Meyer Eyes History in Home State

By Kyle Rowland on May 29, 2013 at 9:30a
Urban Meyer is happy at home. Can he match Saban's feat?

When Urban Meyer retired abruptly in December 2009, it came as a shock to the college football world. Meyer was in his mid-40s and regarded as one of the top coaches in the game, capturing two national titles and becoming King of the SEC.

But not everyone knew about the ongoing health problems plaguing Meyer. They came to a crescendo in the early morning hours after a loss to Alabama in the 2009 SEC championship game, when Meyer had the sensation of a heart attack. It turned out to be esophageal spasms, but the incident was a wakeup call to Meyer and his family.

“I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family,” he said at the time.

The day after his resignation, however, Meyer had a change of heart. Instead, he took an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio became the point man for the Gators with Meyer’s actions during recruiting season shrinking. It didn’t mater, though, as Florida still signed the nation’s top class.

In March, when spring practice began in Gainesville, there stood a refreshed Meyer on the practice field. But the spark was missing. Meyer didn’t seem like himself, the upbeat coach with a touch of wizardry looked burnt out. The Gators stumbled through a 7-5 regular season and Meyer again announced his resignation. This time it was for real, though a return was inevitable.

Incredibly, almost six months after Meyer hung up his whistle, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel resigned after months of turmoil related to a growing NCAA case in which Tressel knowingly lied to investigators. The wheels for a Meyer-to-Ohio State union were already set in motion.

After a year sabbatical that included working for ESPN as a college football analyst, Meyer was poised for a comeback and it just so happened that Ohio State slogged through a 6-6 season. Two days after the program’s first loss to Michigan in eight years, he was announced as the Buckeyes’ 25th head coach.

Some criticized Meyer for jumping back into the deep end too soon. But during his year off, he did some soul searching and reflected on what went wrong at Florida. He knew a return would require delegated power and responsibility. In his final seasons at Florida, Meyer became too much of a micromanager and it wore him down.

“I let that destroy me,” he said.

Meyer came back nearly 40 pounds heavier and with a clean bill of health from his doctors. Visits with his peers led to discussions about how to coach college football without sacrificing other aspects of life, most importantly family. Building a national championship caliber program is possible even if you’re not spending every minute on the job. It’s a valuable lesson Meyer learned, and it became famous when daughter Nicki made her father sign a contract penned on a pink sheet of notebook paper. In that document lay Ohio State’s national title hopes.

The balanced life – or as Meyer calls it “keeping it in centerfield” – proved possible during Ohio State’s undefeated season in 2012. Meyer stayed in touch with his college-aged daughters and even managed to attend some of their volleyball games. Back in Ohio, he was a fixture at his son Nate’s Sunday morning football games.

“My problem was I left centerfield,” Meyer said. “I tried to cure NCAA issues, started trying to cure agent issues, maybe drug issues, whatever. I went out of centerfield.”

Year 1 was a success beyond imagination. Meyer assembled a coaching staff that gelled and became the envy of others across the country. His offense took hold under the guidance of coordinator Tom Herman and quarterback Braxton Miller. Recruiting levels surged to where they were at Florida thanks in part to Mark Pantoni’s involvement.

Everyone has a comfort zone and Meyer made sure to bring those along who helped build a machine at Florida – Pantoni, Mickey Marotti and Brian Voltolini.

“This is my home state, and it’s great to be back home.”

As the Buckeyes enter the second season of the Meyer era, they’re positioned to win at a steady rate. A 12-0 season was had during the feeling out process. Now Meyer is looking to make history. Eleven head coaches have left the school where they won a national title. Only one has returned to coaching and won another championship: Nick Saban.

To join that illustrious group of one, Meyer must beat the man who founded it. Saban has been at the peak of the sport’s tallest mountain since he strode into Tuscaloosa. Alabama is winners of three of the past four national championships.

Meyer, like Saban, has the benefit of going from one big-time program to another. That wasn’t always the case with the other title winners. Meyer was also able to surround himself with a star-studded supporting cast.

Hiring coaches who can teach, get every ounce of talent out of players and recruit at a swift pace is what the Meyer model calls for. When he was hired, it became a worrisome topic.

“One of the issues that I'm dealing with right now is my guys are all gone,” Meyer said. “Everybody has their little coaching tree and mine are a bunch of head coaches all around the country. So I'm going to go and have to find a guy.”

Or guys. Herman, Luke Fickell, Everett Withers, Mike Vrabel, Ed Warinner, Tim Hinton, Kerry Coombs, Stan Drayton and Zach Smith make up Meyer’s Ohio State tree.

Sports evolve on a yearly, monthly and daily basis. Meyer, however, has his ways and they served him well last season. The offense has been tinkered with, but by and large, the philosophy remains the same. Meyer’s “Plan to Win” is the formula that’s won 116 games at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State.

Despite Alabama’s penchant for winning championships, they aren’t easy to come by. Coaches speak to the difficulty of winning single games, let along national titles. It takes a cocktail of coaching, talent and luck.

Few coaches seem to possess that magic elixir that produces an endless look of victories. But Meyer and Saban each contain the secret component. In highly scrutinized positions, the pair has lived up to expectations on an almost yearly basis.

If the plan comes to fruition for the Buckeyes in 2013, Meyer will not only become the second coach to win a national title at two different schools, he will become royalty in a city and state that is defined by football success.

Said Meyer: “This is my home state, and it’s great to be back home.”


Comments Show All Comments

cinserious's picture

Great writeup Kyle. You guys always seem to be able to express the exact thoughts and feelings of Buckeye fans to a 'T'.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Hoody Wayes's picture

Urban Meyer's ambition is a complex, high-powered engine. It runs on many fuel sources. 
He arrived at Florida knowing Steve Spurrier had led the Gators to a championship. So, Meyer led them to two. I am confident Meyer knows how many championships Woody Hayes won and how times Jim Tressel beat Michigan.
If required, Meyer will beat Saban, inaugurating a new era or a new dynasty in college football.
What Urban Meyer knows of college football history motivates him. And if he believes and wants to be it greatest coach ever, he will do so.

Hovenaut's picture

Along with that ambition, UM has embraced Buckeye tradition and the place it holds in college fb history as a native son should. That's a pretty good recipe to use to satisfy the desire to win.

Jdadams01's picture

Love that Shelly is right there in front of Meyer joining in Carmen Ohio with the team.

New alum's picture

Meyer has been extremely successful at all stops along the way.  You could tell he was a special coach at BGSU. Florida had kind of faltered under Zook, and in just a couple of years he took them to a National Championship.  I honestly think he will do the same here, and, great as Tressel was, take the program to heights it may not have truly experienced since the Hayes era in terms of national prominence.

Proud Michigander, OSU grad. Life is complicated.

thatlillefty's picture

Nice article but is it possible to go one day w/o comparing our program to Alabama? I'm so tired of hearing about Nick Saban.

Ethos's picture

My concern is not how successful Meyer will be, as I know he will be, but how long he will stay.  I really do hope Smith is making a concerted effort to be sure Meyer is not getting overwhelmed and will not repeat what happened at Florida.  That is the only way Ohio State is going to get any where near the success he had at Florida and Saban has had at Bama.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

BuckeyeChief's picture

Stress like that is, I ended up gaining 30 lbs and chain smoking Newports 6 months into my last command. UM is a positive example on how to handle stress, and balance life/ familiy/ work.

"2014 National with it!!!"

Squirrel Master's picture

Well not just being 1 of 2 coaches who have won a NC at 2 different Universities, but Urban could be on the brink of a top ten winning streak.
If our mighty bucks go undefeated this year, big if of course, they will be sitting at 26 straight wins. If they go undefeated through the 2014 OOC games, they will be at 30 wins in a row and that will get them into the top ten. I think its like 28 or 29 straight wins for the 10th place team.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

razrback16's picture

I'm just glad to see Urban taking care of his health and his family while also doing well here as our coach. Hope he is able to maintain that work / life balance.