Meyer Moving Spring Game to Cincinnati Will Pay Dividends for the Buckeyes

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2013

Apr 13, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer watches his team warm up before the spring game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Urban Meyer’s first season as head coach of Ohio State was, well, perfect. The Buckeyes finished 12-0. After the season ended, Meyer quickly focused on recruiting. His biggest goal; plant a scarlet and gray flag in Cincinnati.

Meyer, a 1986 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, recognized the disconnect between Ohio State and the Queen City. For years, the top players from Cincinnati went elsewhere. The city has often seen their top players go to Notre Dame, Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati among others.

In December, Ohio State announced the school’s 2013 spring game would be moving two hours south to Cincinnati. Planned renovations to Ohio Stadium precipitated the move. However, there was much more to this move than originally thought.

Meyer stated it was athletic director Gene Smith’s decision to play the game in Cincinnati rather than Cleveland, where most of the top talent tends to migrate to Columbus. Nonetheless, Meyer’s actions since becoming head coach of the Buckeyes indicate making Cincinnati more “Buckeye-friendly” was high on his priority list.

In March 2012, before Meyer ever coached a game for the Buckeyes, he hired Cincinnati native Kerry Coombs as the team’s new defensive backs coach. The appointment of Coombs went much deeper than being a position coach.

Coombs is a football legend in Cincinnati. He coached Colerain High School, a city powerhouse, for 16 years before accepting a position on former Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly’s staff in 2007.

Coombs coached at three other Cincinnati-area high schools before returning as head coach of Colerain, his alma mater. Coombs is one of the more respected and well-connected individuals in Cincinnati; and Meyer realized this, just like Kelly before him.

In addition to hiring Coombs, Meyer also hired Tim Hinton to coach fullbacks and tight ends. Much like Coombs, Hinton has strong ties to Cincinnati. He spent six years as an assistant for the Bearcats before coaching at Notre Dame for two years.

While Meyer is doing everything he can to cultivate a relationship with the Queen City, it is still a mystery why there is such a schism between the state’s top university and third-largest city.

Even though Cincinnati and Columbus are less than two hours apart, culturally there is a great divide. Cincinnati, which sits firmly on the Kentucky border, shares more traits with the “Bluegrass State” than its own. While Columbus is firmly entrenched in their Midwestern roots, Cincinnati has more of southern feel to it.

Kids who grow up in Cincinnati may not quite feel the pressure to attend Ohio State. Large metropolitan areas like Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis are within driving distance from Cincinnati. Whereas in most parts of Ohio, if an offer from Ohio State comes along, kids will accept on the spot.

Cincinnati also has a large Catholic population. This is where Notre Dame offers something Ohio State cannot. In recent years, Kyle Rudolph chose the Irish over the Buckeyes, while St. Xavier star Luke Kuechly chose to leave the area altogether to attend Boston College.

Notre Dame, in particular, has often raided the Cincinnati area for premier talent. Currently, the Fighting Irish have four players from the area on their roster, the same as the Buckeyes. Two former Cincinnati-area star quarterbacks, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa, are current members of the Irish football team.

But it isn’t just the Catholic schools that have taken a liking to Cincinnati talent. In 2012, Colerain linebacker Joe Bolden, the state’s No. 2 ranked player, bolted the Buckeyes for Michigan.

Yes, the Wolverines, the Buckeyes’ hated rival.

In previous years, some of the state’s top talent from Cincinnati—linebackers Trey DePriest and Jordan Hicks—chose to play for Alabama and Texas, respectively.

Former head coach Jim Tressel didn’t help things during his tenure. Tressel, who grew up in Berea, near Cleveland, often went after players from that area and largely ignored Cincinnati. Tressel also found a lot of success in the Youngstown area, where he won four NCAA Division1-AA national championships as head coach of Youngstown State in the '90s.

To Tressel’s credit, however, the coach he succeeded, John Cooper, once said Cincinnati was the toughest part of Ohio to recruit.

The rise of the University of Cincinnati’s football program in recent years hasn’t helped the Buckeyes. The Bearcats’ roster is loaded with players from the city. Many of those players come from some of the city’s top high school programs like Colerain and Elder.

No doubt Meyer is concerned about Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish. Kelly’s brief tenure at Cincinnati (UC) allowed him to make inroads with many of the city’s best football coaches.

While the Buckeyes have missed out on some very good players from Cincinnati, they haven’t exactly been shutout either. Adolphus Washington of Taft High School, a sophomore defensive lineman, is a potential All-American in 2013.

Ahmed Plummer, Mike Sensibaugh, DeVier Posey and Greg Frey are some of the more notable Buckeyes from Cincinnati.

Whether the idea was Meyer’s or not, moving the spring game to Cincinnati this year was a terrific move. Meyer has national appeal after winning two national championships at Florida, and he is a “Cincinnati guy.” It was important for Meyer to let Cincinnati-area high schools know he was serious about closing up the borders.

New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has Ohio ties and quickly made recruiting Ohio, specifically Cincinnati, a priority. Current Colerain coach Tom Bolden said this about Stoops’ hiring:

Obviously a great hire for them, from the sense of getting a defensive guy and coming from Florida State, I think that will be tremendous from them, I’m really excited about working with them in terms of recruiting Cincinnati kids and especially Colerain kids.

Sure, Kentucky isn’t a threat to the Buckeyes on a national level, but Meyer is determined to not let Stoops hone in on southwestern Ohio’s best football players. Sometimes all it takes is for one premier recruit to choose a school and others follow.

And thanks to brother Bob, the Stoops name is a relevant one to high school kids from around the country.

On the surface, attendance at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati was lackluster for the Buckeyes’ spring game. The announced attendance of 37, 643 was the lowest for an Ohio State spring game since 2005, when 22,649 attended the game. That game was in Columbus. To get 37,000 fans to attend a spring game two hours from home is a phenomenal feat.

Meyer was happy with his team’s trip to Cincinnati. Now he hopes that Cincinnati reciprocates the Buckeyes’ gesture of good will and sends more players like Washington up Interstate 71 to Columbus.