Inside Oregon's Influence over Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Program

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 6, 2015

Urban Meyer has admitted to being impressed by the culture created by the Oregon program.
Urban Meyer has admitted to being impressed by the culture created by the Oregon program.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For more than 40 minutes, Urban Meyer stood at his lectern in front of the team meeting room packed full of reporters, dutifully answering questions in advance of Ohio State's appearance in Monday's national championship game. But when the Buckeyes head coach was asked about what he's learned from Ohio State's upcoming opponent, Meyer did something that he doesn't often do.

He stopped himself.

"I'm not here to promote Oregon," Meyer had to remind himself out loud.

Nevertheless, the similarities between the Buckeyes and the Ducks programs are undeniable, from their uptempo offenses to penchant for alternate uniforms—although Oregon has an obvious leg up on the latter.

Meyer's history with the Ducks dates back more than 25 years thanks to a personal relationship with former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, but it was strengthened just three years ago when Meyer enjoyed a one-year retirement in 2011.

It was during that time off from coaching that Meyer toured the country as an analyst for ESPN, taking in practices while simultaneously studying how to improve himself as a head coach. His stop in Eugene particularly stood out to Meyer, as he found himself in awe of then-Ducks head coach Chip Kelly.

"You go in there, they are playing Lion King music. They have like a D.J. at practice. Bizarre stuff now. I remember even I was like, 'What is this?' I worked for Earle Bruce," Meyer recalled. "Chip and I are good friends, and he says, 'You know, this is the only way to do it.' I looked at him and said, 'What are you talking about this is the only way to do it?'"

What Kelly meant wasn't a reference to his no-huddle offense—although they'd get to that later—or even the music that blared over their conversation—now a staple during Ohio State practice sessions.

No, what Kelly meant was a program that was completely in-sync, one where the mission was clear from the secretary who greets you at the door to the ball boys on the sideline and everybody between. It's a philosophy that Meyer wasn't unfamiliar with at the time, having studied New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick extensively, but never had he seen it functioning so highly at the college level.

Urban Meyer has studied the no-huddle elements implemented by former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.
Urban Meyer has studied the no-huddle elements implemented by former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

"For Chip Kelly to create a culture—and Belichick talks about it all the time—where everyone's aligned, everyone, you walk in the facility, it's about 'Win the day,'" Meyer said, quoting Oregon's famous motto before redirecting his answer toward Ohio State.

"People walk in the Ohio State football facility now, and it took a little while. But from Amy [Halpin], my assistant, to everybody associated with the facility, people, everyone, this is the way we do it. Really not a whole lot of conversation about it."

Of course Meyer and Kelly's conversations eventually evolved into X's and O's, as the latter was finding success with a spread offense similar to the one that helped Meyer win two national titles during his time at Florida. Only Kelly had upped the ante, implementing a no-huddle element that ran opponents off the field, with the Ducks averaging 43.8 points per game from 2009-2012.

Used to the leadership qualities that quarterback Tim Tebow would display in the Gators' huddles, Meyer was apprehensive to follow suit.

"In the old days, the stories of Joe Montana looking at Jerry Rice and winking at him, and there's still that intangible value of this great game of football; Let's you and me do this," Meyer said. "It's harder when that guy you're winking at is 25 yards away."

But upon arriving at Ohio State, Meyer gave in, hiring offensive coordinator Tom Herman on the recommendation of Kelly. Having worked with the no-huddle approach during his time at Rice and Iowa State, Herman would instill the same ability into the Buckeyes' spread offense, with Meyer finally caving from his preference for his teams to huddle.

After beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will take on Oregon in the national championship game.
After beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will take on Oregon in the national championship game.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"I didn't want to lose that huddle," Meyer reiterated. "Obviously we've lost it."

The results, however, have spoken for themselves, with the Buckeyes accumulating a 37-3 record as the rest of the Big Ten is yet to have caught up. Herman, meanwhile, has parlayed his success in Columbus into a head coaching job at Houston, although Meyer has insisted that Ohio State's uptempo approach is here to stay.

"This is the Ohio State offense," Meyer said. "Next year, guess what it's going to be? The Ohio State offense."

Playing style isn't the only apparent similarity between the two programs, who have battled on the recruiting trail even after Mark Helfrich took over as Oregon's head coach once Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite being located more than 2,000 miles apart, the Bucks and Ducks have duked it out on numerous occasions in recent years, most notably for onetime Oregon commit and now-Ohio State H-Back Dontre Wilson.

And while the Buckeyes have a built-in advantage with recruits thanks to their storied history, Oregon has managed to make an obvious splash in the last decade, thanks in large part to its relationship with former Nike CEO and prominent booster Phil Knight. The Ducks currently possess more than 500 combinations of uniform options to wear for any given game and, according to UniformCritics.com, "dominate" the retail jersey market.

Per the website, "It's not even close."

"Every school has their niche, and God bless Oregon for finding their niche," Meyer said. "That is a huge part of it."

Meyer's taken note, which is why when he enters a prospect's home, he does so carrying a binder full of Nike concepts for potential Ohio State alternate uniforms. More times than not when the Buckeyes have hosted a big recruiting weekend in Columbus under Meyer, they've done so while wearing their Nike Pro Combat uniforms in hopes that the sparkle of their chrome helmets will catch the eye of a 5-star prospect.

On big recruiting weekends, Ohio State typically wears alternate Nike uniforms.
On big recruiting weekends, Ohio State typically wears alternate Nike uniforms.USA TODAY Sports

Meyer's even gone as far as to state he'd be OK with Ohio State one day adding black uniforms to its repertoire. Although on Tuesday, the 13-year head coach maintained that he'd prefer the Buckeyes stick with a traditional look.

"You start going too far and there's a lot of old-timers out there—me included—that get a little nervous, you start straying away from the old traditional stuff," Meyer said. "I bring pictures and all that, act like I like it. I become a proponent of it."

In the modern age of college football, Meyer doesn't seem to have a choice. Whether it's uptempo offenses or alternate uniforms, Oregon has created an edge for itself, one which Meyer has attempted to instill in his traditional power.

But with advancing offenses and flashy jerseys becoming commonplace in today's day and age of college football, what matters most to Meyer is the overall philosophy of his program. That's one that will be shared by the Buckeyes' opponent on Monday night, something that Meyer doesn't see as a coincidence.

"It's something I always believed," Meyer insisted. "When you see teams fail, it's not because of bad players, it's not because of bad coaches. It's because of alignment issues. I'm convinced of that more than ever after being in this business for so long."

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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