The Right Time for Urban Meyer
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — This was never the plan.
Not for Ohio State, and certainly not for Urban Meyer, who had walked away from college football after nine seasons as a head coach, the last six of which were spent at Florida.
That was supposed to be the end for Meyer, at least for a few years while he got some balance back in his life.
“A year ago I was, in my mind I was convinced I was done coaching,” Meyer said Monday.
“I was concerned with health issues. Family. I just wanted to be around them. Also I didn't like the state of college football. A lot of stuff going on. I'd hear about all kinds of things going on. And I just didn't want to be a part of that.”
Certainly Meyer’s health played an important part in his decision—he was hospitalized for dehydration following the Gators’ 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game back in 2009. But it’s possible that the second part—Meyer’s disgust with the state of college football—played an even larger role in his decision to step away from the game.
“I tried to do other people's jobs, because I'd sit in the staff room. I'd hear about all the nonsense going on and where were recruits, why they were going here, and what's going on,” he said.
“That's age‑old. And I tried to, maybe a fault, I tried to cure NCAA issues, started trying to cure agent issues, maybe drug issues, whatever. I went out of center field. There's people that get paid a lot of money and very professional, that's their obligation and responsibility to fix those things.”
It was that realization during his year away from coaching that allowed Meyer to miss the game, in spite of its flaws, as much as he did.
“I know he missed it so achingly bad,” Meyer’s wife Shelley said.
“He made that clear to me for several months. He knew he could not never coach again. He wanted to make sure he had the energy. Mainly I had to look in his eyes and make sure it was real.”
Even with that, Meyer was not planning to make his return to coaching this season. He was enjoying his newfound flexibility and the fact he could go and watch his son play baseball or his daughters play college volleyball.
It was the balance he had lacked for years at Florida. Meyer knew he would eventually have to return to the sidelines, but it was Ohio State’s desperation for a leader in a time of need that brought him back to his home state, and back to the place where he got his start.
“Being from Ohio, born and raised, having an opportunity to coach here under Earle Bruce, fortunate enough to marry his boss from Ohio; he gets it,” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said.
“At different times in organizations, teams, groups, whatever, there's the right time for certain leaders. This is the right time for Urban Meyer to lead our football program.”
It’s possible that Ohio State has never had a stretch of turmoil in their school’s history like they have in the last 11 months. Jim Tressel is certainly not the first head coach to be forced out by the University, but he was the first coach to commit a 10.1 NCAA violation.
That led to a full-scale NCAA investigation that has still not been completely resolved.
“We're hopeful somewhere in mid‑December we'll have a response,” Smith said Monday.
“Obviously we can't speculate on what they will do. All we can do is look at precedence, look at cases. We looked at cases from January1, 2007 that were similar to us and looked at rulings relative to those, that's actually what drove us to imposing some of the sanctions that we ultimately came up with.”
None of that deterred Meyer, who agreed to sign a 6-year, $24 million contract with the Buckeyes. That contract has plenty of incentives for team success. It also has built in enticements for Meyer to remain the head coach through 2014 all the way to 2018.
From the moment they decided a change was necessary at the top, Smith and the other decision-makers at Ohio State began to dream about the possibility of getting Meyer to take over after the 2011 season.
“I had a slate that I'd been considering for a while through the summer and did some serious soul searching throughout the season,” Smith said.
“Talked to a number of people. Never talked to another candidate.”
They were hoping Meyer would be their guy, the one to pull them out of the mire they slowly slipping into and put them back on top of the college football landscape.
“He brings to our environment an understanding that to be a great leader you have to implement different styles of leadership, seamless and in different measure, depending on the business situation,” Smith said.
“His experiences afford him that opportunity to do that here. We're blessed to have him as our football coach.”
It was also important to find someone who might be able to mesh with interim head coach Luke Fickell, especially after everything he had done for the program since Tressel’s resignation back in May.
“There's no question, we all know it, that Luke and this staff took on an unbelievable challenge to lead this football program through this particular year at this particular time, and he was the right leader for that time to lead this football program,” Smith added.
“And I think we all saw it on the field of play, different situations at different times, that he responded. So I want to publicly thank Luke and the staff for taking on the challenge and leading these young men through this challenging season.”
Now it will be up to Meyer to lead them in to the future. It is the job he has been preparing himself for since he was a kid, but not one that he was prepared to accept before it landed at his doorstep.
“It’s Ohio State,” said Shelley Meyer, a native of Chillicothe, Ohio.
“If it were any other job, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have taken it.”
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