Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier didn’t have a very good game against Michigan in 2011. Virtually no one on the Buckeye defense did, though it was mostly the culmination of a really crazy season for the team following Jim Tressell’s firing. Urban Meyer never would have found out about any of it, including how badly Shazier played were it not for one random replay of the game during Big Ten media week earlier this summer.
Meyer had planned not to watch any film from 2011 so as to form his own judgements about the players, but when he saw the game, he apparently couldn’t control his chagrin when it came to Shazier’s play: “Shazier didn’t play very good,” Meyer told reporters apropos of virtually nothing.
For what it’s worth, Ryan Shazier was a freshman in 2011 and had more tackles than any freshman since Andy Katzenmoyer. He didn’t do very well against Michigan by all accouts, and Meyer felt like he should point it out to the press a few days ago. Turns out the linebacker was playing with a hurt knee. Not that Meyer cares. “The dog ate my homework,” Meyer said. “He didn’t play very well. Linebackers have to play dinged up a little bit. The great ones do.”
There is no reason to freak out about Meyer being too hard on his players. This is exactly the kind of quote people jack off to when it’s attributed to Bear Bryant or any other gravel-voiced old-school coach. And this is Urban Meyer we’re talking about, so there is very much a reason behind what he said. And this is where all the fun theories come into play.
Several puff pieces about Meyer’s tough approach to his team have been written since he took the OSU job in November. All have praised his approach to dealing with players and inspiring them to be successful above and beyond what they did as players for Jim Tressel. Plus, he has dismissed or suspended several players for discipline infractions, which serve to dispel the notion that his OSU program will be out of control like his Florida teams were at the end of his tenure.
This is also the same Urban Meyer who has had some notable run-ins with reporters over the years, so he is not known as a guy who just says whatever he wants. Which means that he had some sort of ulterior motive for saying what he said about Ryan Shazier’s bad Michigan game.
The most obvious thing is Meyer just trying to set the tone with his players. Shazier himself said he had no problem with what Meyer said, probably because he’s totally used to Meyer talking like that to his players’ faces. This is where Bobby Valentine runs into trouble. Only handling stuff in the press is a terrible idea. But if you’re a coach and you’re quoted saying things you say constantly behind closed doors to your players, you’re consistent and a leader, at least in their minds.
This means Meyer is really building his own legend amongst the people who pay attention to stuff like this, who parse every Ohio State article for information because they just love the team so much: Ohio State fans. College football fans love crap like this. He’s being “tough” on his players. He’s leading this boys and not letting them be “soft” when he talks about how injuries aren’t an excuse. Quotes like this bring back every stereotypical image in fans’ heads of the days of yesteryear that never actually existed. It creates an emotional response instead of a logical one.
People who don’t understand the nuances of coaching think that being tough and being a good leader go hand in hand. Urban Meyer knows very well that this is a dumb idea, but he’s playing into it anyway because people outside of football believe it. The more tough on his players he appears. The more he seems like an old-school disciplinarian, the more people get behind him. This is a guy who is clearly establishing a cult of personality similar to what he had at Florida. But at Ohio State, it takes more of a bigger-than-life coach than at Florida.
Meyer has to be a brand in Columbus, and random critical quotes like this one about Ryan Shazier serve to sell that brand. There are not many other reasons this press-phobic coach would be that honest with the media about a player he will coach for another three years.