ve watched enough film this summer, there’s some very good teams in this conference. I anticipate winning is not that far off.
Q. Urban, what challenges, if any, were created by the sanctions and how well do you think you guys have done in dealing with those sanctions in recruiting?
MEYER: We talked about this last December. When we got hit, got hit with that two-by-four that day they said you can’t go to a bowl game, it was a two-and-a-half week barrage of negativism and the recruiting that we were dealing with. Number one is a recruiting issue that Penn State will deal with that we had to deal with in December. However, one thing that it also does, you find out who wants to be a Ohio State Buckeye. And I don’t want to speak for coach [Bill] O’Brien but he’s going to find out who exactly wants to be on his team. There’s not going to be half-ins anymore.
Q. Can you reflect back on the year you spent in the broadcast booth? Did it give you a different perspective on things? Were you able to learn anything?
MEYER: It gave me great respect with what you folks do and especially the ones that really do it the right way and respectful. And it really gives me, gave me an opportunity to go visit some other programs, and you can’t do that, especially myself, I got in a little bit of a cocoon, I don’t know if it was paranoia, wouldn’t let anybody in. We certainly didn’t let anybody out. I think one of the great things that certainly in college football is it’s always evolving, and to go study other programs and take ideas and discuss it with your peers, I was able to do it on a very open basis. And I feel like I’m a better coach now. But to the first question, just a lot of respect for the amount of effort and work that goes into covering the sport, especially when it’s done the right way.
Q. In February you had an incident or accusation from Wisconsin and Bret Bielema. Did you have a chance -- did you sort out that issue, clear the air? And secondly is it important for you to have a good working relationship with all the other coaches around the league?
MEYER: We have a very, very good relationship. I think you’d have to ask coach, but we get along fine. We had a conversation about it at the Big Ten meetings, I believe it was in February. A lot of the things that were reported weren’t said. We stand by exactly the way how we do things. And from my understanding, once again, it hasn’t been discussed again. There’s absolutely no problem whatsoever with the way Ohio State does their business. And that comes from the fellow coaches in our Big Ten conference. You asked the question, is it important to have [a good working relationship]? Absolutely. I can’t see it any other way. We had that in the SEC and we certainly have that in the Big Ten. A lot of times things start getting -- I start reading something and I’ll read it and say that wasn’t said or where are they trying to go with this?
Q. I heard you earlier this summer mention defensive front seven speed in the SEC. Is that maybe the single most defining characteristic about what advantage that league might have right now?
MEYER: I think that, and I also think just overall team speed right now. We’re addressing that. I notice it on special teams. ... I just think that overall athleticism right now we’re a little bit behind. But we’re recruiting with that motive, with that intention and I’m real proud to say it’s going very well. But I think without question I’m not the only one that says that. The defensive front seven in that conference, in the SEC, is the difference-maker right now. But it’s a little bit deeper than that.
Q. With a bowl game and championship game off the table, do you think any more added importance is placed on the Michigan game at the end of the year?
MEYER: Sure. I don’t know if you can add any more to it. And the big reason is hopefully by the end of the season there’s going to be two really good football teams that are going to go play each other. But I think that will be -- I certainly imagine in our home stadium there will be a buzz about that. I’ve already heard it. And I haven’t made that decision on how we’re going to attack that game other than it’s the biggest game of the year and we will get ready for it.