Ohio State’s Emphasis on Program Culture is Secret to Success

Ohio State has a rich history of winning at the highest level for over a century. The program’s culture is its secret to sustainability.

The Ohio State football program is one of the most, if not the most, sustainable in college football. The Buckeyes have always had an excellent head coach and elite players on the field, from Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer to Archie Griffin, Cris Carter, Eddie George, and Ezekiel Elliott, to name a few. 

However, Ohio State saw its program reach new heights twice in the new millennium under Tressel and Meyer. The Senator strung together a feat never been done before by the Buckeyes as Tressel’s teams beat The Team Up North a school-record seven straight times. Tressel would finish his tenure with an unheard-of 9-1 record against the Wolverines, an accomplishment thought to be untouchable. 

Urban Legends Never Die

Enter Urban Meyer. The Ashtabula native was hired in November 2011 to take over an average football team. Gene Smith and Ohio State had just made a monumental move bringing Meyer to Columbus. I remember standing in my living room next to my Dad, watching his introductory press conference before dinner. I also remember walking out of an early college class seven years later because Meyer had announced his retirement. 

Between those two days, Meyer led his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes to unprecedented success on and off the field, including 7-0 against That Team Up North. Urban Meyer’s accolades in Columbus comprise of an 83-9 (.902) record, 51-5 against Big Ten opponents, 5-2 in bowl games, 1 National Championship, a Top-3 ranking in each season, and two 20+ game winning streaks in addition to his performance against TTUN. 

But what was Meyer’s secret to his success? People. The great Woody Hayes once said, “you win with people.” His philosophy still reverberates through Ohio State football’s DNA to this day, though as it passes through generations, it takes on a new form. 

“You win with people.” – Woody Hayes

Meyer is one of the most ultra-competitive people you will ever be around. He relentlessly pursues excellence at all times. However, things changed between Florida and Ohio State for him as he began shifting his focus from people being a means to an outcome to an outcome being the result of people. 

New Beginnings

That all started with his family. The Meyers are incredibly close as a unit, as evident by the infamous pink contract Coach Meyer had to sign before taking the job leading the Buckeyes and always having his family present in big moments, such as the National Championship stage. His daughters Nicki and Gigi and son, Nate, along with his wife, Shelley, made him agree to prioritize his faith, family, health, and well-being rather than becoming immersed and consumed by his relentless pursuit of greatness. 

The program’s culture was always Coach Meyer’s most significant focus as he preached 4-6 A-B with relentless effort. It was no secret that the Buckeyes needed a culture change following the 2011 season, and that is precisely what Meyer did as his team finished 12-0. His beliefs in human psychology, leadership, and performance propelled his investment into an elite culture that affected his program from the top down. 

Coach Meyer’s knowledge of psychology and expertise in motivational leadership combined to create a formula for communicating to his players and staff unparalleled to the rest of college football. Coach used constant messaging and soundbites to drive his points home and keep the core values in front of them to influence behavior. 

The R Factor: Tim Kight

Image Courtesy of Hoop Thoughts

In 2013, Meyer brought on Tim and Brian Kight of Focus 3, specializing in behavior, leadership, and elite performance through systematic methodologies. Tim Kight’s research and development of The R Factor – E + R = O wound up being the primary focus while consulting with Meyer and the Buckeyes. 

Moreover, Coach Meyer is one of the best motivational leaders of our time. Now add the king of deliverables and power statements, Tim Kight, to Meyer’s philosophies, and they instantly became a dynamic duo. Event + Response = Outcome became the mantra of the Ohio State football team, which propelled them to fulfill their mission – The Chase – and win a National Championship. 

Both Meyer and Kight proclaim that culture leads when no one is watching. The behavioral practice to live and lead Above the Line with intention, purpose, and skill is essential to a strong and influential culture. The R Factor system consists of six disciplines to transform daily life, increase performance, or whatever you need the blank to fill. 

Six Disciplines of The R Factor:

  1. Press Pause
  2. Get Your Mind Right
  3. Step Up
  4. Adjust & Adapt 
  5. Make a Difference 
  6. Build Skill 

Kight’s teachings helped strengthen the foundation Meyer had built and then elevated it by providing practical systems that will forever be embedded in the framework of the Ohio State football program. The Buckeyes’ new culture revolutionized sports and corporate America by combining the two at the highest level yielding positive results. 

Meyer and Kight’s culture shift stretched beyond the gridiron into the fanbase. It felt like most of the great state of Ohio, as Meyer affectionately calls it, grew together. The transition was unique because the players were not just playing a sport, but they were being developed off the field into men and young leaders. 

Impact Beyond the Woody

The same can be said for students and fans who follow the team closely. I have always paid close attention to social media for updates, but primarily for those leadership soundbites and knowledge to help me grow as an individual to stay On-Path striving to live out the disciplines of The R Factor each day. 

Whether it is wearing the E + R = O wristband every day since 2014, reading Above the Line, or listening to the Focus 3 podcast, the culture and practices of the Ohio State football team possess far greater impact than inside the Woody. 

Buckeye Nation bleeds Scarlet and Gray and is the most passionate fanbase in the country, which ties us back to Woody’s statement: you win with people. That is exactly what Meyer did to permanently alter the trajectory of Ohio State football forever as the most sustainable program in college football. 

He won because of his family, and in turn, Ohio State won because of his leadership. Surrounding yourself with great people is a tradition unlike any other in Columbus. The program could have taken a nose-dive post-Tressel, but Coach Meyer returned his home-state Buckeyes to its rightful prominence and entrusted Ryan Day to uphold the standard and make it even stronger. 

Image Credit: WSJ