Former Florida and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has gone from the sideline to the studio with Fox Sports, and shares his thoughts on elite coaches and quarterbacks in a Q&A session with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What are some compelling storylines this season?
A: We can go a lot of different ways, but can anybody unseat the two teams that have been kinda dominant the last three years? And that’s Alabama, Clemson. They have favorable schedules and they have returning quarterbacks, so that could be a tall task.
Q: Who might be a sleeper team this year?
A: I like LSU because I just know how they recruit. I like their quarterback (Joe Burrow), obviously he was mine for a while, and ours at Ohio State. But they have to play at Alabama and they’re in the same division. I’m very biased, I won’t consider ’em a sleeper, I think Ohio State will be right in this thing.
Q: Thoughts on Notre Dame this season.
A: I like them. I recruited against them now for many years and they’ve really done a good job in recruiting. And I think Brian Kelly’s one of the very underrated coaches in America, he’s excellent. You just don’t know about their schedule. You don’t know who’s gonna pop up and be a tough team. I believe they have Georgia this year, and our rival, the team up north.
A: I think they’ve recruited as well as anybody the last two, three years. It’s all about recruiting and development, I think. Right now they’re the best recruiting team in the East.
A: It’s kinda taken the lead in the Pac-12, I’ve noticed, in recruiting. Mario Cristobal, I’ve known of him and know him, and he always has been labeled an elite recruiter and their quarterback’s back (Justin Herbert). I’d have to say them and Washington are the top teams in the Pac-12.
Q: What kind of a pro will Tua (Tagovailoa) make?
A: I think he’s gonna be outstanding. He’s still gotta develop on his accuracy … he’s got all the tools to be a very good pro.
Q: Why will his game translate to the NFL?
A: I get a little defensive when I hear that, that that’s the NFL coach’s job to make sure it translates. When I hear someone say, “Well he’s a college quarterback in a college system,” well change your system in the NFL to match ’em. It’s no different than you have J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins, they couldn’t be a more different player, so we adapted the system to fit Dwayne Haskins. So I think they do what that kid can do best. And, the great coaches in the NFL adapt systems to their players. Others fail at it.
Q: Oregon’s Justin Herbert?
A: I’m still studying him. I was surprised he came back. I think he was very NFL-ready, not knowing him. But what I’ve watched of him on film, great arm strength, great release point and all the tools. I just don’t know the intangibles of him yet.
Q: Georgia’s Jake Fromm?
A: Excellent quarterback. His skill set has still gotta improve in several areas, but everything I hear about him he’s an elite leader, and that’s who you want running your team.
Q: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence?
A: I have not seen many with the arm strength and accuracy, especially as young as he was last year. I think he’s as good as there is.
Q: Does he remind you of anybody at a similar stage?
A: Well, we had one last year who had the same type of accuracy I see out of Trevor is Dwayne Haskins. His ball gets out fast and it’s very accurate.
Q: How good of a pro will Haskins be?
A: So many times a great quarterback gets stuck on a bad team, and it’s a quarterback’s fault. Dwayne had really good receivers, really good personnel around him. A lot of these quarterbacks are very talented, but do they have the right system and right people around ’em? I think he’ll be a great pro if he has the right people and the right system.
Q: What is he like as a leader?
A: He was above average at the beginning, and by the end of the year he was exceptional. I went and watched Tom Brady practice, and what separates guys … and they said Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, and the Tebows and my greatest leaders weren’t just leaders during a game, but really when it counted was at practice. And Dwayne really got good at that as his career winded down at Ohio State.
Q: Kyler Murray?
A: I think he’s a dynamic athlete. Great respect for him as a player, I’m gonna be intrigued to see how this thing works out.
Q: Your fondest game memory of Tim Tebow?
A: I’d have to say in that second half of the national championship against Oklahoma. He took over the game. My recommendation to the offensive coordinator was very simple — keep the ball in Tim’s hands.
Q: What made Urban Meyer so successful?
A: I think genuine care of his players.
Q: It had to be more than that.
A: I had a good way of surrounding myself with really talented people — good recruiting, and if you look at my assistant coaches over the years that have become head coaches, so good eye for talent and pushing people to their limits.
Q: Where does your 7-0 mark against Michigan rank for you?
A: That’s either 1 or 1A or 1B.
Q: Or all of the above?
A: Yeah … I’d probably say that’s 1.
Q: Which one of your three national championships was the sweetest?
A: That’s hard to say. I think the most recent one’s the one I remember the most because a third-string quarterback (Cardale Jones) and the way that team overcame the injuries that they did. But I loved all three, obviously.
Q: What criticism has been the most unfair about you?
A: I don’t know, I don’t try to pay attention to criticism other than from, like, athletic directors or players or something so I don’t really get involved in that. If someone would ever question a genuine care question for a student athlete, which I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that.
Q: Any regrets?
A: I have the regret, the most recent one (three-game 2018 suspension) about going too far trying to help an assistant coach (domestic abuse allegations involving then-Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith), a family, that at the time I thought was correct. But other than that, not really.
Q: Nick Saban?
Q: What makes him a winner?
A: Very detailed. You hear him talk about The Process. To stay consistent at the top is a great tribute to him in his career.
Q: Ryan Day?
A: Elite football acumen. He understands the game very well. As important, understands people and how to motivate.
Q: Dabo Swinney?
A: Just seems like he’s balanced.
Q: Earle Bruce?
Q: Lou Holtz?
Q: Lincoln Riley?
A: I don’t know him, but I know of him and admire what he’s done, to take over for a legend like Bob Stoops and keep it going and even maybe in some respects made it stronger, which is not easy to do.
Q: How do you see the pairing of him and his new quarterback?
A: I look forward to watching that because we actually were taking a look at (Jalen) Hurts when we looking at the potential quarterback transfers. We studied Hurts, (Brandon) Wimbish and (Justin) Fields in great detail. I just also admire Hurts the way he handled that whole situation with Tua.
Q: Who are some of the other dynamic players that college football fans should look forward to watching?
A: The tailback at Wisconsin’s elite, (Jonathan) Taylor. He’s on course to break Ron Dayne’s records, and just an incredible player. I think Donovan Peoples-Jones has been a guy that, when given enough opportunities to touch the ball will become an All-American, and from what I understand, that’s the whole premise why (Michigan) changed offenses, and they have three outstanding receivers led by Peoples-Jones. I think he’s one of the best players in America that just hasn’t touched the ball enough.
Q: Defensive players?
A: Well once again I’m biased, I know him better than anybody is Chase Young, I think he’ll be a defensive top-10 draft pick.
Q: Who are the guys from last year’s college football season other than Haskins who you think will make an impact in the pros?
A: I think (Devin) Bush from the team up north, the linebacker. … Parris Campbell, he wasn’t a first-round draft pick, he’s got first-round talent, first-round work ethic.
Q: Nick Bosa?
A: Impact player, he’s just gotta stay healthy.
Q: What’s the difference between him and Joey Bosa?
A: About an inch in height, that’s it. They walk down the hallway, they look alike. They play with the same tenacity and the same skill set with power and speed.
Q: The best college football team you ever saw?
A: I’d have to say the ’08 Gators. I’m very biased.
Q: What was it about that team?
A: It’s filled with NFL talent, and I’ve never seen a team go through the SEC like they did, I mean, we were beating teams by three touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference — good teams.
Q: How saddened were you by the way the Aaron Hernandez tragedy unfolded?
A: My family and I were very close to him, and we were devastated.
Q: The state of the college game today?
A: It’s healthy and strong as it’s ever been. The safety, the changes that have been made, the way we practice, the way we protect players has been a very positive. And the rules changes to protect players. So very healthy, the crowds, the energy, the attention.
Q: Leaders you admire and why?
A: One of the first ones is Bill Belichick, who is a consistent leader. He’s a winner. And he knows how to handle people. I think Phil Knight at Nike is a leader I’ve always admired. And he’s a leader that still has a foundation of his faith and family. A lot of times leaders have become overwhelmed with their responsibility, and I’ve always admired that about him.
Q: Other than Belichick, head coaches in other sports you admire?
A: I’ve always admired Joe Maddon, I was friends with him when he was at the Tampa Bay Rays and obviously I thought he was a unique leader, and he’s done a great job in Chicago. Billy Donovan was my neighbor at Gainesville, and I loved the way he led his team and still does to this day.
Q: What traits would make up the ideal Urban Meyer football player?
A: Fierce, elite competitor above all. Refuse to lose. And toughness.
Q: You could pick the brain of any head coach in college football history?
A: Knute Rockne.
Q: Boyhood idols?
A: Pete Rose, I was a big Red Machine guy. Davey Concepcion ’cause I was a shortstop. Isaac Curtis and Charlie Joiner and Ken Anderson.
Q: Why didn’t you pursue baseball?
A: I did pursue it. At some point, baseball didn’t pursue me anymore.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: John F. Kennedy; General Patton; Woody Hayes.
Q: How good of a football coach would Patton have been?
A: Well who knows nowadays ’cause it’s a whole different animal, but in his day he would have been elite. Would he have been able to adapt to a new way of coaching, a new way of teaching?
Q: What was it you admired about Woody Hayes?
A: His genuine care.
A: I just have studied him quite a bit and I just think, especially the civil rights era and then also his ability to stand up in the Cold War, the decisions he made as Russia was headed toward Cuba, and the guts that had to take.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: Hunt For Red October.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Denzel Washington.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Julia Roberts.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Jimmy Buffett.
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: I assume you’ll miss the adrenaline rush of being on the sidelines?
A: Of course.
Q: Describe what that’s like, standing on the sidelines coaching against Michigan.
A: Well there’s the incredible, enormous feel of responsibility. You own it, your name’s on it. So the way I always approached, especially that game or those type of big games like that, to say that it’s enjoyable, you are so focused on making sure that every “i” is dotted, every “t” is crossed, those players have a chance to win it.
Q: Working in the studio for Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” with Reggie Bush, Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart premiering Saturday?
A: I’m excited. I’d always liked the studio. I’m really excited about the group they put me with, big-time names, very recent relevance in the game of college football.
Q: How scary have your health scares been?
A: The one in 2014 was alarming.
Q: What was going through your gut at that point?
A: When they said we’re gonna have brain surgery, that obviously causes you to pause for a moment and make sure that everything’s in order and you start thinking about your family and that you’re doing everything right by them.
Q: So you must feel like a lucky guy in a lot of ways, right?
A: I do. I feel very lucky, very blessed to be able to have done what I did for so long and still have an incredible family and have your health.
Q: Could you one day see yourself returning to the sideline?
A: At this point I don’t see it. I believe I’m done.
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