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Urban Meyer, Ohio State feeling pressure of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan already in recruiting
By James Vogel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When a school is transitioning to a new coaching staff in college football, its first recruiting class is hardly going to be one to throw a party in celebration over.

Head coaches scramble to put together a new staff at the same time they’re trying to convince players to come to their school and be a part of the new regime. The travel, late nights, early mornings and phone calls are squeezed into a month or two, with the coaches trying to salvage some positivity on the recruiting trail despite being months behind everyone else.


 

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh was officially announced as the head coach of the Wolverines Dec. 30, smack dab in the middle of the NCAA’s winter recruiting dead period. After that, his only choice was to go after recruits that had committed elsewhere — including rival Ohio State — as well as assure those who had pledged to the Wolverines before he was hired stuck by their word.

“Harbaugh’s presence was felt up north, no doubt about it,” former Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said Wednesday on National Signing Day. “He went in there guns a blazing trying to get the best player in his state, which he should. At the end of the day it’s about developing relationships. When you’re late in the game unfortunately the transition that happens all the time, it’s tough to get those relationships built.”

Drayton bolted to the Chicago Bears Thursday, a day after helping the Buckeyes sign the best running back from the state of Michigan, Mike Weber of Cass Technical High School in Detroit. His relationship with the 4-star recruit stemmed back two years, which helped he and Urban Meyer pry him away to Ohio.

Regardless how it looks now that Drayton has moved on to the NFL, Weber is a Buckeye (for now — he could ask out of his Letter of Intent). But Harbaugh did his best to keep him home. It just didn’t work out.

“Harbaugh did a great job with getting into the home and he has a great relationship with a lot of those coaches in Detroit that played with him while he was a student at the Team Up North,” Drayton said. “It’s about developing relationships, it’s about cultural fit, and at the end of the day I think all those kids will pick that over just the state where they’re from.”

Any coach at a new school is going to have hurdles in his first year on the recruiting trail. Meyer did at Ohio State when he was hired in late November 2011, but he had an extra month on Harbaugh to get things moving. That’s a big reason why the class finished with a top-5 ranking and 25 commits, instead of the 14 Harbaugh could get in less than a month.

“There were recommendations, we watched tape and we called people to see if they were interested,” Harbaugh said Wednesday, according to mlive.com. “We’re trying to build a recruiting base, and that’s kind of the way the pickle squirted this year. I don’t see that happening (as much) going forward.”

Harbaugh did what he could with the time — and a Michigan brand in desperate need of retooling — to get the best players he could. Meyer even mentioned Wednesday his new coaching opposition in the greatest rivalry the sport has to offer tried to flip Ohio State commits Joey Burrow and Joshua Alabi.

Things have changed in the recruiting world with Harbaugh at Michigan. Ohio State knows it.

“They’re going to obviously do everything they can to develop that relationship,” Ohio State cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “It’s a new staff, but that’s how they do their business and I don’t anticipate a lot of hateful, negative stuff because I don’t participate in that. I don’t expect that they will. I think we just go about our business, presenting ourselves like we always have.”

Ohio State says it isn’t going to change the way it presents its product to recruits who are also on Harbaugh’s radar, especially with the 2014 College Football National Championship in its back pocket. That makes sense, seeing as how Meyer is 38-3 since he took over in Columbus.

 

How it all eventually plays out won’t go unnoticed. The Buckeyes can’t afford that.

“There’s a lot of pressure on those guys,” Coombs said of the Cass Tech coaches, particularly head coach Thomas Wilcher, a Detroit native who ran track and played football at Michigan in the 80s. “I understand that because I was a coach … I understand the pressure that he’s under. Do I expect it to change? Absolutely. And I think we’re going to have to fight and battle and claw even harder than we already have.”

The Buckeyes will look to continue getting players from Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan. Just like Harbaugh and company are sure to continue recruiting Ohio. It’s always been that way.

With a new regime and big-time head coach like Harbaugh things are ramping up fast.

“We do keep score against our rivals in everything we do,” Meyer said. “And they’re great recruiters, they always have been. The previous staff was great recruiters. That’s gone on for long before us, and will take place long after us.

“Absolutely, you keep score on that one.”

Player profiles relevant to story:
20 - Weber, Mike | Coach - Coombs, Kerry | Coach - Drayton, Stan | Coach - Meyer, Urban
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