June 3, 2005

Boilermaker Blast: Recruitin' Ron Meyer

Ron Meyer has done it all in the world of football. He played and coached in college, coached in the NFL, and worked as a TV analyst for CNN for nine years.

But he hasn't forgotten that he got his start as a player and assistant coach at Purdue back in the 1960s.

It all began for Meyer as a two-year starter in the Boilermaker defensive backfield for Coach Jack Mollenkopf in 1961 and '62. He graduated with honors in 1963 after winning the Big Ten Medal of Honor for his academic and athletic proficiency.

Meyer combined his brain with his salesmanship skills to become one of the school's greatest football recruiters ever in the process of launching a five-decade post-playing career in the sport he loves.

After graduating from Purdue, he spent the 1964 season as the head coach at Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn High School. But it was a short stay.

"I took a paycut to return to the Purdue staff after one year in Mishawaka," Meyer said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Plano, Texas. "I was making $7,200 in Mishawaka and took the Purdue job for $200 less, but it was a great opportunity."

Meyer took full advantage of the opportunity as a Purdue assistant from 1965-70, building his reputation as a flamboyant, yet tireless recruiter. He coached receivers for most of his Boilermaker stint, but spent his final season at Purdue coaching defensive backs.

"Ron Meyer was a brilliant football coach who related well to players both at Purdue and when he was recruiting them," said Dale Samuels, who served on the staff with Meyer. "He was young during his Purdue years, but that didn't stop him from being very successful."

Joe Rudolph, the legendary former executive director of the Purdue Alumni Association who was intimately involved with the Boilermaker football program, said Meyer was something to behold, but on occasion drove Mollenkopf nuts.

"I can remember Mollenkopf's face grimacing and him saying rhetorically, 'Damn he does a great job. I hope we can deliver on all the promises he makes,'" Rudolph said. "But when Ron Meyer came into a room, he lit it up. There are few guys who had his personality."

Meyer was in his 20s when he was a Purdue assistant. He had a great relationship with the players, partly because he was closer in age to them and had a reputation as a hip guy in the late 1960s when being hip was important.

"Coach Meyer had a beautiful blue corvette he used to drive around campus," recalled offensive lineman Rich Ostriker, who played for the Boilermakers from 1970-72. "The deal was, if you helped Coach Meyer recruit, you could use his corvette to drive the recruit around.

"We had a defensive tackle from Johnstown, Pa., named Bronco Keser. He was a terrible driver. Coach Meyer let Bronco use the Corvette to return a prospect to the Indianapolis airport to catch his plane. On the way back, Bronco hits a patch of ice and goes down an embankment totaling the car. It was so scratched you couldn't tell what color it was. I think that was the last time anyone drove Coach Meyer's car recruiting."

After leaving Purdue following the 1970 season, Meyer took a job as a talent scout with the Dallas Cowboys. Then he built up UNLV's football program from Division II status to the big time before heading to Southern Methodist. At SMU, he recruited the "Pony Express" backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James and built the Mustangs into a national power.

He later turned around struggling NFL franchises at New England and Indianapolis and was named AFC Coach-of-the-Year at both stops. Just before taking the job with the Colts prior to the 1987 season, he nearly returned to Purdue as the head man.

Leon Burtnett had been fired after the '86 season and Meyer and John Mackovic were the two leading candidates to replace him.

Meyer said that stories about the Colts literally "intercepting Meyer" on his way to West Lafayette were overblown. From Meyer's perspective, it was a case of not having the Purdue contract completed when the Colts came calling.

"As I look back at it, I might have been better off to take the Purdue job," said Meyer, who was offered the position a couple of days before Thanksgiving. "But as fate would have it the Colts called and I hadn't yet worked out my contract with Purdue."

Purdue ended up hiring Fred Akers in lieu of Meyer, and the rest, as they say, is history. It's hard not to wonder how well the guy who recruited NFL first rounders like Otis Armstrong, Darryl Stingley and Dave Butz, all in the same class no less at Purdue, would have fared as the Boilermaker boss.

It is safe to assume however, that he would have had been a better fit for Purdue than Akers, who was fired after just four years and a dismal 12-31-1 record.

Meyer, who now serves as a consultant to the sports betting service WinningEdge in addition to spending time as an advisor in Texas' booming oil and gas industry, has a deep love for his days at Purdue.

"It was the best place to start a career in football," Meyer said. "I met so many people that I still call friends from there and I am grateful to have been able to be a part of the football tradition there."

We'll have much more from Meyer in future posts including some of his favorite recruiting stories, his views on Coach Joe Tiller and how much recruiting has changed over the years.




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