LOS ANGELES – Urban Meyer’s final game as Ohio State’s head coach is now just one day away, and his retirement has been the main storyline of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl game.
The first seven questions of Monday’s press conference with him and Washington coach Chris Petersen were directed to Meyer.
But Meyer has always been known for his laser focus on the matter at hand, and that was no different as he took questions. No tears. No choked-up moments. He mostly deflected questions about his legacy.
There is a game to be won.
>>Video: Urban Meyer final pre-game presser as Rose Bowl looms
“Just out of respect for our players and where we're at, I think that's inappropriate for me to even spend time thinking about that, because I've asked our players to shut it down,” Meyer said of anything that might distract his team from winning on Tuesday. “There's girlfriends, families, uncles, everybody coming out to visit right now. I've asked them to shut it down.”
Meyer’s legacy, though, is secure. He is 82-9 at Ohio State, including the 2014 College Football Playoff championship, and won three Big Ten titles. Counting his tenures at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer has won 85.3 percent of his games. That’s the third-highest all-time and the best among active coaches, with Petersen a distant second at 81.3 percent.
Not everything has been, well, a bed of roses. The rare losses have been painful and sometimes inexplicably lopsided. This season was a particularly difficult one off the field. He was suspended for his handling of the Zach Smith matter, keeping away from his team during training camp and off the sidelines for the first three games. Meyer later revealed that his congenital arachnoid cyst was causing worsening headaches, hastening his decision to step down as coach.
That his final game comes at the Rose Bowl is fitting. Meyer, 54, grew up as a Buckeye fan in Ashtabula when a New Year’s game in Pasadena was the pinnacle. As an assistant coach at Colorado State, Meyer recruited in the Los Angeles area. Once, he stopped at the Rose Bowl and tried to sneak inside. A security guard thwarted him.
“I was told to leave,” Meyer said with a smile. “And the guy was really rude, too.”
He finally got inside on Sunday.
“It was awesome,” Meyer said. “I wasn't able to completely see the mountains, but I’m sure we’ll see that tomorrow.”
The sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains is one of the most picturesque scenes of any sporting event. That happens late in the game, and it should add to the poignancy of the moment as the final minutes of Meyer’s career tick off.
Only at the end of the press conference did Meyer attempt to sum up what his seven years as Buckeyes coach has meant to him.
“This was never a job,” Meyer said. “This was very personal, growing up a few hours from Ohio State, being a Buckeye as far back as I remember.
“I operated every day with a little bit of sense of fear because I never want to let people down, including any former great players that I idolized growing up, the state that I love and will always love, and a university I've been passionate about as far back as I can remember.
“So it has not been perfect, but you can't tap us on the shoulder and say, ‘Boy, you just need to work a little bit harder.’ And there's been some great success. But (overall), I'm very pleased.”