“As long as I can.”
Five words that put Urban Meyer’s future at Ohio State into flux. Five words that open the door to sympathy and speculation. Five words that force Buckeye Nation to wonder how long Meyer will coach. How long he should coach.
Meyer chose those five words on Tuesday to end a sentence that addressed his health and coaching situation: “I am fully committed to Ohio State, the football program, as long as I can,” he told a handful of media members, including reporters from The Dispatch.
Meyer’s decision to finish his quote with a cliffhanger seemed deliberate. This is a man whose career careened into a guardrail after he “misspoke” at the annual Big Ten media gathering in July. He understands every word gets parsed for deeper meaning.
Given that, this feels like Meyer is opening the door to the possibility that his time with the Buckeyes — his contract runs through the 2022 season — will end sooner rather than later. The question becomes whether the door is barely cracked or swinging open?
Most of Meyer’s comments Tuesday made it sound like there is no story here. Concerning the enlarged arachnoid cyst in his brain that causes him severe headaches, he said, “It is a medical issue. We’re managing through it.”
Meyer also dismissed the notion that the increasingly frequent headaches are caused by anxiety related to off-the-field issues, including his three-game suspension, or emotional fallout from the domestic violence allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith that prompted a university investigation.
As for speculation that Meyer’s interest in coaching is waning, or that his passion for Ohio State has eroded because of the way the university handled his discipline, he assured such is not the case.
“I love Ohio State. I grew up a Buckeye. I am 100 percent committed to putting our players in the best possible position to win games and doing right by Ohio State,” he said.
Read more: Doctor: Cysts like Urban Meyer’s can be troublesome
It is no contradiction to take the man at his word yet remain skeptical. It is no stretch to conclude that Meyer’s heart, as well as his head, is hurting. He felt blindsided by the three-game suspension. He fumed over being accused of turning a blind eye to the serious issue of domestic violence. Whether you agree with how things went down, it is easy to see how Meyer might feel mistreated by Ohio State, which has led to increased heartache, if not headache.
Enough gray area exists that reasonable people can disagree over whether Meyer was wrong or wronged. More germane to this discussion is the gray matter. How much do Meyer’s headaches factor into his future?
I have covered hundreds of news conferences, but not until recently have I witnessed a coach so visibly show pain in front of the media, as Meyer has been doing consistently since returning from his suspension. It just doesn’t happen. These tough guys would rather reveal details of their game plan than so demonstrably divulge health issues.
And Meyer is practically advertising his anxiety by wincing and rubbing the left side of his skull, where the cyst is located.
Two scenarios, not necessarily mutually exclusive:
• Meyer is foreshadowing his exit strategy. Rather than conceal his pain, the 54-year-old with previous health issues — he resigned at Florida after the 2010 season over stress-related concerns — is previewing the reason for his departure, which could come after this season. Another possibility, if Meyer has lost enthusiasm due to non-football matters, he could be displaying discomfort so publicly, and perhaps subconsciously, to create a diversion from having to admit emotional fatigue and hurt feelings as factors in his retirement. Such a move would protect his reputation while also enable him to more peacefully leave the university he loves. And perhaps ease the way to a lucrative compensation package.
• If Meyer is in so much pain that he cannot hide it from the media, he likely is in similar distress much of the rest of the time. Experiencing a flare-up only during the 30 minutes he addresses the media on Mondays seems too coincidental. More likely the pain is frequent and intense, which deserves sympathy and support but also raises questions of how well Meyer is able to handle the rigors of coaching Ohio State if his mind is always on his brain.
Clearly, the man is in pain and conflicted. To what end?
“As long as I can.” He may want to keep coaching the Buckeyes, but his head has its own ideas.