CHICAGO — Urban Meyer walked into a room of the Chicago Hilton to be interviewed, and the media on his heels resembled paparazzi chasing a celebrity.
Hey, Madonna, make way for Meyer. Move over, Woody, Bo and JoePa.
There’s a new king of the Big Ten.
Urban Meyer brings this undivided attention from the masses for two reasons: He’s the football coach at Ohio State, a program steeped in tradition in a state with a grand gridiron presence. And he’s good at what he does. He’s got two national championship rings to show from his time at Florida.
This week’s Big Ten football media days brought me to this conclusion: Meyer is the league’s most dominating coaching presence since another Ohio native, Bob Knight, was Indiana’s basketball coach.
I asked Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, entering his 15th season and the Big Ten’s dean of football coaches, what he thought about the hoopla surrounding Meyer.
“I think it’s a combination of his past and where he’s coaching at,” Ferentz said. “The head coach at Ohio State is typically very prominent in our league. That’s part of the job description.”
Knight used media sessions as his personal bully pulpit, intimidating anyone who dared ask a question he didn’t like with a belittling response. Meyer is smoother, though he can get terse when he doesn’t like the direction of a question. And his stare can melt an ice cube from across the room.
When I asked Meyer about challenging other Big Ten coaches last February to recruit better, Meyer said, “Hold on a minute, there was never a challenge.” And the ice cube started to melt.
Meyer answered a series of questions over two days here, and rarely flinched. Player discipline — eight of the first 11 questions he fielded dealt with that subject, which has followed him from Florida — was the buzz topic Wednesday. Thursday was more for Xs and Os.
Meyer can turn on the charm when needed or melt the ice cube when he feels it’s warranted. Meyer was especially engaging while talking about the gifts possessed by Braxton Miller, his star quarterback.
“And that’s all coaching, by the way,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes weren’t eligible for a bowl game last season, Meyer’s first in Columbus. Ohio State was 12-0. Now, with the Buckeyes bowl-eligible and favored to win the Big Ten in 2013, the league’s trampled reputation of a season ago should see a rebound.
Meyer is not intimidated by excellence as he runs a program that expects to win. He’s following the footsteps of giants like Woody Hayes. He even has his biggest rival, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, speaking in a positive tone.
“I think we have a professional relationship,” Hoke said of Meyer. “We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s a good relationship.”
Two years ago, Ferentz read a biography about legendary football coach Paul Brown.
“When Paul Brown was there (at Ohio State) they were good, too,” Ferentz said.
As an assistant NFL coach in Cleveland and Baltimore and in his time as an Iowa assistant under Hayden Fry, Ferentz is well-versed with the level of talent on the field in Columbus.
“I can tell you that since 1981, they’ve had the best players, year in and year out, talent wise. With Michigan a close second,” he said. “In my six years in the NFL looking at draft boards, Ohio State had more guys on the board and higher on the board. It’s not a new phenomenon.”
Clearly, Meyer didn’t invent football at Ohio State. But he’s the man in charge now. And a third championship ring to his name will confirm his overwhelming presence.
Three. The number of national titles Knight won at Indiana.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa sportswriter of the year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball at the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @RickBrownDMR