Feb. 1, 2017
Urban Meyer: Early entry by players, the mid-semester enrollees has kind of changed the landscape, also, of signing date, the so-called 11th hour, and signing date decisions. Our class has been in place for quite a while, even Munford, Thayer signed today, but he’s been committed for a few days. A very good class, a class that someone was asking me what do you look for. That changes every year. It’s a slotted — it would be kind of intriguing some day to show you what the war room looks like, I guess the so-called war room we call it, but a whole side of the wall is devoted to recruiting. Malik Hooker walks out, you’d better put someone back in, and you don’t have to be overly intelligent to figure out the guy you slide in that slot is not good enough, your team is not quite good enough.
That’s what we did, and I’m very pleased. Two years in a row we’ve lost three — 60 percent of our — six out of eight secondary players early entry into the NFL Draft, and that’s unusual. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall ever hearing that before with Tyvis, Mondale, and Eli leaving the year before, and this year Malik, Marshon and Gareon stepping away from one of the best pass defenses in the country. And then you replaced them with guys that we’re really excited about, and they’re here, and that’s Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson. And they’re already here training and working out. Very good young players. You also have Isaiah Pryor that’s going to compete at the safety spot, as well. I’m not going to go through each guy. I’ll let you ask the questions. But very pleased.
One guy I do want to point out is a guy named Shaun Wade that committed to us, I believe, on the National Championship day. I didn’t know him. I know his school very well, and traditionally players in that area will change schools about seven times to their commitments, et cetera. Randy and Gwen, his mom and dad, we’ve become extremely close throughout the process, and I can’t be more proud that he stuck with his commitment with a lot of pressure in that part of the country and to hang in there.
The other guy is Wyatt Davis and I didn’t realize until recently that USC’s head coach lives in the same neighborhood. I was like, oh, my gosh. And I already used up my visit out there, so I made Studs go out there on Friday and sit from sun-up until sundown and make sure no one goes by that house.
But just unique stories out there, and Wyatt was — even after some media badgering and some other stuff was able to hang in there, and that’s a credit to our coaching staff, relationships, but it’s also a credit to this incredible University and even more importantly the program within this University, and that’s what I love to hear. When Wyatt at Baron Browning told me he picked Ohio State University, it’s because of what this University could do for him once he’s done playing football. And at the end of the day, that’s obviously very, very important, something that we take very personal around here.
With that said, I’ll answer any questions.
Q. You guys have recruited at a high level since you’ve been here, so this isn’t new, but this class I think generally across the board is viewed as the best class you’ve put together, maybe one of the best in program history. Why now? Why were you guys able to put together your best class?
Urban Meyer: Oh, I think that would be something to ask our players. The guys that signed. But I’d say just because I’m an old hat at this now, I’m not the new guy. Your best salesmen, to see Zeke Elliott’s father and family and to see Josh Perry’s mom and dad, they’re around. They speak to players when they’re allowed to, on official visits. And the greatest salespeople we have are the people in that locker room and our parents because everybody is going to have nice facilities, everybody is going to have a big stadium.
I don’t know if it’s just a generational thing that’s going on right now, but I am so impressed by the young people coming out of high school in these last two years. I hope that’s nationally and in other sports, as well. We’re getting very good students, very good people and people that are so interested in life after football, and that wasn’t the case. A lot of times it’s what — hey, I’m going to the league. Great, go to the league, but some day the league is going to be gone. And that’s what — I think those kind of people are naturally attracted to Ohio State, and those kind of people are very much attracted to our program.
Q. Seven Ohio kids in this class out of 21; it’s the lowest number you guys have had. Is that enough Ohio State —
Urban Meyer: No, it’s not. No, 50 percent is kind of the mark that I’ve been trying to — I keep it right in front of me and I stare at it and make sure that we’re doing right.
The thing that happens in Ohio in this early signing really bothers you because Ohio is traditionally a late developing state. When you start talk the other states four years of — for example, in high school in Texas, you go at noon, there’s a football class, shoulder pads, it’s a football class. And then you go have lunch, you come back as a coach to evaluate two hours later and they have football practice, and that’s in March or May, whenever spring football is.
My son plays high school football here and he’s not doing anything football related until summertime when the teams get ready to go. As a result, four years of that and you get a little more of an advanced player at times. Then other times you get to Darron Lee, you get to Josh Perry, you get these phenomenal football players that take maybe a little bit more time to develop. Does that make sense?
What brothers me, and I’m so glad it didn’t happen is an early signing in June would not be good because we have to see some of those guys play and perform their senior year.
Q. More nationally, you’re taking players that are five-star, no doubter type of kids and you have less room obviously for —
Urban Meyer: That’s right. Do we like that? No, we don’t like that. I wish I could save — I’m glad it worked out with Thayer. We had another spot saved if we wanted to go after an Ohio guy and it just didn’t materialize. But I’m on purpose keeping those spots because there is going to be someone show up, and it happens Darron Lee is the easy one to recognize, but the Tyvis Powell, the Darron Lee — who did we sign this year? Jaylen Harris. He was a guy that we just kept watching and watching and watching and he kept developing, kept developing. So it’s an interesting dilemma that we deal with every year.
Q. Looking at wide receiver recruiting, you guys have signed a lot of big, actual wide receivers the last two years in Bin Victor and Austin Mack, three guys this year. Has there been a change in philosophy with wide receiver recruiting?
Urban Meyer: That’s never changed. It’s just can you get them, are they out there, are they good enough. Everybody wants Julio Jones. They don’t come around very often. Bin Victor is going to be a dynamite player here. We saw Clemson’s guys presented match-up issues, but everybody wants big and fast. I don’t think any school in the country is looking for small. No. It’s the best quality player that’s available.
Q. I want to ask you about the Kevin Wilson hiring. As soon as he resigned from Indiana, did kind of an antenna up like this could be a good fit here at Ohio State with Kevin Wilson?
Urban Meyer: I’ve thought about that before, and I didn’t know what Indiana — I thought they’d done a phenomenal job there. We didn’t want to play them every year, I know that.
So I’ve known Coach Wilson since Northwestern days, and just got great respect. I know our staff and really the United States of America does as far as a football coach.
Q. You spoke about this a little in your opening statement, talking about Shaun, but you had a bunch of guys actually that committed in 2015 anywhere from like a year to 18 months before this signing day. What was the challenge with keeping some of those guys committed for that long, and have you ever had a class where so many of the guys or people who have been committed for at least a year?
Urban Meyer: I didn’t really research that. I will. That’s unusual to hang on to them that long. Not so much if it’s a Josh Myers because he’s got Ohio ties.
Q. A lot of them were out of state guys, too.
Urban Meyer: Yeah, the in-state guys it’s not uncommon to be able to hang on to them, but a kid from Florida, especially where he’s from, I mean, that’s tough. It’s almost like when they commit to me, I put a 30 percent on — is that actually going to happen. So it is, I don’t have that in front of me exactly how many, but that is unusual to be able to hang on to an out-of-state guy for over a year because people just wear him out.
Let me just say this, too. The Texas kids have hung in there because there were some new hires in that part of the country, and they went after them now, and to be able to hang in there and get them here, I’m glad we got them here in January.
Q. The Texas kids, Elijah Gardiner is a new name that kind of popped up the last couple weeks. How do you guys go about finding players like that, very kind of under the radar?
Urban Meyer: Well, that’s another late developer and that’s a guy that after I really studied him and our staff really studied him and got to meet him and spend time with him, look what he’s going to be like, that’s a project type body, but big and fast. Kind of if you miss on a player, make sure you miss fast and miss big, and they usually turn into something. But once you get to know him and his family and find out he’s a tough guy, very impressed with him.
What happens is you lose a couple guys to the NFL Draft, maybe have a decommitment, maybe have a guy that’s going to transfer, that’s got some stuff going on and you put the APB out. And we have a recruiting staff that keeps a file of players available for us, because you can’t watch 60 receivers until all of a sudden something — we’re getting ready to play bowl games and all this, boom, we start hearing there is a transition maybe to the NFL. And we have a staff put together things and they said, okay, here’s the top 10 guys. We go evaluate them. I get on a plane, we go see them and that’s what happens, and it’s fast.
Q. For the average person, they hear the name for the first time three weeks ago. How long have you guys been seeing a kid like Elijah?
Urban Meyer: Yeah, not him. He came out of our staff finding him. There’s other ones we were in touch with pretty much the whole year, but we felt he was better after you got to know him.
Q. About Thayer Munford, what was it you needed to see before you offered him?
Urban Meyer: There was an interesting story. I think you guys will really enjoy it. I had Gene Smith meet with him, as well. He was at Princeton and then he went to La Salle, became very close with Nate and his wife Rebecca, and then they went to the state championship, La Salle, his sophomore year. He leaves and goes to Massillon. Grew very close to his family, went through just some personal issues, and then they moved him to — they took custodialship of Thayer in Massillon. They deemed him ineligible for a good portion of the season. Greg Studrawa had him three or four times at camp, was knee deep. The line coach at Massillon actually was my center at Bowling Green and played for Studs. There was deep ties there. And Studs was the one. He would not let that die. He would not. He kept going, I want this guy, I want this guy. We’re not going to have room. We’ve got room.
And then I went down and watched him play basketball. We had him come up here twice. I think twice. I think it might have been three times. And he checked off all the boxes and we went after him.
Q. One question more about Kevin Wilson. When Tom Herman was here you said this is not going to be Tom Herman’s offense, this is going to be our offense with incorporating things that he does. What do you expect Kevin Wilson to do to enhance this offense, and also, what did you do in terms of vetting him?
Urban Meyer: Well, the first part, that was immediate. I went to Gene Smith and Gene Smith talked to Dr. Drake because, like anything, there’s stories that get thrown out there. I talked to Kevin myself at great length. I talked to others that knew him that were there. Gene Smith did, as well. I already knew just because I knew the guy, but I wanted to hear what goes on and whether it’s a disgruntled player, whether it’s an issue with the trainer, whether it’s an issue with some — I just needed to find out, and so did my bosses. So it was rather quick, and it came back everything was good. There was some misunderstandings, philosophical differences, which I understand that. I wanted to know what they were, and we proceeded.
Second part of that question was what?
Q. What will you do to enhance the offense?
Urban Meyer: Throw the ball better. I was going through all our stats, we led the Big Ten in offense this year. I think there’s three or four out of five years. In scoring offenses. We were I think .07 points away from leading the Big Ten in scoring offenses. No.1 in 3rd down conversions. Where before we wanted to be 250, 250. I believe we were 250 rushing or 247 or something like that. We were only 213 passing, and we want to be 250, 250. It is going to be — I’m going to be perfectly clear, though, this is the Ohio State offense, and we’re going to enhance it and make it better.
214 is the perfect — that’s what we want to be, and that’s great balance. 1,500 yard rusher receivers that are making — have the ability to stretch the field, and we have to get back to that, and we have to play with better tempo.
Q. Along the same lines about the offense, just we haven’t had a chance really to talk to you since the bowl game. What have the past four weeks been like within this facility, probably some uneasy discussion about how that playoff game unfolded and just direction going forward; sounds like the guys are back working at it. Is that giving everybody a clear vision of what’s right and what’s wrong?
Urban Meyer: Yeah, I put the — the season was unfortunate to end like that because that’s not — I believe we were a year ahead of schedule. I believe — I did not envision that at the beginning of the season. I thought it was going to be a knock-down, drag-out, and we started off really hot going to Norman, Oklahoma, and guys were starting to grow up.
But we did not play well, obviously — that’s an understatement, in the final game. Believe it or not, and that’s — for me that left this facility very quickly. We delved into recruiting, finished off one of the best classes in history, and the team is at it and going at it with the intent that that will never happen again. We also understand it’s college football and we’re dealing with young people. So there’s going to be some changes that are made throughout, including just minor changes, where we — I think it’s time to refresh a little bit the program, from minor things about where we do stretch, where we practice, we’ll switch the fields, switch lockers, doing all kinds of — just changing up some things.
I’m going to change the coaches’ offices all around. I can’t remember all — there’s a business where you change — change equates to 15 percent increase in production, and so that’s the whole thing we’re going to do this year, just going to change things up a little bit.
Q. Baron Browning told us about his prank that he pulled on you when he committed.
Urban Meyer: Prank?
Q. About committing to —
Urban Meyer: Oh.
Q. Your version, and you also turned the tables on him?
Urban Meyer: I remember sitting down, and I looked down and he was going to commit. I was over at a friend’s. I can’t remember what time of year it was. And I remember looking, I leaned over, I said here it comes. Boom. I look down, and I can’t remember if he called or sent me a text, and he said, I’m going to roll with Bama or something. I took my phone and threw it against the wall. I sit down, and all of a sudden I hear it buzzing again over there. I look and it’s his father, and his father says, hey, we got him, Coach, congrats. I said, what the hell are you talking about? He’s going to Alabama. He said no, he’s just playing around. So he got me good.
Q. But then you got him back? You told him you had taken a job with the LA Rams?
Urban Meyer: Oh, he cried. Did he tell you that? Did he tell you he teared up?
Q. He said he was mad.
Urban Meyer: He told you this? You guys are going to like covering him the next few years (laughter.)
So there was all those rumors about the Los Angeles Rams, so I called his mom because she’s great, and I said, Keisha, let’s go get him. She said, okay, what do you want to do? I said, I’m going to call — because she teaches at the school, call him down there and let’s put him speakerphone. I want to see his reaction. So we did it.
I said, Baron, I’ve got some tough news for you, but I’ve taken this job. And you just hear quiet. And I go, hey, man, you all right? Just quiet, quiet. I said, I’m just kidding, man. You all right? His mom said, man, he was crying, he was crying. Great stories.
Q. Do you look at J.T. as an addition to this class? There was some possibility that he might not return and go to the NFL, that he might not be your quarterback again this year. Is he a bonus for this group?
Urban Meyer: He’s our quarterback. I mean, he’s — I think what happens is microphones get stuck in front of players’ faces in tough situations. You lose a game, you’re embarrassed on national TV, and things happen, and I talked to him the other day. I saw some comments he made about I wouldn’t have came back, but I don’t know if that’s all — I’m sure if he would like to re-say what he said.
I never thought he would leave. I don’t know how close that was. Only J.T. knows. I’m very close with him. But I think he’s an Ohio State Buckeye and will always be an Ohio State Buckeye.
What happens here is, boy, the offense is terrible and we only led the Big Ten for four out of five — you create these monsters and you have to feed the monsters. I’m familiar with it. I’m at that age now where I’ve been a part of that for many, many years., and I just want to make sure our players continue to just keep going, just keep the boat pointed straight ahead and go as hard as you can and steady the boat. I think when you see a guy like J.T. who wants it so bad, wanted it so bad, we were there at the doorstep again, and that’s a challenge for him. He’s not done that yet. He got us to the doorstep again in ’14 and gave way to Cardale.
So I never thought it was that close, but once again, that’s his —
Q. What does it mean now for the future of your quarterback room to bring in Tate? Looked like you guys have a line of successors going down for the next few years. How comfortable do you feel?
Urban Meyer: Tate is a — you know, we are a very evaluation friendly business as a coach and as a quarterback. Some people measure it by throwing yards, or same thing with a coach. Some people measure their success. However we measure it very simply, how do you win? Tate is a winner. J.T. Barrett is a winner. Braxton Miller was a winner. Obviously Cardale Jones is a winner. Tim Tebow was a phenomenal winner.
So those guys, the way we evaluate quarterbacks, I understand is a lot different than others, he’s a winner. So obviously that’s where he fits. He’s a winner. He comes from a winning program, a winning sense of — the way he is, personality. You see the way he walks around here, so that’s what he brings to us.
Q. (Inaudible) still brought in fast guys but not big bodies —
Urban Meyer: Not by purpose.
Q. That’s what I want to ask. Is this a shift now to not only that body type but also maybe guys who are quote-unquote ready-made receivers, not necessarily guys who are just (inaudible)?
Urban Meyer: I don’t know that. I know we go out and try — it’s the top 15 receivers in America, and you don’t say, but they have to be 6’3″ because that also limits your pool. And all of a sudden out of the top tall receivers in the country, six are from California, one from Arizona, two from Texas, that’s not in our backyard. It happens Jaylen Harris, we had one in Cleveland, Ohio. Trevon Grimes, that’s kind of school now or one of our schools that we have a very close relationship with, and it just worked out very well.
The young man in Texas was just simply our staff found him, we loved him when we met him, we watched him. So it wasn’t — it’s not a philosophical shift. I think that’s what people are asking. Not at all.
Next year we’re going to go try to find the biggest, fastest receiver we can and hopefully we can get involved with him. Unfortunately even next year they’re not real close to here.
Q. There have been a few guys who have announced they’re transferring from the program.
Urban Meyer: Who’s announced?
Q. Lawrence is the other one. I didn’t know in there was anyone else who’s made that decision or possibly a medical situation?
Urban Meyer: Let me get through today. I don’t want to misspeak. I’ve been traveling and everything.
Q. As you look at this group of guys you’ve just signed, a guy that jumps out at me is Wyatt Davis. Do you see much like Michael Jordan, do you see he or Josh Myers competing for a spot?
Urban Meyer: Yes, Josh Myers is competing already.
Q. Why? What stands out about those two guys?
Urban Meyer: They’re both from excellent programs. They’re both very disciplined, mature people. Man, they’re blessed. They’re big. They’re not — usually guys that big are fat-big, but these guys aren’t fat-big, they’re big-big. But Josh Myers is absolutely killing it in the weight room right now. He’s going to be in the mix.
Wyatt Davis, I went out watching him practice. Obviously he’s a great story, how we got him. Wonderful high school program, one of the best programs in America. I don’t want to say he’s ready-made because that’s not fair for him, but that’s how much respect we have for Bosco football program.
Q. When you look at this group, this is the sixth team you’ve signed since I’ve been covering you here at Ohio State, this group. You seem very excited about this group in particular. Where do you see immediate help coming from this —
Urban Meyer: Defensive backfield. I see those guys — we targeted — very rarely do you target and you get, and Kerry Coombs and Greg Schiano and us, we targeted those guys from day one, and we got the three primary guys. Ken did he Sheffield doesn’t get much but you talk about a guy that’s competed already at the high level. You’re talking about elite track times, 13, 4.2 in the 110s, which that’s damned near world class. Comes from a really good family, real clean guy.
I went down to Blinn Junior College and spent time there, and he’s very professional about his approach. So I would say that area is probably the most likely to — I think linebacker, too. I think Werner and Baron Browning are two that we targeted early on. One was committed to another program, but we just kept hanging in there, hanging in there, because Luke Fickell loved him and so did I. We loved him. And then the tide started to change a little bit and we got him, and Baron Browning, you heard the story. That was a free for all to get him.
Q. Would you ever have a year like this again in the state of Texas, do you think?
Urban Meyer: I hope.
Q. Because when you talk to guys down there, they’re saying, well, when it comes to Tate Martell, I know they’ve always considered you guys to be a national name, but this class seems to cement that when you look at Chase Young from Maryland and Wyatt Davis from California and Trevon Grimes from Florida, all corners almost of the — do you feel like more than ever this is a national program in the respect that you can knock on any door?
Urban Meyer: I think our success maybe has helped that. You know, Zeke Elliott in the NFL Draft. There’s a variety of things that kids look for. I think our Real Life Wednesday program that we do for people, that’s caught the eye of many people. First of all, Ohio State is a national brand and will always be and always has been. But I think the success we’ve had recently and the exposure that this program has had for the right reasons has really been beneficial.
The one area, too, that they see that these kids not only leave this program and go to the NFL, they start, and we have rookie of the year, rookie of the year. We have Mike Thomas goes in, he’s dominant Pro Bowl, I think, and I lose track of them. I’m watching the Pro Bowl, a Buckeye carries the ball, a Buckeye is blocking for him, and a Buckeye tackles him. You know, it’s a lot of good stuff out there.
Q. Do you all push that big time, though, when you’re talking to these guys?
Urban Meyer: Ya think? (Laughter.)
Before a week ago, no. I’m not sure I’m going to go back, either.
Great, great people. I was only there for an hour, but the high school coach — I’m just kidding, I’d be glad to go back. They have another one of those, we’ll go back.
Q. This is just a continuation of my first question, but I do want to say I was talking with this coach —
Urban Meyer: Is this conversation or are you asking a question?
Q. Everybody thinks you just got him four days ago, a week ago. He said, actually Ohio State people were in touch with me a month and a half, two months ago. Is that a compliment to Pantoni and his staff with their thoroughness?
Urban Meyer: Yeah, that staff has come from a one person that runs their recruiting to we have a massive staff Also, Zach Swartz, Sammy Silverman our boy Kenton. I heard he was on the — picture of him. Where is Austin? I think you did it, right? You must be bored if that’s what you’re doing stories on. I love him, though, he’s great.
So our staff, I think I’d like to think we have the best staff in America, and if not we’re going to have the best staff in that area. And Gene Smith has been very understanding and making sure that we are swinging with both hands.
Q. With 15 guys leaving early and going to the NFL Draft in the last two classes, does that put more pressure to find guys who will play immediately or does it change anything?
Urban Meyer: I don’t want to say it’s awful, but it’s tough. Just the minute you think — imagine what this team would have looked like last year with those nine guys back. But that’s the way it is. I guess we are now of the mindset that will happen. Prepare for it to happen. Recruit guys that are ready-made as much as you can. But also there’s a lot of pressure on Coach Mick and them to get them ready. We start spring practice in a month. Get them ready. They’re all going to be playing. I say that every year. And people say, well, you redshirt some guys. I don’t want to redshirt anyone. I hope we do not.
Really deep down I feel this is going to be an exceptional class with a bunch of them playing because they’re showing it right now.
Q. You’ve got Greg, Kevin and Bill on your staff, close friends. Have you always been comfortable hiring buddies, for lack of a better term? What has changed about that, and is it just a comfort level?
Urban Meyer: Well, a lot of my people are gone. They’re head coaches and they’ve moved on, and I’m very uncomfortable hiring people I don’t know. I on purpose try to stay away from that, to answer your question. Greg was probably the first one that was really close. I wouldn’t put Kevin in that category. We are friends but nothing compared to Billy and Greg. So yeah, I’ve tried to stay away from it. But they were the best guys out there, and I have a job, and that’s hire the best guys I can for this University, and they fit that bill.
Q. Why do you stay away from it again?
Urban Meyer: I don’t know, just advice I’ve taken over the years, and I really didn’t have to go there because I had plenty of other guys to choose from, but the guys that I kind of had that pool, the pool is kind of dried out, so out searching.
Q. On the offensive coaching changes, it seems like the way things went down, things were in the works before the Clemson loss; is that true? And in the end, did you let Tim and Ed go, or what transpired there?
Urban Meyer: No, they wanted to pursue other opportunities. There was good conversation. It was applicable, and there was no one fired. There was no one that you had to leave. There was going to be some changes made. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. But to say that all took place before the Clemson game, that’s not correct.
There was some conversation before the Clemson game, but our focus was do the very best, go win that game, and then afterwards let’s have conversation. That’s what happened. But there was no dismissal or anything like that. Guys just pursued other opportunities and moved on.
Q. Ed goes from play caller to co-coordinator at Ohio State to not a coordinator at Minnesota. That’s not a sideways move, that’s a move down.
Urban Meyer: Well, I don’t look at it that way. And once again, I don’t want to speak for Ed. That would be maybe something you could visit with him about, but I know one thing, that he did a hell of a job here at Ohio State.
Q. With all the things you’ve said over the years about this, is the Ohio State offense no matter who the coordinator is, you’ve obviously had great success the last two years, but if this offense maybe wasn’t quite what you wanted it to be, it’s still your offense and you’re still an offensive expert. Was there anything you could have or should have done to maybe get more of a handle on it if it turned out that you guys didn’t throw it this year as well as you wanted to?
Urban Meyer: That’s what these next two months are all about. For me to answer that — I’ve been — I was in Kemp, Texas. I haven’t been doing this. But that’s all going to take place. Starting three days ago I started a complete statistic evaluation. I didn’t realize we rushed for more yards than any other school in the country the last five years. I’m getting all these things we did well, and same thing, what we didn’t do well. What you find out, productivity in the passing game has really hurt us, and we need to be more productive. Now, what does that mean? I hear the term receivers must separate. Exactly. Quarterbacks must be more accurate. Exactly. And the offensive line must do — we gave up 25 sacks this year. That’s not acceptable.
So those are all things that we’re going to really focus in on.
Q. Just the way you coach and everything you have to do, can you be more hands-on at all with the offense, or do you have to just have the coordinators and position coaches in there?
Urban Meyer: No, I can’t be more — those are great questions. I want to be the head coach, and I want to run special teams. I want to be the game manager and the motivator. I also — I’m very involved in the offense, but I try to hire the best possible guys I can to coordinate, because coordinating the offense isn’t calling a play. That’s the misunderstanding. Coordinating the offense is the practice, the motivation, inspiration of the staff in that room right there. Those are all titles of the coordinator, not so-called who called the reverse. That really has no bearing on the coordinator. Does that make sense? That’s where I — I think on the defensive side of the ball, we really struggled four years ago or whenever that was, and fire this guy, get rid of this guy, do this, do this. We made it work. And it wasn’t necessarily the defense called, it was the whole package that performed the last three years at a very, very high level. Obviously great players, but I loved what was done in that room.
MARK PANTONI: I’ll just start off with one of Coach Coombs’ favorite lines: Today wasn’t a good day, it was a great day at Ohio State. It was exciting. I felt confident last night going to bed, and you guys probably saw my tweet, that we didn’t want any drama here today and there wasn’t. That was always a good sign on signing day.
Just to take 20 seconds, there’s a lot of hands that go into the whole recruiting operation, and especially during the season when coaches are busy with game planning and getting prepared for our opponents. I want to really thank my right-hand man Eron Hodges. This guy is a superstar in the profession. He’s been with us for over a year now, and he’s got a really bright future. Tim Hinton has been really great to rely upon as all of his experience as a college and high school coach. So I really appreciate his knowledge and expertise and helping with recruiting.
My guys Anthony Coughlin and Ed Terwilliger also in my office that do a great job for me.
In the front office, the girls Katie, Megan, Taylor Alex are really helpful in setting up all the visits for us. This past year we hired Zach Swartz, as Coach mentioned, to do all our social media. It was a home run hire. He’s exceed all expectations with his job, as you guys all follow on social media.
And then our two Jedis, Sam Silverman and Ken Stufflebeam, have been here for a couple years now and those guys are the best in the business at what they do. And finally, I also thank the SACO staff, strength and conditioning staff. Ryan Stamper with his Real Life Wednesdays. Our creativity team meets every morning at 7:00 a.m. to help with recruiting materials. And then I’m missing other people, but Gene Smith, as well, for all of his support and taking the time to meet with prospects when we need him to.
So that being said, be happy to answer questions.
Q. Can you describe how much bigger and more complex and ambitious your department is compared to when you started here?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, when I first started 10 years ago in this business, it was almost a one-man operation, and now all those names I just read off, we’re talking about recruiting an army. Even here now it’s expanded. When I first got here, it was really just Greg Gillum and I kind of doing the majority of stuff. And as the number of players to watch expands, as the social media expands, as the nationwide search expands, you have to keep adding and adding. And now even the social media team is a team within themselves. So I think this operation is only going to continue to evolve and continue to grow, and just the nature of recruiting that keeps evolving and taking place.
Q. When you talk about all those things and the way you guys have expanded and evolved, where is it left for this to go?
MARK PANTONI: I think the next wave is you’re going to see it become more — have more personnel specific departments like the NFL. I think you’re going to start seeing — there’s already two or three schools that have titles of general manager, and then you’re going to see just 20 people in the personnel office just cutting up film and doing film evals. I think that’s going to be the next step and it’s just going to keep growing from there.
Q. Is any part of that hard to believe? I don’t know how you evaluate yourself, but it’s changed so much and it continues to build. I don’t know if you think that’s good for the game?
MARK PANTONI: I think any time that the support staff can assist the coaches and make their lives easier, it’s a good thing so they can focus on our current teams and games during the season. But at some point when is it going to become too big? There’s going to be places like Ohio State that can afford to have these massive armies, and other schools may not.
But I think it is helpful, the larger our staff is, the more information we can find out about kids and do the research and be well-equipped in helping our coaches make informed decisions.
Q. I would imagine when you got to Ohio State you had a vision for what you wanted Ohio State recruiting to look like. Today’s class with all the five-stars, relatively little drama, how close is this class to that vision?
MARK PANTONI: In the perfect world, it looks great on paper. For any class I think you really don’t know until three years from now. The 2013 class standing up here today, we didn’t know Zeke Elliott was Zeke Elliott and Darron Lee would be Darron Lee.
So on paper you’re most proud and confident of the type of kids they are and the families they come from that they’re going to be successful because of that. So in that case, we feel outstanding for the type of kids we’ve signed and how talented they are on film that we expect them to come in ready to play.
Q. Is it too simple to say that the national title two years ago, the NFL Draft a year ago, I would imagine those were kind of the two pillars of what you saw?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, that’s exactly right, in my opinion starting with the National Championship and then almost a year ago in April at the NFL Draft, seeing all those guys walk across the stage has really lifted our platform probably on a more national level to be able to open these kids’ eyes a little bit more to Ohio State.
Q. Just a tremendous amount of this class starting with Shaun, obviously, has been committed for more than a year, upwards of 18 months, and a lot of those guys, they weren’t just like guys like Josh Myers, guys out of state, too. What type of work goes into keeping that many guys committed for that long when they’re that type of caliber of prospect that you’ve got all these other schools that know who to target in trying to get them to flip? What was that process like for you?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, any time a kid commits, you almost have to keep remind yourself to recruit as if they are not committed because you always want to make sure you’re showing love because you know the other schools aren’t backing off. Sometimes I know if we lose out on a kid, it may make us start recruiting him harder even though he commits to another school. So we have to remind ourselves that just because someone’s committed, we’ve really got to treat and show the love that they deserve.
You know, any time you get out of the — our eight-hour radius, the percentages go way down. So those are the guys that we really have to focus on and you know we’re going to be in a fight until that name comes through the fax machine on signing day.
Shaun Wade specifically, we have not had a great track record down in Jacksonville with kids who have committed to us, so give him and his family a lot of credit for sticking firm. We took a lot of trips and we even encouraged him to take his trips, but at the end of the day we said pick what you feel is the best and he picked Ohio State because of that. We’re really proud of his family and Shaun for sticking with us.
Q. 21 signees, it’s a relatively small class for you guys. What do the numbers look like for 2018? Do you think it’ll be a bigger class?
MARK PANTONI: I was looking at it today, I think we have — I forget the number of seniors. I want to say more than 14 seniors maybe going into next year versus this year we had five. So we knew that was going to be small as it is. So we have a bigger starting ground. In our eyes there’s probably going to be, as usual, guys who leave early for the NFL Draft, so we keep some of those names in mind as projections.
But I think you’ll always see us get to at least 20 and then the big years the 25.
Q. Talk about names of the 2018 class, I know you guys have two verbal commitments. Do you feel like a rash of commitments is coming in that class? Because I know last year you had ten commitments already for the 2017 class.
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, the coaches, they’re just finishing up this class so now they’re focus is on the ’18 class. We have all the film prepared for them now so they can do their true evaluations on the ’18 guys.
So I think as they get their lists in order of how they rank them, I think during the spring is when you start to see the guys will really start to push for commitments and through the summer to get a good foundation of the class.
Q. Urban mentioned it, but the NCAA might look at the early signing period in December for the spring, and for a guy like Elijah Gardiner, if he were a year younger this might end up different. For your recruiting efforts, do you expect the landscape to change at all?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, I think it will. I’m interested to see how many kids will actually decide to sign in December if they have that opportunity.
And the positive aspect is the J.K. Dobbins of the world, you don’t have to worry about recruiting them for a couple more weeks until they get here.
The negative is if a kid signs with another school, that coach leaves, position coach leaves, school gets in trouble, then what’s going to be the procedures for that. So there’s still some questions how it’s all going to happen when it does happen. So it will affect the landscape and affect how we — timing of official visits, when we want to bring them in. We may try to get kids in that very last week and now before that signing date, be the last visit on their mind. So that’s things we’ve got to keep in mind and consider.
Q. If it’s December, you’re still preparing for a bowl game?
MARK PANTONI: Absolutely.
Q. How do you mitigate your time?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, I think just like any visit during the season, the coaches are going to be getting prepared for the bowl game. And then myself and my staff will have the large chunk of the visit on our hands and we’ll just have to make sure the kids have a great time, as we do now.
Q. When it’s 15 guys leaving early for the NFL in the last two years, does that put more pressure on you to get guys who can play right away?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, you know, every year we expect guys to be on that track to leave early, and so there’s some pressure to make sure when you lose a Darron Lee, you’d better bring in someone just as good or the team is not as good. You always have to try to equate the talent that you lose with what you bring in. And then every year, there may be one or two guys that leave that you’re not projecting to leave. In that case, kind of where we’re at with wide receivers this year, we weren’t sure on a couple guys what caused that last second scramble with Elijah Gardiner, but we always want to have a pair and a spare ready for worst case scenarios to where it’s not just try to quickly find someone at the last second, but we have a list of guys ready just in case something were to go down.
Q. Has anything changed in that regard in the last couple years?
MARK PANTONI: I don’t think so. Since day one we always wanted to recruit guys that are not only great kids who want to do great things after football, but who want to play in the NFL. And so those are the kids we’re looking for from day one, and then we’re going to continue to do that.
Q. I know they came in very late in the process, but did the coaching staff changes have any impact on your recruiting in terms of — you had to transition a little bit, and I’m sure had they had different territories and whatnot, but you guys made it seem seamless.
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, Tim Beck, give him a lot of credit. He did an outstanding job in the state of Texas with Baron and Jeffrey. And even with Shaun Wade in Jacksonville. So when you’re very familiar with the prospect and their families. And you have a change like that, you always want to make sure that you’re on top of things and the position coach can jump right in there.
The great thing that Tim did and Luke did, they were always very up front and honest with these kids and their families. There was no deception, no hiding. When they knew they were going to be leaving, they were very up front with the families.
I think the families really appreciated that and made the switch a lot easier.
Q. This may be more of an Urban question, but when you help to arrange the recruitment of a quarterback and you’re getting guys out of Las Vegas and Texas, is there any emphasis on, hey, let’s get some film of them playing in Ohio-type weather, or is the philosophy that a quarterback that can throw in the dessert can throw in the arctic?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s hard to simulate, obviously, so it’s hard to project that. I don’t know what the right answer is and how you would evaluate that. But I do know when we did recruit Joey Burrow, who was not a very highly recruited guy but there was a lot of emphasis placed on him versus the other one or two kids played in Ohio, he’s played in the cold, he knows what the rivalry means, and so that really helped Joe’s stock in our eyes.
So in that case, him versus a kid who maybe we saw as an equal talent in Texas or wherever it was, Joe got extra bonus in our eyes because of those reasons.
Q. When you guys are putting together a class, you guys have seven out of 21 commits from Ohio. In your mind you guys have the best class in the history of the program maybe right now, but I don’t think —
MARK PANTONI: No, it wasn’t, not enough Ohio. That’s something we want our percentage to be much higher on. There’s too much talent in this state, but at the same time, we’re also searching for the best players in the country.
We always have to keep reminding ourselves Ohio kids are our first priority. They will be. Sometimes we probably over evaluate them because those are the kids we get to camp so many times, we know all about, versus a kid out of state. Trust me, we place so much emphasis on the state of Ohio and we’re going to continue to and do our best to get the best players out of the state of Ohio.
Q. You talked a lot about the NFL Draft and the National Championship you guys won, but you know as well as anybody that this class, from a numbers standpoint, with the five-stars that you have is dramatically the best class you guys have put together. Why now, in your mind, do you think it call came together in year five or six for Urban and what kind of made it all mesh at the same time right now?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, I think the three things are, one, the National Championship two years ago, and then last year with the NFL Draft, and then finally just the evolvement and success of our Real Life Wednesdays program to not only be able to say here’s what we do and have these great speakers who our team, but to then show Billy Price doing an internship with Nike, to have Joe Burrow, Austin and Sam Hubbard go to Goldman Sachs in New York, and so now these are testimonies, our guys actually do this instead of just having guys speak and giving us great information, but now we have guys in the real world doing these great internships. I think that was huge for Baron and Jeffrey and among others, and I think between those three different things I just mentioned is the huge success we’ve had.
Q. Did Beck try to recruit Browning and Okudah after Texas after he left Texas?
MARK PANTONI: Not that I’m aware of.
Q. Were you worried about those kids?
MARK PANTONI: I think there’s just always the respect factor. He’s got a job to do down there, too. So they did go see J. K. That was no surprise to us.
Q. How are you on numbers? I think we have you at 89 with this class, guys on the current roster?
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, I’m not even sure where today puts us, but we will be at 85 come August when we need to be.
Q. And you guys had a kid on a visit recently cited for marijuana possession. How does that happen?
MARK PANTONI: You know, we educate our players as much as we can, and we try to do as much research on prospects before we even bring them up here, and I guess mistakes happen with the number of kids we bring up here. We don’t want it to happen and it’s not a good reflection on us, either. So we do as much homework as we can to avoid those situations, but we got a bad deal on that one.
Q. Is there any worry about whoever was hosting him on the guys on your end?
MARK PANTONI: You mean — we don’t really — it’s not a worry. Obviously we worry every day about kids. It’s college. We don’t want our players doing that sort of thing. But it’s not something we go to sleep every night worried about that kids are going to have issues like that. We have a lot of trust in our kids, and we constantly remind them every day, our coaches do. We feel confident in the type of kids we bring in the program that they make the right decisions.
Q. Is Elijah Gardiner a great example of the depth of the book that you guys keep or accumulate? Can you take me through first hearing about him to having Urban Meyer going to Texas?
MARK PANTONI: Eran, who I mentioned before, he’s the one who actually found Elijah just searching through names. And when the coaches — it was on a Sunday, Coach Meyer was in the office and we started showing him some of these receivers that we had found and Elijah was one of them, a guy we were very interested in and figured we needed to get to know.
So Kevin was down the first week to go see him with Zach Smith, and they liked his physical appearance, got great feedback from the high school coach. And so then that next week is when we decided to fly Coach Meyer in and he felt the same way those guys did, decided to bring him here on a visit, which was almost like a job interview for him, getting him around our players, constantly asking our players what he was like with them, just to make sure, again, we want to make sure we bring in the right type of kid and all the boxes checked out positively for him, and we’re glad he’s a buckeye.
Q. How much of a scramble, as you look back on it now, was it to get that third receiver if that’s what you want to call it in this class? Y’all went through almost a Rolodex of names until you found Elijah. I guess the jury is out on him for the first couple years, but how much of a scramble was that, and how much of a need was that to get the third receiver?
MARK PANTONI: We felt it was fairly important, obviously, to do the search that we did. We play a lot of receivers, as you guys know, so wanted to be able to have the depth and practice to be able to practice and give these guys the rest that they need in between practice reps. We thought it was very important. So to bring a guy in who we know may be a little bit developmental but who is a big, strong, fast guy to give us some depth at that position here for the future, like a guy like Bin Victor did last year. We knew he was a guy who needed to be developed, but he came on a lot faster than we thought.
Q. Did you ever believe that Real Life Wednesdays, when it was introduced, that it would become a major factor in your recruiting? Are you sitting here now a little bit —
MARK PANTONI: Yeah, a little bit, the impact it’s had not only on recruiting but our players itself, and the fact that these guys are now more interested in doing more research on different fields of area, knowing that Coach Meyer is going to help them get to that point I think has been a huge success.
Q. You mentioned that this whole process is starting to feel like the NFL a little bit, so what lessons are you taking learning from their personnel people and how they handle the free agency? The NFL is similar, but is it different?
MARK PANTONI: It’s probably just a little bit similar in just the traits and their mindset of how they draft people as far as film evaluation, character, the critical factors they look for at each position, more so on that and then free agency and trades and salary caps and that sort of thing.