Meyer gave fans a run to remember

Ray Stein The Columbus Dispatch

As these things go, the Ohio State football team’s record in the seven seasons since Urban Meyer became coach is exceptional, but not on any sort of historic level.

In fact, Meyer’s winning percentage of .901 (82-9) in his tenure with the Buckeyes is not even the best current seven-season mark in college football; Nick Saban has led to Alabama to a 90-8 record (.918) since 2012.

Beyond that, a handful of other programs and coaches have won at a 90 percent clip over a seven-year span, from Michigan in the early 20th century, to Notre Dame and Army in the 1940s, Oklahoma in the ’50s and ’70s and Alabama in the ’60s.

So it’s not like Meyer has reinvented the wheel, or even the three-bean salad. But Ohio State followers — as discriminating as any fan base in college sports — have never enjoyed such a run at the buffet table.

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Under Meyer, Ohio State has reached 12 wins six times in seven seasons, including a 2018 campaign that will be Meyer’s last. For perspective’s sake, the Buckeyes had accomplished a 12-win season only three times before Meyer’s arrival.

“A great time in our history,” OSU athletic director Gene Smith said Tuesday.

For context’s sake, OSU never even played a 12-game schedule until 1974, the program’s 85th season. The Buckeyes averaged fewer than 10 games per season in Woody Hayes’ 28 years as coach.

So football has changed, in the way it is played as well as how schools are now beholden to television and the almighty dollar.

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One thing that has not changed much about Ohio State football, however, is the expectation heaped upon those who play it and coach it.

“Let’s be clear,” Smith said Tuesday as he praised new coach Ryan Day for his leadership skills and mental acuity. “I wouldn’t have him here if he couldn’t X and O. He’s gotta win ballgames.”

Smith laughed as he said it, and Day smiled. But Meyer, at least, knows the truth behind the joke. He understands the pressure inherent in the position and the toll it takes on the men who wear the whistle and the family at home eating another dinner without the paterfamilias.

>>Ohio State football | Urban Meyer, Gene Smith agree that Ryan Day is ready

Meyer, at least, is walking away on his own terms, a circumstance unknown in these parts since Paul Brown chose the Cleveland Browns over the Buckeyes in 1945.

Hayes did not leave of his own accord, nor did Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Jim Tressel after him. All were stained in some fashion, either by unseemly scandals or untimely losses.

Meyer has encountered some of both. He was suspended for the first three games this season for his handling of former assistant Zach Smith, a punishment he acknowledged as having an impact on his decision to retire.

On the field, for a coach with only nine losses in seven years, the most recent four have been kicks in the teeth — defeats to Clemson (2016), Oklahoma and Iowa (’17) and Purdue (’18) by an average of 26.5 points. When the Buckeyes have fallen recently, they’ve fallen hard.

But the pain from those bruises largely has faded, or will upon reflection. Meyer won a national title for Buckeye Nation, as Hayes and Tressel did, and they never forget that around here.