It’s hard to believe now, but one of college football’s coaching legends could’ve been part of the Atlanta Braves during the franchise’s glory years.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was selected out of high school by the Braves in the 13th round of the 1982 MLB Draft and played two years in the minors.
Meyer, who won two national championship at Florida, is coaching spring ball at Ohio State this week.
In an interview with the AJC on Thursday, Meyer was asked, in the back of his mind, does he ever wonder how his life might’ve been different if things had worked out with the Braves?
“Sure, sure I think about it,” Meyer said with a laugh. “I don’t spend much time on it. But yes, 25 years ago about this time, I was in spring practice in West Palm Beach with the Braves.”
Meyer was a slick-fielding infielder with the Braves but struggled at the plate with a .182 batting average. It was an injury to his throwing arm that finally convinced Meyer to hang up the cleats and pursue his now-legendary football coaching career. You can read more HERE.
“I just wasn’t good enough,” Meyer said. “I was a really good high school football player. I was doing OK my second year (with the Braves), and then I had an injury to my arm. But I had already probably maximized my ability.
“I played with Ron Gant, Mark Lemke and those guys. And I still keep in touch with Mark Lemke and Fred McGriff.”
The most memorable part of Meyer’s baseball experience – and the one he often shares with Ohio State’s football recruits from Georgia – is about his release papers from the Braves. They were signed by team’s Director of Player Development at the time, Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.
“That is a great story,” Meyer said. “I have those papers in a scrapbook somewhere at the house.”
Here’s the rest of the Q&A with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer:
In your opinion, how much of an impact does weather have on recruiting, especially when you’re pursing kids from warmer climates like Georgia? I guess there’s a perception that it’s a really big negative factor, and I’m not so sure. “The weather in Ohio is also a bonus. I’ve been in the heat in the South in August, September and October. Meanwhile, it’s gorgeous up here in Ohio. It does get cold but we very rarely play in really cold weather because the season’s over by then. By the time it’s bowl season, we’ve moved indoors. So that’s a little bit of a perception. It’s not real. You might play a game or two in the cold, but very rarely do you play in real frigid temperatures. But I know one thing: In August and September, if I’m a player wearing 30 pounds of equipment in that kind of heat (in the South), I’ve seen that before, too. There are pluses and minuses. That’s when you’ve got to have an honest conversation with a player.”
Ohio State was so close to getting to last year’s national championship game. Do you feel like have Ohio State’s program now running at a high level like you did during your glory years at Florida? “We’re still not quite there. We don’t play defense the way you need to play defense to play at that level. And we lost some lineman this year. We had two players leave early (for the NFL). So we’re just trying to constantly reload like most programs. But you can’t make it to that game (the national championship), and if you made it you can’t win it without a top caliber defense. We are not where we need to be yet.”
The SEC had a stranglehold on national championships, and you were part of that at Florida, until FSU broke it this year. How big of a deal do you think FSU’s title was for the rest of college football for recruiting? Because it appeared to show some of Georgia’s elite prospects that you didn’t have to sign with an SEC school to win it all. “I think it’s big. I think it’s a great story about FSU winning it. But at the end of the day, we’re so busy, we’re just worried about Ohio State. I think college football needs some parity around the conferences. The SEC has been kind of dominant, and we were a big part of that (when I was at Florida). But in college football, it’s good to have some parity.”
What were your thoughts on Nick Saban hiring Lane Kiffin at Alabama? “I think it’s great. I have a lot of respect for Coach Saban. There has been a lot of publicity about Lane Kiffin and I having issues. There’s none. We’ve talked many times since. He’s obviously a good football coach, and I wish him well. I think it was a great hire for Alabama.”
Soon after you took the Ohio State job, you told me that you were going to try to “cherry pick Georgia and go after the best players.” You’ve signed two 5-stars out of Georgia like Raekwon McMillan from Liberty County and Vonn Bell for Ridgeland. How do you feel about your recruiting efforts in Georgia over the last two years? “I was really first exposed to Georgia when I went to Bowling Green. I did a lot of research and the best schools at the time, Marshall and Western Michigan, they had some Southern players on their team. They were the most athletic programs in the conference. When I took over at Bowling Green, I found out that you could fly from Toledo to Atlanta for $80. We had budget issues but we figured out that we could recruit Georgia. That’s really when I was exposed to the great players down there, and then when I went to Florida. Really in the last decade or 15 years, Georgia has passed a lot of other states, as far as quality players. They are good kids and well-coached. I love Georgia kids.”
So mission accomplished? “No, we have to keep pushing down there. The two you mentioned (McMillan and Bell) are going to have fine careers here. They are great kids and they come from … really good high schools programs. We need more from Georgia.”
Raekwon McMillan was the biggest fish. In your opinion, how did Ohio State beat out all the SEC schools for McMillan? He was from the heartland of the SEC and his high school coach played football at UGA. “I think a guy named Everett Withers (former Ohio State assistant now the head coach at James Madison) recruited him, and (defensive coordinator) Luke Fickel did an excellent job. I didn’t realize it. (McMillan) told me afterwards that he still hadn’t made up his mind until our home visit, which was the last home visit. The other schools were right there, and he wasn’t sure which was he was going to go. But he came up here (to Ohio State) at least five or six times. One of high school assistants (Ryan Glazer) was an Ohio guy, and they drove up here a few times. And they got real close with some of our players. After a while, it wasn’t recruiting anymore. When (McMillan) came up, he was part of the team.”
Raekwon is part of your team. He enrolled early. How has he looked so far? Has he lived up to the hype? “Well, he certainly has potential. He has been outstanding the first three days (of spring practice). He’s a guy that is certainly going to play for us. He’s mature with the way he handles his business off the field. We just had our academic meeting, and he graded a ‘9’ with this attitude and effort. I asked ‘How is he to deal with?’ Our academic advisor said ‘He’s a grown man. He just handles his business very respectful.’ And that’s a credit to his family. And in football, he’s done great. He’s in the rotation to play, already.”
In general, how would you describe the challenge is it for you to compete against SEC schools for elite players are from the Southeast? “It’s much harder there. There are certain kids that are just not going to leave home. You don’t waste much time there. One way to find out is this: Will they come visit you? If they visit you, this (Ohio State) is a hell of a place. If we get them up here, there’s a good chance we will be right in the middle of it. Some kids don’t have that desire (to play far away from home), and you’ve just got to move on quickly.”
There’s Raekwon, who everybody wanted. And on the other end of spectrum, you signed a quarterback (Stephen Collier from Lee County) who was barely recruited. Why do you think Collier was overlooked by so many colleges? “He’s a work in progress. He’s a kid who came up to our camp (last summer). He’s a wonderful young man that works really hard. He’s a guy that the more we were around him, the more we appreciated who he was, his character and what he stands for. And we’re hoping to develop him.”
Ohio State signed another Georgia player a few years ago who was barely recruited out of high school – your All-American cornerback, Bradley Roby, from Peachtree Ridge. That turned out OK. “The history of the Georgia players up here has been really good. You had Cam Heyward, Bradley Roby and the kids we’ve signed this year. We’re putting a lot of effort into Georgia.”
It seems like most NCAA coaches favor some version of an early signing period. How would you do it? “When I was in the SEC, we spent an incredible amount of time one year working on it. We came up with a great idea: Let a kid sign early if he didn’t visit any other schools. That means it’s over. That would be for a legacy kid, or a player who has only had one school that he’s ever wanted to go to. But when we put together that presentation, I thought it might pass but it didn’t. So I think at the end of the day, it’s going to be hard to pass an early signing day. It was tied in the junior college date in early December. You can’t have it earlier than that because then the kids will start taking official visits in the summer and the spring. You don’t want to do that. That’s taking away from family time and time you have the current players on campus.”
If you were in charge of the NCAA, what’s one rule you would change for recruiting? “I think you need to be able to pay for parents to go on the trips. That’s going to be big. I think all rules ought to be for the best interests of the student-athletes. I’m a firm believer in no text messages. And people say that Twitter direct messages and text messages on a phone are the same. They are absolutely not the same. The student-athlete can decide if he wants to follow (a college coach), where with text messages he is going to be inundated with thousands of text messages, even from people he doesn’t want to hear from.”
Why should Georgia’s elite 2015 prospects consider Ohio State? “You get a premium education with the opportunity to go compete for a national championship in a large city that really has no professional sports team. There’s a lot to be offered up here.”
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