Urban Meyer often talks about his past coaching experiences, offering a connection to a fond memory, notable anecdote or specific individual who helped shape his career.
From Woody Hayes, to Earle Bruce and even John Cooper, the names spill out of Meyer's mouth eloquently and with affection. However, there's one name that holds more weight than others, a name that fulfilled a childhood dream for the future Ohio State head coach.
"I was hired in, I believe it was, 1996 by Lou Holtz. That was a dream come true," Meyer said Sunday on a teleconference, speaking on the start of his five-year stint as a Notre Dame assistant coach. "My son was born there, baptized on campus, the chapel ... I'm Irish Catholic and have always been a strong fan of the Fighting Irish."
Two weeks ago, Meyer referred to the time with one of his mentors when the Buckeyes were preparing for their biggest game of the season, a home bout with Michigan State. It was Senior Day at Ohio Stadium, and Ohio State was set to recognize 18 faces that had been in Columbus as long as Meyer has.
"Lou Holtz used to always remind me: A lot of times you do your best coaching when you take over because you don't really care. You don't know their families, sometimes you don't want to know their families," Meyer said Nov. 18. "I didn't know those kids, but by the end we certainly did. For those first six months it was odd, it just wasn't comfortable because you don't know each other, you don't necessarily like each other but you have to coach them because you have a job to do. Then you turn around and you love those guys like you did.
“That was my first exposure as a full-time coach to that level of football. I still remember the day I was hired. I took a tour, it was very cold, I took a tour throughout the Touchdown Jesus, Fair Catch Corby, all the great statues, all the great traditions on that campus.”– Urban Meyer on Notre Dame
"You just really learn to appreciate ones you're with for that long, for four years. Those are usually the relationships that last for 20 years."
Ohio State's 2015 senior class has a chance to tally its 50th victory when the No. 7 Buckeyes face No. 8 Notre Dame New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl. It's a matchup between two storied programs, with a slew of national titles and Heisman Trophy winners between them.
Meyer grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, but would be lying if he said he didn't like the Fighting Irish as a kid. He's Irish Catholic, and Notre Dame is the gold standard for Catholic universities in the country. Holtz won a national championship in 1988, less than a decade before Meyer received an offer from him to be his wide receivers coach.
"That was my first exposure as a full-time coach to that level of football," Meyer said. "I still remember the day I was hired. I took a tour, it was very cold, I took a tour throughout the Touchdown Jesus, Fair Catch Corby, all the great statues, all the great traditions on that campus."
Meyer stuck around and coached under Bob Davie after Holtz left following the 1996 season, before he took his first head coaching job at Bowling Green. The rest, they say, is history, but the current Ohio State head coach hasn't forgotten his ties to South Bend, Indiana.
"There were two places that were near and dear to my heart my entire life and that was Ohio State and Notre Dame," Meyer said. "Lot of respect for that great place."
Meyer isn't the only member of Ohio State's current staff that spent time with the Fighting Irish.
Running Backs Coach Tony Alford
The most recent Notre Dame export, Alford joined Meyer's staff in early February to replace the departed Stan Drayton. Alford spent six seasons in South Bend, coaching running backs and wide receivers during his tenure.
Alford helped mold Ezekiel Elliott into the 2015 Big Ten Offensive Player and Running Back of the Year in his first season in Columbus. Ironically, his replacement at Notre Dame is former Irish running back Autry Denson, who played at the school when Meyer was an assistant.
Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach Ed Warinner
Warinner only spent two seasons at Notre Dame, coaching the Irish offensive line in 2010 then taking on an additional role as run game coordinator the following year.
Warinner assisted Irish head coach Brian Kelly in improving the team's offense upon his arrival, before being poached away by Meyer once the latter arrived in Columbus. He took on offensive coordinator responsibilities this season, an integral part to Meyer's success at Ohio State since 2012.
Tight Ends and Fullbacks Coach Tim Hinton
Hinton came to Ohio State in a similar way as Warinner, leaving Notre Dame before the 2012 season after two years in South Bend. He coached the Fighting Irish running backs, but an extensive coaching career in the state of Ohio led him back home where he's been ever since.
Even Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has Ohio ties — before he took over at Notre Dame, Kelly brought the University of Cincinnati's football program to new heights from 2007-09. Meyer played defensive back at Cincinnati for one year, graduating in 1986.
Kelly coached the Bearcats to a victory in their bowl game following the 2006, then led them to a 34-6 record during his tenure before heading to Notre Dame prior to the 2010 Sugar Bowl. Meyer, Tim Tebow and Florida romped over Cincinnati without Kelly, 51-24, that night in New Orleans.
"(I) got a chance to know him when he was at Cincinnati, when I was at Cincinnati," Kelly said of Meyer. "He certainly was accustomed to what the program was like at Cincinnati having been there, and I leaned on him for some advice at the University of Cincinnati and got to know his dad and got to know his family a little bit, so there was a personal connection there."
Kelly led the Irish to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game where they were dominated by Alabama, 42-14, in their first loss of the season. The 2015 season marks the first time since Kelly and Notre Dame have won 10 games and earned a bid to a New Year's Six Bowl. That led Meyer to say the program is back to where it should be on a national scope.
"He's got Notre Dame where Notre Dame belongs and that's one of the top-5 programs in the country," Meyer said.