LAWRENCEVILLE, Georgia — Urban Meyer might be the closest thing to Nick Saban in modern-day college football, in terms of winning percentage and championships won.
But make no mistake, they’re different people.
When Saban (five national titles since 2003 — four with Alabama, one with LSU) attends a public event during the offseason — like the recent MacArthur Trophy presentation (last month in Atlanta) — the Alabama head coach strides through the room with a presidential aura, flanked by aides (stealthily disseminating information to the boss) and collecting gasps from the crimson-clad masses who can’t believe they’re sooooo close to arguably the greatest coach in college sports history.
Conversely, when Meyer (three national titles since 2006 — two with Florida, one with Ohio State) partakes in a satellite camp at Central Gwinnett High School (Thursday morning), the Ohio State head coach works the football grounds like a beloved United States senator — shaking countless hands, offering his undivided attention to coaches of all levels, posing for two-person “selfies” upon request and happily looking the part of a man who’s living out his dream job every day.
(For what it’s worth, Meyer wore a pair of conservative, primarily white Nike shoes on Thursday. However, the big, blue swoosh represented a dramatic departure from Steph Curry‘s old-man ‘Chef Curry’ sneakers, shown below.)
And then there’s this: During the satellite-camp action on Thursday, a loud but friendly Ohio State supporter in the Central Gwinnett High stands yelled, Urban, O-H! — a brief war chant which prompted Meyer (50-4 with Ohio State since 2012) to acknowledge the shout-out with a smile … and the signature arm gesture of O-H.
Can you imagine Saban yelling “Roll Tide!” at the top of his lungs to a small Alabama cluster, in a half-full high school stadium?
It’s a mind-blowing thought for the sometimes-robotic Saban.
Watching the relaxed Meyer turn on the charm with coach and players was quite the sight; but it also made sense after watching Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen — a longtime Meyer protege at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04) and Florida (2005-08), before landing the MSU job — work the Central Gwinnett satellite camp in an easy-breezy fashion.
And that’s when it hits you: Mullen and Meyer share the same jovial traits — at least when there are no games to be won or lost on that day.
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It would have been nice to collect/decipher some on-the-record comments from Meyer and Mullen, regarding college football’s most pressing issues — the Big Ten’s move to a nine-game conference-scheduling model (the 14-team SEC remains at eight games), whether satellite camps merit more NCAA regulation in future years, the annual thrill of competing for the four-team College Football Playoff and the down-the-road possibility of Power 5 teams hosting other Power 5 schools for fall-camp workouts/scrimmages (similar to the NFL).
It would have also been cool to ask Mullen about the challenge of moving on without the departed Dak Prescott (9,376 yards passing, 111 total TDs), easily the greatest quarterback in Mississippi State history.
(Presumably, it’s now Nick Fitzgerald‘s show in Starkville.)
Instead, Meyer and Mullen were obliged to politely refuse interviews with the waiting press, citing an oblique NCAA rule prohibiting coaches from speaking to the media at satellite camps.
Considering how Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has been a regular chatterbox with the media during his own globetrotting camp tour suggests Meyer and Mullen were hiding behind a nonexistent statute.
But then again, the NCAA invoked a serious change on the fly two weeks ago, denouncing the practice of FBS head coaches (aka Harbaugh) taking one-on-one photos with satellite-camp participants, declaring it an unfair recruiting advantage.
So, maybe Mullen and Meyer weren’t in the wrong for their radio silence. Truth be told, Meyer was all set to speak on a number of topics Thursday, before being stopped by an Ohio State aide; and by all accounts, this exchange didn’t have the look of a poorly executed Good Cop, Bad Cop ruse.
The relentlessly positive Mullen didn’t speak on any official topics, but happily cleared up one social-media mystery: He, and only he, controls his official Twitter account.
Here’s why that’s relevant: Back in March, I penned a whimsical, partial tongue-in-cheek piece entitled, “Politics and Pigskin: 6 modern-era SEC head coaches who could have been governors.”
The listing included Alabama icon Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, UGA legend Vince Dooley, current LSU head coach Les Miles, former UGA coach Mark Richt, former Alabama/Kentucky head coach Bill Curry and Mullen — Mississippi State’s coach since 2009 (55-35 overall).
And within 30 seconds of promoting the piece on Twitter — without touting any specific coaching names — Mullen’s Twitter account re-tweeted the promotional tweet.
Now, that’s how you work a room in today’s digital age.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.