How Urban Meyer Took the Buckeyes to School

Very interesting. And its very hard to argue with UM’s approach/style after watching Saturday’s game: nothing short of ‘speechless’.
By Jonathan Clegg

Ever since he arrived in Columbus three years ago, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has set about finding the most efficient ways to educate his players about the intricacies of his high-powered offense.

What he hit upon is an approach that is increasingly popular in academic circles, but still mostly unheard of in the hidebound world of football coaching: flipping the classroom.

In academia, flipped learning turns the traditional classroom-teaching model on its head, delivering lessons online outside of class and moving homework into the classroom via individual tutoring or activities. A football team might seem to be an inapplicable environment for this, but Meyer employed a similar approach after taking over the Buckeyes, who went 6-7 the previous season.

In an effort to speed up the installation of his spread-option playbook—an offense that devastated defenses while Meyer was at Utah and Florida—Meyer decided to abandon old-school chalkboard sessions. Instead, he devoted team meetings to hands-on exercises, such as walking through plays and doing situational drills.

Now, three years on, Meyer’s “flipped coaching” technique has helped take Ohio State to the brink of a Big Ten Conference title and a possible berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The fifth-ranked Buckeyes face No. 13 Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, although Ohio State is a slight underdog  [ops…] now because of the loss of injured quarterback J.T. Barrett.

“That team is as well-prepared and well-coached as anyone in the country,” said Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who is now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “They’ve really opened up the playbook, but his players are in complete command of what they’re being asked to do.”

For most of his career, any discussion about Meyer’s qualities as a coach has focused on his team’s offensive scheme, which spreads out the defense and enables the quarterback to use his talents as a runner. Under his command, Utah’s Alex Smith went from a two-star high-school prospect to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Florida’s Tim Tebow became one of college football’s all-time greats.

Ohio State’s success this season has underscored Meyer’s ability to impart his ideas and bring inexperienced players up to speed in a hurry.

When senior quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury 12 days before the opener, Ohio State’s outlook appeared bleak. Since then, Meyer turned Barrett, Miller’s redshirt-freshman backup, into a Heisman Trophy contender with a lineup featuring six freshmen and 11 first-year starters.

“It really speaks to his skill as a teacher,” said Keith Grabowski, a former college assistant and founder of Coaches Edge Technologies, an online aid for coaches. “They are on the cutting edge with the methods they use.”

Meyer delivered a detailed breakdown of his approach to teaching at a clinic for Ohio high-school coaches shortly after he was hired by the Buckeyes.

He didn’t use the flipped classroom term to describe his approach, but outlined his belief in “on-edge” teaching, in which players are kept on the edge of their seats during team meetings by a barrage of impromptu quizzes and individual interactions designed to keep them engaged.

This approach is fundamentally the same as in flipped learning, which has become something of a buzzword in recent years as online video has become more widely available.

The theory behind it is that introducing students to new material through short video lectures, screencasts or online slideshows outside of class time allows for the lower levels of cognitive work—gaining knowledge and comprehension—to be performed outside the classroom on their own schedule and at their own pace. Class time can then be repurposed into workshops where students can inquire about the material and interact with hands-on activities. These help accomplish the harder task of assimilating knowledge.

“The whole idea is that if you can get players thinking about it and doing the mental work prior to being in the football facility, your time in the classroom will be that much more productive” Grabowski said.

For Meyer, that has meant ditching the time-honored method of installing an offense, in which players listen passively while coaches draw up plays during team meetings before heading back to their dorm rooms to memorize the assignments with their playbooks.

Now, instead of lecturing players on X’s and O’s, Ohio State coaches send them schemes and game plans via videos and interactive graphics that can be accessed on phones and iPads. Time at the facility is then devoted to walk-throughs and other interactive exercises. Kirk Barton, a graduate assistant at Ohio State, says meetings are used for situation-specific drilling.

He might ask an offensive lineman to diagram a particular play against a particular defensive front, for instance, or draw up their responsibilities against a blitz. Barton says he also texts players outside of meetings to ensure they have the assignments nailed down.

Former Buckeyes defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said it isn’t uncommon for Meyer to interrupt meetings and pepper inexperienced players with questions to ensure they understood the playbook.

“When he came in, he would usually ask a freshman: ‘What do you got?’ ” said Hankins, adding that Meyer’s “on-edge” techniques ensured no one put their feet up during meetings. “You never knew what you were going to get from coach Meyer. That’s just how he is. He’s always keeping people on their toes.”

Saturday’s game against Wisconsin figures to provide another stiff test of Meyer’s ability to get his players up to speed in a hurry. Ohio State lost Barrett to a season-ending ankle injury in last weekend’s 42-28 win over Michigan, the second time in three months this team has had its starting quarterback go down for the year.

It means that the Buckeyes will enter the biggest game of their season in with their fortunes resting on Cardale Jones, a third-string quarterback with 11 career completions entering his first collegiate start.

“It’s his show; he’s got the keys to the car,” Meyer said. “He’s been studying film and getting ready to go. We’ve just got to teach him up.”

—Stu Woo contributed to this article

How Urban Meyer Took the Buckeyes to School – WSJ.


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