Chris Ash models Rutgers after Urban Meyer's Ohio State
Chris Ash is returning to Columbus for the first time since January this Saturday but rather than coaching the Ohio State defense from the press box, he’ll be directing the Rutgers football team from the sideline and rather than coaching with Urban Meyer, he’ll be going against him.
Ash said multiple times throughout his weekly press conference that the matchup between the Scarlet Knights (2-2, 0-1) and the No. 2 Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0) isn’t about him but about the players and what they produce on the field, but the storyline of his return is a compelling one fans are always going to care about, never mind the fact the coach that dug Rutgers from obscurity as a national doormat to a top-10 team in the country in 6 years is his replacement.
While interesting, the Greg Schiano / Chris Ash role swap is little more than symbolic as their relationship remains friendly and they occasionally pick each others brain's, but they never worked with each other.
Ash did work with Meyer in the last two seasons before he came to Piscataway, though, and the influence he had on him couldn’t be more evident. Along with former Ohio State assistants Drew Mehringer, Bill Busch, Zak Kuhr and Vince Okruch, Ash brought a multitude of Buckeye traditions with him to the Banks, including things as simple as keeping the team in a hotel during training camp instead of university dorms to the entire motto of the program — ‘10 Strong.’
“A lot of things,” Ash said when asked what he took from his time in Columbus. “I was fortunate to go there at a time in Coach Meyer’s career where he experienced a lot of things as a head coach. I think he's really probably settled in on what he truly believes in and how he wants to see the program run in all areas.”
10 Strong is the idea a team is only as strong as its collective skill, that every unit is vital to the success of the team. A team is only as strong as its weakest link in Ash’s eyes, so he’s done his best to apply what he learned at Rutgers to create a more team oriented environment.
The process is still in its early stages — Ash is only four games into his first season at the helm, after all — but the signs so far seem to point in a positive direction.
“The change in the coaching staff definitely helped,” said junior defensive end Myles Nash, who played sparingly in his first two seasons but is likely to take on a bigger role after senior defensive end Quanzell Lambert suffered a season ending injury against Iowa. “I’m not a guy that’s going to sit here and make excuses, but my relationship with the previous staff members, it wasn’t as strong as it is now. I think you look at coach Ash and (offensive coordinator Drew) Mehringer and the staff we have now and they’re so connected with everyone. Before, there were people on the staff you never had conversations with, but now, everyone’s so connected.”
Can you guess where he got the idea from?
“Every coach that leaves here, I warn them, is that I never wanna hear that excuse that … you inherit (the players). No, they’re your players,” Meyer said in the weekly Big Ten coaches’ conference call. “When I hear people say, “well, they’re not your guys, wait until he gets his guys in there.” That’s nothing but an excuse. So I always tell them … they’re now your guys. Don’t you ever treat them as if they’re someone else’s because that’s when people fail.”
Fail isn’t a word associated with Urban Meyer.
In his 15th year as a head coach, he’s never known the feeling of owning a losing record, winning at least eight games every season since 2001 in every program he’s been at, from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida and now finally Ohio State.
Meyer had two undefeated seasons as well, the last of his stint in Salt Lake City in 2004 and the first of his current tenure in Columbus in 2012.
Ash was part of the first team to win the national championship under the new College Football Playoff format in 2014 in his first season at Ohio State, but he is far from finding anywhere near as much success in his first season at Rutgers.
But while this season will more than likely not be the one in which the Knights don’t suffer a blowout loss to the Buckeyes, and there are doubts on whether they could reach a bowl game, progress in what Ash considers an important key to Ohio State’s success — organizational alignment — is there.
“Before, there were people on the staff you never had conversations with, but now, everyone’s so connected,” Nash said. “When we’re eating meals for pregame, coach Ash makes different coaches sit with different position groups so we can all get connected, and I think that’s important when you’re building a team is that everyone is connected. We’re connected by our units and we spend a lot of time together, things like that. Once you’re able to build a trust with your coaching staff, and you trust the coaches and you trust the process and everything you’re doing, it’s very easy to go out and give it your all and compete in the highest level possible.”
The improvement is noticeable to those outside the program as well.
“They’re playing their tails off,” he said. “They were inches away from beating a very good Iowa team so he’s got that thing going, it’s just going to take a little bit longer to get that thing where they start winning game but they’re playing really hard and he’s got a good system in place for his players.”