Urban Meyer, LeBron James Relationship a Benefit for Ohio State

By Kyle Rowland on July 30, 2014 at 8:15a
LeBron James takes in the Ohio State–Wisconsin game.

CHICAGO – Before anyone ever cared where Urban Meyer would coach football, he was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where he walked. It’s where he ran. It’s where he cried. It’s where he bled. It holds a special place in his heart.

After 24 years away from his home state, Meyer opted to return. And he wasn’t just stepping inside the state borders, he was tasked with leading the team of his childhood.

As a boy, Meyer watched Woody Hayes-coached Ohio State intently. The Michigan game was treated as a holiday in Ashtabula, a Rust Belt town tucked into the northeast corner of the state. When it came time for Meyer to pick a number for football, it was a no-brainer: 45.

He had the same mindset in November 2011. Meyer knew when the Ohio State job came open the decision wouldn’t be difficult. He was hit with a wave of emotion and sentimental memories.

“I don’t think I would’ve coached – not that year,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days. “There’s just something about knowing [Ohio State] since I was [a young boy].”

Meyer didn’t announce his triumphant return to Ohio with a thoughtfully penned letter like LeBron James would do more than two years later. But the reaction around the state was equally as positive. The cheering extended from Cleveland to Cincinnati, Toledo to Youngstown.

Columbus also rejoiced. James has become an ardent Ohio State supporter, saying multiple times that he would have been a Buckeye if he chose to attend college. Unless, of course, he played football at Notre Dame.  

“I recruited him, but they made fun of me because I didn’t know who he was,” Meyer said of James, who starred on the football field as a wide receiver at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

The story goes that Meyer, then an assistant at Notre Dame and unaware of James’s basketball prowess, offered him a scholarship. When fellow coaches chided Meyer, he asked why all the razzing took place.

“He’ll be the next Michael Jordan,” they told Meyer.

He didn’t believe them. Now, Meyer’s well aware of the greatness James exudes.

“I offered him a scholarship. He should’ve taken it,” Meyer joked. “He’d be in a much better place right now if he would have played receiver for me at Notre Dame.”

Instead, James opted for the NBA. He’s become one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, winning four MVPs and two Finals. Even though the one-time scrawny wide receiver receive didn’t sign with Notre Dame, it doesn’t mean the two power players don’t enjoy a friendship.

When Ohio State hired Meyer, James took to Twitter to offer his approval. James attended the Wisconsin game last season, even delivering a pre-game speech. Meyer said Tuesday that James has a field pass for games, joking that he texted James and told him to be at all seven home games.

“It’s big. He means a lot in recruiting,” Meyer said. “You can’t measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game. He truly loves Ohio State.”

Braxton Miller said recruits get so caught up in the LeBron hoopla when he visits that they forgot about the action on the field.

“They’re like, ‘Really, man, LeBron is here?’” Miller said. “They’re so shocked and surprised they forget about us playing the game that night. LeBron was missed in Ohio.

“It’s good [having him around]. He always wants to come to our games, he’s always tweeting about the Buckeyes. It gives us motivation to be great because he’s one of the greatest ever. You want to go out there and dominate the game.”

James has his own locker in the basketball locker room, which serves as another recruiting tool. The biggest boost he can provide is simply hanging around the program. It’s free advertising that includes the most popular player in the all of sports.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman, a Naples native, said his allegiance is tied with LeBron, not the nearby Miami Heat. If James could suit up for the Buckeyes, Heuerman is the person who would find his starting spot in jeopardy. Asked about James’s playing potential, Meyer and Miller lit up and spoke of the endless potential.

“He’d be an incredible H-back/tight end,” Meyer said. “He’s still got four years of eligibility left. If he wants to come train with us, he’s good.”

Said Miller: “He’s a freak. He’s got a skill set certain people don’t have.”

Perhaps James’s most powerful tool is his ability to bring people together and create progress outside of basketball. The evidence is greatest in his hometown of Akron and throughout the rest of Northeast Ohio. By simply playing for the Cavs, James will trigger a chain reaction of economic expansion.  

Tickets sold, jersey sales, restaurant business. It all links back to LeBron. He’s been generous with charities and his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary. In his letter, James mentioned his hope that the region would flip its recent bad luck and return to the glory days when factories made the entire Rust Belt a financial hub.

It was a time when a young Urban Meyer was playing football and baseball on the shores of Lake Erie.  

“I read about the economic impact and that the positive feelings are off the charts in Northeast Ohio, and I think that’s great,” Meyer said. “That’s where I’m from. It’ll be interesting to see the economic recovery and spirit in Cleveland the next couple years.

“Every chance I can, I brag about where I grew up. Every Sunday, when we could, we would go to Browns games. I was a big Cavs fan, I went to Indians games. The Indians told me they were going to draft me in the first round in 1982. They didn’t. I was crushed.”

Meyer settled for throwing out the ceremonial first pitch two decades later.

He learned during his formative years that nothing is given in Northeast Ohio. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

Meyer accepted the challenge. He is home.


Comments Show All Comments

nfischer's picture

LeBron is back in Ohio?

+12 HS
YTOWNBUCKI's picture

As stated many times: Unless you're from Ohio, you just won't understand it.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

+22 HS
nfischer's picture

As stated many times


+4 HS
blocko330's picture

So true - and though I'm biased, Y-Town is such a buckeye-rich city..(and CLE sports in general).

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

- TruthTeller

+1 HS
Buckeyevstheworld's picture

As stated many times: Michigan sucks.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

+2 HS
SnooBucki's picture

Welcome home LeBron, we've got some unfinished business to take care of!

+2 HS
Buckeye419er's picture

I don't want to be Debbie downer, but unless he pads up and get's on a field somewhere then I'm kind of over it. #BullsFan

There can be only one

-5 HS
Tater_Schroeder's picture

If he visits with recruits on the sidelines during visits, there's no doubt it would help reel some of them in. It's a big win for Ohio State.


+5 HS
Tater_Schroeder's picture

 “He’s still got four years of eligibility left. If he wants to come train with us, he’s good.”

Yes, please. 


+5 HS
OSUpawn's picture

Think he would be the first 6 Star recruit?

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+16 HS
d5k's picture

Gene is probably working on a special Lebron-clause in the Big 5 conference autonomy proposal.

+4 HS
shadybuck's picture

If basketball had an "elite player" status for drafts like hockey does, he would have been granted it

+2 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

I'm excited by the potential impact LeBron will have on Ohio State, the Cavs, and the Cleveland/Ohio economy.

As for the latter item, LeBron's return might have a significant positive impact on the regional economy, but maybe for reasons not being emphasized by the regional media there. These economic impact studies that project increases in retail, Cavs revenue, restaurant sales, etc. tend to be all over the board (read: pseudo-scientific), as evidenced by the Cuyahoga County Fiscal Office projecting a $500 million impact, while another Cuyahoga executive is estimating a $50 million impact. Also, some of the increases on jerseys, food, tickets, etc. in Cleveland will be from residents of other places in Ohio that maybe otherwise would have spent their disposable income in Columbus or Toledo.

That said, LeBron's return - coupled with the Johnny Manziel circus - has the potential to really raise Cleveland's profile, its media coverage, the image of Cleveland as a destination community for young talent, good workers, and risk-taking entrepreneurs, and so forth. LeBron's passion for giving back to the communities of his youth - he has the potential to be a powerful role model and icon of community renewal (not to out too much on his shoulders).The real impact of LeBron would be very difficult to estimate, but it's potentially far greater than what these flimsy "studies" suggest.

+7 HS
babbski's picture

Well said. I've been in Cleveland for four years and it's great to see the conversations about this town shift from mockery and jokes to revitalization and civic pride. LeBron is just one more positive thing that Cleveland and the NE Ohio region has going for it now, and he'll just add (or already has added) to its national reputation as a city on the mend. It still has a long, long way to go, but it's made significant strides in the last decade.

+5 HS
Gametime's picture

Well said 9Route Fido... >_>

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

+2 HS
Matt M.'s picture

Gotta admit, if you aren't from here you wouldn't understand. There's something that draws you back. I have kicked and ranted about our state. I've left, but never stayed gone. If you don't feel anything after reading that letter, I'd question if you grew up here. I know countless people who talk about leaving, but there's something great here that keeps them from going. One of those things will take place a few Saturdays from now and I'm so ready for it that my heart is about to beat out of my chest. Almost go time!

+8 HS
RunEddieRun1983's picture

Ohio is such an underdog state.  We have two pro NFL teams that just have never seen the type of success you would want, we have a hockey team that's kind of on the bubble, but has had moments where it has stunk, we have and NBA team that saw the promised land, and then saw the lowest of lows, the only exception being the Buckeyes who are one of the best sports teams in America.

But you know what they say, every dog has it's day, and Ohio's day is coming.  Things are on the upswing for sure, I love being a Buckeye.

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

+6 HS
d5k's picture

As a Bengals fan I look forward to the day when the battle of Ohio is suggested without sarcasm font for a Sunday night football flex game.

+1 HS
The Urban Legend's picture

A read a good majority of this in Morgan Freeman's voice...

The Legend continues

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

For those unfamiliar....

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+3 HS
Kevdaddy8's picture

We all know what kind of workout warrior Lebron is.  I believe it would be pretty cool if he did some of his off season work outs at some of the facilities on campus with players and some of the football pros.  I have to think that the idea of getting some of those workouts in with The King every year would have to be a big draw to recruits!  Just thinking about it is making me want to drop and knock out twenty semi regulation push ups right here in my cubicle!!!  But...upon further review I think I shall simply eat a panini!

+2 HS
ExpressiveBuckeye's picture

He could realistically play quarterback and tight end. 

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

+2 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

"After 24 years away from his home state, Meyer opted to return."

Sorry, Kyle, hate to be a stickler, but Urban coached for 3 years of this time at Bowling Green.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+1 HS
theopulas's picture

if Lebron wins a championship in Cleveland he will be the greatest basketball player of all time....period.....ok.....maybe 2.....


+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

4 Yrs left and he could get his degree after NBA.... Hmmmm that would just be crazy... a man can dream right?