PASADENA, Calif. – Urban Meyer said all week that he wanted his final game as Ohio State’s head coach to be business as usual, and for the most part, that’s what Tuesday’s Rose Bowl felt like.
There wasn’t anything noticeably different about the way Meyer coached. Even after Ohio State’s 28-23 win over Washington, Meyer seemed to be his typical self. While his wife, Shelley, and daughter, Gigi, were moved to tears as they celebrated with the Buckeyes on stage, Meyer didn’t cry. While it was his 83rd win in 92 games coaching the Buckeyes, he didn’t want to take much credit for himself. As he has done so often, he deflected the praise that came his way to his players.
“Coaches are way overrated,” Meyer said after the game. “It's about the players doing the job they have to do and us having them ready.”
Meyer didn’t want to think about the finality of the Rose Bowl before or during Tuesday night’s game, and he didn’t particularly want to think about it in the immediate aftermath either. He just wanted the Buckeyes to get another win – their 13th win in 14 games this season – and to celebrate that accomplishment with the team after.
“There was joy when you see that you have one more point than the opponent at the end of the game. And the other joy is to see guys like this,” Meyer said while sitting next to Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and wide receiver Parris Campbell in his postgame press conference, “two players I'll love for the rest of my life.”
There were a few moments after the Buckeyes secured their Rose Bowl win, though, that reflected how Tuesday’s game wasn’t just any other game for Meyer.
When Johnnie Dixon cleanly fielded Washington’s onside kick attempt to seal the Buckeyes’ five-point victory with less than a minute remaining on the clock, Meyer chucked his headset into the air in celebration. Moments later, Campbell and fellow fifth-year senior wide receiver Terry McLaurin – perhaps the two players with the strongest relationships with Meyer of anyone on the team – came up from behind Meyer and doused him with a bucket of Gatorade.
After Meyer was presented with the Rose Bowl trophy and Haskins and safety Brendon White were recognized as the offensive and defensive players of the game, a video played on the big screen in which Dixon, McLaurin, Campbell and defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones thanked Meyer for what he has done for them and the Ohio State football program.
Following his final game as Ohio States coach, a video tribute to Urban Meyer was played on the scoreboard during Tuesday nights Rose Bowl celebration. pic.twitter.com/0EnVaYv3LP
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 2, 2019
Meyer was evidently moved by that video, and gave a sentimental response.
“I’ve been surrounded by some of the greatest young people, and I’ll tell you what, this team this year, I love this group as much as any group I’ve ever loved, and the good thing is, this relationship’s going to last for the rest of our lives,” Meyer said in his on-stage interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis.
After pausing to take several photos with his family, Meyer ran across the field to make sure he arrived in time for the traditional playing of Carmen Ohio, a moment he clearly did not want to miss in his final game coaching the Buckeyes:
Urban Meyer joins his team to sing Carmen Ohio, one last time. pic.twitter.com/HpDEPhuGSc
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) January 2, 2019
Following Carmen, Meyer climbed the director’s ladder and gave a salute to the Ohio State marching band – as he has traditionally done following each game – then gave an “O-H” to the crowd of Buckeye fans still in the stands, who had started an “Ur-ban! Ur-ban!” chant while Meyer was being interviewed on stage.
Then, inside Ohio State’s locker room, came perhaps the most poignant moment of all: Meyer handing his whistle off to Ryan Day, signaling the transition in the leadership of the Buckeyes’ football program as Day officially succeeds Meyer as the Buckeyes’ head coach.
One last postgame locker room speech for @OSUCoachMeyer.
The reins are passed on to @ryandaytime.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) January 2, 2019
All told, Meyer acknowledged that there was a different feel walking off the field after Tuesday’s win, mostly because he was no longer the one who had to worry about what’s next for the Buckeyes.
“I would have been on the phone recruiting the last half of the walk if it wasn't our last game,” Meyer said. “And right now I'd be starting to put pencils to who is coming back, who is not coming back, and what do we do at left tackle, what do we do this, what do we do that? But the new guy's got to worry about that, and we're going to certainly help him. So it felt different.”
Meyer isn’t going to be straying too far from the Buckeyes, as he is set to move into a new role at Ohio State as an assistant athletic director. So while it’s not exactly clear what his new role will entail yet, he still wants to play an active role in helping Day lead the program to continued growth.
“My job, I think as we all move forward is to make Coach Day, who is an elite coach, make this program even stronger,” Meyer said. “And that's all our focus. That's their focus, my focus, (athletic director) Gene Smith's focus. It's a very strong program, but we're going to make it stronger.”
Meyer did reiterate on Tuesday, though, that he does not intend to return to the sidelines and coach again.
“I know this is relatively young, but I started young, 17 years as a head coach, 33 years doing this,” said Meyer, who is 54 years old. “I do believe I'm done.”