|Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Florida produced several head coaches, including Steve Addazio. (US Presswire)|
Greg Studrawa misses the brainstorming. That first season at Bowling Green is romanticized now because everything was on the table during those coaching skull sessions. Northwestern's spread. Purdue's bubble screens. The staff's future employment.
The one thing those young, hungry coaching lions weren't going to do was sit around. They traveled to the four corners of the college football universe 11 years ago, gathering tips, ideas, advice -- and plays. Always plays. They returned to a humble MAC campus in Ohio thinking they could take over the world.
"Those are the most fun times I've ever coached," said Studrawa, now the offensive coordinator at LSU. "There were a bunch of guys in a room and there were no damn egos. You got to share a new idea and it's not some guy going, 'Let's move on. ...'
"It was ideas, man. It was, 'Let's try that.'"
And so they did, Urban Meyer's first staff. It was 2001 and a revolution was taking off. Meyer wasn't the first and maybe not even the best to use the zone-read spread but it changed his life and the past decade of college football. It started at Bowling Green when the staff concluded it had to try something different.
"We're not going to find tight ends [in the MAC]," said Studrawa, a former Bowling Green offensive lineman who was then the Falcons' offensive line coach. "We're not going to find fullbacks. All this offensive stuff, what we could find is little 5-10, 5-9 receivers that as you go work in space, they're going to get open. We said, 'Hey, let's spread it out.'"
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In two short seasons, Meyer's spread helped win 17 games. The Falcons went 4-0 against schools from FBS conferences, beating Northwestern, Kansas and Missouri (twice). It shot Meyer up the football ladder -- to Utah followed by Florida and Ohio State -- and planted the seeds for a coaching tree.
Considering where he has been and where he is going at the moment, it is time to admit a certain Urban Influence.
College football kind of emanates outward from Ohio State's coach this week. Notice that not only are the Buckeyes (8-0) undefeated but so is his former team (Florida). So are his two most successful coordinators at Florida (Louisville's Charlie Strong and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen). Temple's Steve Addazio -- a former offensive line coach and coordinator at Florida -- is 12-7 since taking over at Temple last season.
Studrawa, one of the original insiders to help hatch that zone read spread, is 20-2 as LSU's OC.
"Urban wanted to be exciting, he wanted people back in the stands and students involved [at Bowling Green]," Studrawa said. "Balls going everywhere, tempo. We packed the house."
Urban Meyer has a coaching tree and may not even know it. That staff at Bowling Green more than a decade ago qualifies as a super group. Mullen, who was his quarterbacks coach, followed Meyer to Utah and Florida, eventually winning two national championship rings in Gainesville. Mullen's No. 13 Bulldogs are headed into a showdown with No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
Bowling Green offensive line coach John Hevesy followed Meyer to Utah and Florida before joining Mullen at Mississippi State. Offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon eventually took over for Meyer at Bowling Green, going 44-30 in six seasons. He is currently at Wyoming. Defensive coordinator Tim Beckman is in his second head-coaching job, at Illinois. Receivers coach Billy Gonzales -- currently with Beckman at Illinois -- has already been on staffs that have won three SEC championships, two national titles and played in four BCS bowls.
"You know when you get around a top-shelf guy, you can tell pretty early in coaching if you've got one," Meyer said this week.
You want to know how unlikely all of it is -- so unlikely that Josh Harris, Tim Tebow and Braxton Miller would all play for that same guy? Travel back to that first recruiting season when a snowstorm hit Bowling Green. Eight inches of the white stuff jammed doors and froze locks around the only place the staff felt was dignified enough to take recruits on their visit -- the stadium club.
"The elevator goes out," Studrawa recalled. "The two exits for the stadium are iced shut. I climb out a window, grab our equipment guys, an ice pick and hammer. We're chipping away at the doors. We're having to walk the kids and parents down through the stadium through the snow.
"Urban is just cussing. I'm chipping away. That's how far it has come."
You can understand, then, that Meyer has specialized in crisis management during his career. The stress issues that plagued him at Florida have been addressed with an attitude change and a binding contract with his family. He overcame a nasty clash with Big Ten coaches over his recruiting style. When his starting quarterback (Miller) was knocked out Saturday, there was more Meyer Magic during this undefeated season. Backup Kenny Guiton entered and rallied the Buckeyes to an overtime win over Purdue.
"He was not the most committed guy," Meyer said. "His preparation, lifestyle and work habits weren't appropriate for a quarterback. As a result he had [just about] never played a snap. He did a complete 180. He was right in immediately [when Meyer arrived]."
More crisis management: The Buckeyes go into Saturday's Ineligibowl at Penn State with only 60 scholarship players. A coaching change and injuries do that to a roster. The much-more penalized Nittany Lions have 69. A spot in the Big Ten title game would be on the line Saturday if both teams weren't on NCAA probation.
"There is a group of Blue and White and a group of players in Scarlet and Gray that have nothing to do with it," Meyer said. "They're trying to win a game. The punishment ... at the end of the day you have to ask if it's the right thing to do or not."
The tributes to Meyer's career and influence take the field each week. When Florida plays Georgia on Saturday in the annual Cocktail Party, at least 20 starters for Will Muschamp will have been recruited by the former coach.
"I still love Florida," Meyer said. "People try to make it something it's not. ... There's nothing but great respect for Coach Muschamp. I met with him many, many times when he got the job. He's the right guy for it."
Then Meyer started reminiscing, clicking off some of the names he brought to Gainesville: "[Dominique] Easley, Jordan Reed, Mike Gillislee, Matt Elam, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Lerentee McCray."
A 48-year old Ohio native with roots in Utah, Florida and ESPN would like to think he is not done clicking off those names. That tree he planted long ago continues to grow.
"What do I do for a living?" Meyer asked. "I try to motivate 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds. I'd like to think our staff does that better than anybody in the country."
It wouldn't be his first.