DALLAS (AP) — When Ohio State’s Urban Meyer took a year off from coaching, he made a trip to Oregon to see how Chip Kelly was running the Ducks.
Both Meyer and Kelly had an affinity for spread offenses, but Xs and Os were not necessarily Meyer’s most important takeaway. Oregon had become a program in synch from top to bottom, from ball boys to the quarterbacks.
Some of the former Oregon coach’s methods were nothing like what Meyer would have ever considered, but everyone on campus seemed to be buying in.
“You know, you go in (to Oregon’s practices), they are playing ‘Lion King’ music,” Meyer said. “They have like a DJ at practice, bizarre stuff now. I remember even I was like, ‘What is this?'”
Now playing music in practice is part of the Buckeyes’ routine. Leading into the Michigan game, LL Cool J’s “It’s Time for War” was blaring all week.
“We shared a lot of ideas,” Meyer said about Kelly.
After Ohio State beat Alabama to earn a spot opposite Oregon in the first College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night, Meyer spoke so glowingly about how well the two programs know each other some might have thought the coaches were exchanging Christmas cards.
“I think that was the relationship that Chip and Urban had, I’m not privy to that. But we’re very friendly,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said earlier this week with a smile. “It depends on how much we know the other party, but we try to gather more information than we send out.”
Sharing ideas is fairly common in college football. Out-of-work coaches, as Meyer was in 2011, often make campus tours to keep up on best practices and new strategies. Coaches bounce from team to team, making friends, and then share with those friends.
“That’s the great thing about what college coaches do that I don’t think they do at the next level,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said Saturday during media day at the convention center in Dallas.
Oregon, however, is not big on sharing. Which means Meyer, who Kelly once let address his team, may be one of a precious few who’ve had a recent glance inside the program.
“I don’t know that it really helps,” Fickell said about Meyer’s familiarity with Oregon. Fickell said it takes more than just a visit to practice to know what makes a program tick, and how a team will react in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said the Ducks tend to keep to themselves because they didn’t seem to be getting as much as they were giving in the idea exchange. Oregon considers itself cutting edge and its up-tempo spread offense has inspired a legion of copy cats.
“I know we feel good about what we do,” Oregon receivers coach Matt Lubick said. “We don’t want other teams coming in, especially competitors, and knowing what we’re doing.”
Of course, there are only so many secrets you can keep when every game is recorded.
“Everyone gets film. People can study your film and get ideas from that,” Lubick said. “Matter of fact, I was on the other side of this. When I was at Duke I used to study Oregon film. But you can only get so much from film. It’s the way you practice. It’s the way you implement. It’s all the different nuances. That’s hard to figure out.”
Lubick’s father, Sonny, was a longtime college coach, including a 15-year stint as Colorado State’s head coach that ended in 2007.
“I think it’s changed over the years, I think back then there was a little more give and take,” Matt Lubick said.
Especially now in the playoff era, you never know who you might run into.
“At the beginning of the year we didn’t know we were going to play Ohio State,” Lubick said. “I think you just got to be aware of it and be cautious about it.”
Despite what he’s seen from Oregon and elsewhere, Meyer is not quite all-in on up-tempo.
“We actually sent Dan Mullen, who was my coordinator, to Missouri when Missouri had a breakout season,” he said. “And they came back and … I snatched that after about four days of spring practice. Technique went to hell and our receivers coach is over there signaling instead of coaching receivers and … we ended that real fast.”
But not for good. Ohio State increases the pace offensively, and might be moving at a more Oregon-esque rate if not for having to shuffle through quarterbacks.
“It’s an advantage for the offense,” Meyer said. “And if you don’t take it, then that’s fine. But even I know Alabama is moving in that direction. Is it full speed all the time? We’re not. But certainly that gives us an advantage at times.”
Oregon and Ohio State’s offenses might look a lot alike, but just like the relationship between the coaching staffs, the deeper the examination, the more the separation is revealed.
“I think we’re a lot more different than we are similar, and that’s personnel-driven,” Helfrich said. “Their strengths are different from our strengths, but there’s definitely some similarities to it.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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