Health, timing issues sped Meyer’s retirement

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Terry McLaurin (83) gets a hug rom Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer during the presentation of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Championship Trophy following the Buckeyes' 45-24 victory against the Northwestern Wildcats in the Big Ten Conference Football Championship on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

In an ideal scenario, Urban Meyer would have had all the time he wanted to make a decision about his coaching future.

But he didn’t, and he knew it.

His retirement announcement on Tuesday was in some ways inevitable. Headaches from the arachnoid cyst in his brain prevented Meyer from being the ultra-intense, immersed-in-everything coach that he always had been.

“I've tried to delegate more and CEO-it more, and the product started to fail,” Meyer said.

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That comment came three days after his team repeated as Big Ten champion and 10 days after the Buckeyes beat Michigan for the seventh time in as many games. Failure is relative. But perhaps if Meyer had been able to take a break and see if the headaches would subside, he might have considered staying on as coach. The calendar didn’t allow it.

With the addition last year of a December early-signing period for recruits — replacing early February in importance — a resolution was needed soon. The Buckeyes couldn’t leave recruits in limbo about who would coach the team in 2019.

As it is, Ohio State has lost two commitments for 2020 since Meyer’s announcement. On Tuesday, defensive back Lejond Cavazos announced he would reopen his recruitment. On Wednesday, four-star offensive lineman Jake Wray, the brother of Buckeyes freshman lineman Max Wray, did the same.

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After Tuesday’s news conference, Meyer's successor, offensive coordinator Ryan Day, immediately hit the road recruiting, as Buckeyes assistants have been doing since the Big Ten championship game.

The recruiting calendar isn’t the only timeline that affected the coaching change. The Buckeyes identified Day as a priority to keep on staff almost from the time he joined the program after the 2016 season. A year ago, he was in demand by both the Tennessee Titans for their offensive coordinator job and by an unspecified Southeastern Conference team to become its coach.

The Buckeyes gave him a substantial raise to $1 million after he decided to stay. Day and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who made $1.5 million, are the first seven-figure Ohio State assistant coaches.

But money can do only so much to retain coaches. Once Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith identified Day as a potential coach for the Buckeyes — and then as the one he definitely wanted — the goal was to mesh Meyer’s departure with Day's promotion.

To be sure, Smith did not push Meyer out. But from the time Smith hired Meyer in 2011, he sensed the coach’s tenure in Columbus had an expiration date.

“He and I talked about anywhere between six to 10 years,” Smith said.

Meyer lasted seven.

“Without the medical issue,” Smith said, “I think he would have gone another two, maybe three.”

The headaches sped up the timetable.

“There was conversation before this year,” Meyer said. “Ryan last January had a chance to go become a head football coach at a pretty impressive place. I met with Gene and I knew that this isn't something I'm going to do for the next 15 years or 10 years. I wanted to do Ohio State right and Gene Smith right. So I would have probably thought (about retiring) not this year, but within the next few (if not for the headaches).”

Meyer’s comfort with the state of the program and the readiness of Day to take over made him more comfortable with retirement.

In a way, things had come full circle. The marriage of Meyer and Ohio State occurred only because Jim Tressel happened to be forced out during the year Meyer didn’t coach. He had stepped down in Florida the previous year with no way of knowing that the Ohio State position — his dream job — would open.

Now he becomes the first Buckeyes coach since Paul Brown in 1942 to leave voluntarily.

More Haskins honors

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, was named The Associated Press Big Ten offensive player of the year on Wednesday.

Haskins also joined fellow Heisman contenders Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama as finalists for the AP national player of the year award.