Meyer at peace
LOS ANGELES — One game remains to coach, so Urban Meyer, true to his nature, spent little time Monday reflecting on his time at Ohio State.
It has been a remarkable ride. A national championship in 2014. Three Big Ten titles, including the past two years. A 7-0 record against Michigan and 82-9 overall.
On Tuesday, he will coach the Buckeyes against Washington in the Rose Bowl before retiring and handing the program to offensive coordinator Ryan Day.
A finale in Pasadena is a fitting sendoff. Meyer, 54, grew up as a Buckeyes fan in Ashtabula when the Rose Bowl was the pinnacle for Ohio State.
As an assistant coach at Colorado State in the 1990s, 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 during his news conference with Washington coach Chris Petersen. “And the guy was really rude, too.”
He finally got inside Sunday.
“It was awesome,” Meyer said.
But Meyer deflected most questions about his legacy or emotions as his coaching career seemingly ends.
“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 distractions. “There's girlfriends, families, uncles, everybody coming out to visit right now. I've asked them to shut it down.”
As hard-driving as Meyer is as a coach, he is at peace with his decision to retire.
“I would say 100 percent peace of mind,” his wife, Shelley, told The Dispatch. “Actually, 99 percent peace of mind because what’s next is kind of still a gray area.
“But his demeanor has changed completely since he made the decision and made the announcement. He just looks happier. He acts happier. Urban can be pretty jovial. I know you guys only get glimpses of it in press conferences. But he’s pretty funny and fun, and I just hadn’t seen that. He’s acting like that again.”
Despite the Buckeyes’ 12-1 record, this season has hardly been a joyride for Meyer. A suspension related to the accusations against former assistant coach Zach Smith kept him away from his team during training camp and off the sidelines for the first three games. That stung the Meyers emotionally.
“It made me a little salty about things (that) can happen in this job,” Shelley said.
The worsening headaches from his congenital arachnoid cyst in Meyer’s brain affected him physically. The nadir, Shelley said, was from the end of the Penn State game through the Indiana game, during which Meyer required medical attention.
“His vision was affected in his left eye, and he had never had that before,” Shelley said. “So there were a couple of new symptoms that really freaked him out.”
Urban Meyer tried to delegate more decisions but ultimately wasn’t comfortable doing that consistently. His belief that Day is ready to run the program made the decision to step away easier. But it was still a tough one.
“He was just as close to sticking around and sticking it out for longer as he was to saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore,’” Shelley said. “This is what he knows.”
Her husband stepped down at Florida after the 2010 season, but he was miserable afterward. Shelley believes this time will be different. They have two young grandsons who live down the street. Meyer will be an assistant athletic director, with specific duties to be determined.
Perhaps most of all, he has the satisfaction of having coached the team he grew up loving.
“This was never a job,” Urban 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. Yeah, I'm very pleased.”