COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Kevin Wilson wants to make a couple of things clear right away.
He wasn’t working miracles at Indiana, he wasn’t operating in a barren wasteland of talent and Ohio State doesn’t represent a magical oasis of personnel that can open up the playbook of his wildest dreams.
On paper, yes, there is a difference between the Hoosiers and Buckeyes that absolutely cannot be denied. And, sure, the loaded roster Urban Meyer has assembled has much more in common with the record-setting Oklahoma attack Wilson oversaw before he was hired to overhaul the Hoosiers.
But even if Wilson doesn’t want the credit as he rattles off the accomplishments of the NFL draft picks he produced at Indiana or notes that his rebuilding job actually created a more prolific scoring offense in 2015 than even Ohio State’s in the Big Ten, it’s hard to ignore the possibilities of just what he might be capable of now that he’s calling plays for a team that has four-star and five-star talent coming off the bench.
“We’ve got high talent here,” Wilson said after his first week of spring practice with Ohio State. “But the talent we had over there was really good, too, because we recruited and developed it. What we did in the weight room, what we did off the field, what we did in practice. I think the last two years, we set [a record] for most amount of all-conference players and most guys going to the pros. You can talk about talent, but it’s also about getting guys to play.
“Shoot, a year ago we were the best offense in the Big Ten at a place [some] said had no talent. Talent doesn’t win. It’s the ability to play together.”
Wilson has shown throughout his career that he has a knack for developing the kind of chemistry that can create offensive explosions, dating all the way back to his early stints at Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern. His innovative thinking, flexibility with his power-spread offense and ability to mix and match schemes based on his personnel helped build his reputation and put up bushels of points. And all of that also helped disguise the fact that at times he didn’t necessarily have a level playing field in terms of pure skill.
That certainly wasn’t a factor when Sam Bradford was airing the football out with the Sooners or Adrian Peterson was slicing through defenders on the ground. That same willingness to adapt, though, worked every bit as well with Nate Sudfeld putting up huge passing numbers with the Hoosiers just one season after Tevin Coleman rushed for more than 2,000 yards.
Now Wilson gets a crack at putting together a plan for a senior quarterback in J.T. Barrett, who has already accounted for 100 touchdowns in his career. He has a running back in Mike Weber who became just the third freshman in school history to top 1,000 rushing yards, and he’ll have four starting offensive linemen returning up front. And despite the loss of the team’s top three receivers from an inconsistent unit a year ago, the Buckeyes have no shortage of talent arriving from recent highly ranked recruiting classes.
And he also has the complete confidence of Meyer, who has long been an open admirer of Wilson’s work and appears energized by the chance to work with him.
“This year, there are things we have to work on and he’s the perfect guy -- he and [new quarterbacks coach] Ryan Day and our staff -- to get it fixed,” Meyer said. “The term we use around here is: We’re not changing; we’re enhancing what we do. If it was broken, we’d have to change it. If we wake up one day fifth or sixth in the Big Ten in offense or something, then you’re going to see one of these deals [starting over from scratch].
“I think the key word is mesh. If there is something that fits conceptually with what we’re trying to do, then we add it.”
How much addition is necessary remains to be seen since Wilson is only two practices into his tenure with the Buckeyes.
And for his part, Wilson hardly seems worried about updating Ohio State’s playbook or even putting together a finished product at this point. For now, he’s still just getting to know the players and figuring out how much talent he has to work with -- regardless of how it might compare to his previous stops.
“What you did in the past doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again,” Wilson said. “I’m kind of used to change. But I have core values in offensive football that parallel almost exactly, word-for-word verbatim to what Coach Meyer believes. The first adjustment is not an adjustment, because we’re on the same page as far as how you want to run the offense. Maybe the language is different, maybe the things you emphasize, as I continue to learn and grow that, in time maybe we enhance.
“But right now we’re running our stuff and running it with some great players.”
And Wilson’s stuff mixing with Ohio State’s players might just be the makings of a truly dangerous combination.