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Speed Review: Above the Line

Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Champion Season

by Urban Meyer & Wayne Coffey

Speed Review: Above the Line
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Inspiration From a Winning Game Plan

At the end of the 2010 football season, University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer was at the top of his game. In only six seasons at Florida, he had already won two championships. And more championships were predicted.

Then Meyer stunned the college football world by announcing that he was stepping down as coach for personal reasons — a catch-all reason given by those in positions of authority looking for a discreet escape hatch. However, the catch-all phrase was right on target for Meyer that year. He was indeed leaving the program for personal reasons. His personal health. His personal relationships. His personal priorities.

In 2012, Urban Meyer returned to coaching at Ohio State University, the team for whom he had rooted as a boy growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio. He had not lost his desire to win, the competitive drive that had been instilled in him by his supportive but no-holds-barred father. (His father rewarded his son with a special dinner when, as a boy, Meyer got into his first fight, protecting his sister.) Meyer was also as intense as he had always been about his expectations of hard work and commitment to the team. There was, however, a new focus on life balance and a greater sense of priority.

For example, Meyer was once an uncontrollable hothead during games, including berating referees, often kicking and throwing stuff as he chased them down the field. This was now what Meyer considered “below the line” behavior. In a new book, Above the Line, Meyer contrasts below-the-line behavior — impulsive, on autopilot and resistant — to the “above the line” behavior of true leaders and successful people. Above the Line, Meyer writes, is “intentional, on purpose and skillful.” It is about control and accountability. It is the enemy of what Meyer calls BCD: blame, complain, defend. It is the foundation for success in any endeavor, but it does not come easy.

The R Factor

In Above the Line, Meyer uses Ohio State’s 2014 season — a season that began with the team’s quarterback, a potential Heisman Trophy winner, sustaining a season-ending injury before the season had even begun, and ended with Ohio State winning the national championship in the first year of the college playoffs — as a thread to explain how to act and react as an above-the-line leader and person.

How to react is a key element of staying above the line. In his book, Meyer introduces the equation E + R = O, that is, Event plus Reaction = Outcome. There are many events that are out of our control, but our reactions are not, he explains. And our reactions, as the equation shows, define the eventual outcome. “It’s important to understand that success is not determined by the situations you experience,” Meyer writes. “Success is determined by how you choose to manage the R.” How to manage reactions to events is what Meyer calls “the R Factor.” Meyer identifies six R-Factor disciplines as vital to success: press pause, get your mind right, step up, adjust and adapt, make a difference and build skill.

The right organizational culture is also a key to success for individuals and the group as a whole. Meyer explores in depth the three core beliefs in the Ohio State football culture: relentless effort, competitive excellence and the power of the unit. Going as hard as you can at all times, focusing intently on preparation, and unwavering commitment to those around you are at the heart of any success in the OSU football program.

As expected, Above the Line is filled with stories, not just drawn from the 2014 Ohio State season but also drawn from Meyer’s childhood and his entire career as well as from other sports. There are perhaps many triumphs in this book, or stories of resilience and comebacks in response to setbacks. There are, however, some heartbreaking stories as well — an athlete who commits suicide, another player with NFL talent who cannot escape the pull of the streets and dies of a drug overdose in his car.

Most of the athletes featured in this book, however, are winners, and not just the famous stars. Meyer tells of one walk-on athlete, Nik Sarac, who finally earns a scholarship for his senior year — only to refuse it because his family could afford to pay the tuition. “Save it for somebody who really needs it,” Sarac tells Meyer in just one of the many inspirational moments with which readers of Above the Line will be rewarded.

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