Meyer adapting to career change

Bill Rabinowitz

Urban Meyer still feels the pangs to coach. He probably always will.

You don’t do something as long or as well as Meyer did and not miss it. He stepped away once before, of course, only to realize shortly after resigning at Florida in 2010 that the urge to coach was overwhelming.

It’s not like that now, he told The Dispatch on Friday in his first interview since retiring as Ohio State’s football coach in January.

“I am good with it,” Meyer said of his professional transition, “but it’s still a process.” 

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Yes, he misses his players. He misses the daily interaction with his coaching staff. In the fall, he’ll no doubt miss the sustained adrenaline rush that comes with game-planning and Saturdays.

But he is embracing his new role as an Ohio State assistant athletic director. His office on the 10th floor of the Fawcett Center is a fraction of the size of the one he had across the street in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. So is his $100,000 salary.

There’s barely enough room in his office for all the family photos and mementos from his coaching career. A small window overlooks the Olentangy River.

>> Photos: Urban Meyer through the years at Ohio State

But athletic director Gene Smith’s office is only a few steps away, and Meyer is immersed in learning the administrative side of college athletics. He mentors OSU coaches and meets monthly with captains of Buckeyes sports teams to teach his concepts of leadership.

He said the biggest revelation of the past five months has been his appreciation for Buckeyes administrators, coaches and players in other sports.

“I’m not sure everyone understands, that Buckeye Nation understands, that every day these kids go compete in the classroom with the best of the best of the best, and they’re competing (athletically) against the best of the best of the best,” Meyer said.

“Not many places do that. You’ll have your elite academic schools and they’re just OK athletically, or your elite athletic schools and they’re just OK academically. Very few are top of the food chain in both academics and athletics.”

Last semester, Meyer co-taught with Lt. Col. Charles Buchanan a Fisher College of Business class in leadership to 200 students. Meyer estimated that he gave about 30 speeches to various groups around campus. He worked with executive associate athletic director Dan Cloran on the fundraising side.

“He’s been great,” Cloran said. “He is relaxed, tells great stories on his career and on leadership and really seems to be enjoying the direct connection with Buckeyes fans and supporters.”

As for the football team, Meyer speaks regularly with new coach Ryan Day and remains his biggest booster. Meyer said that he knew a year ago — before last summer’s turmoil gave Day his first taste as a head coach — that Day should succeed him, whenever that was.

A major reason for Meyer's public silence since his retirement was the desire to allow Day to settle in without anything Meyer might have said being a distraction.

At first, Meyer said, it was awkward for him to even visit the Woody. No longer.

“I actually stare at the walls now,” he said, referring to the pictures celebrating achievements of the Meyer era. “I never did before. I kind of walked as fast as I can because something was going on (related to coaching). Now I see (strength coach) Mick (Marotti) and I see Ryan and I hug the players. It’s great. I couldn’t ask for it to be any better.”

Meyer sought counsel from former coaches, particularly ex-Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, about how best to transition away from coaching. He also had a long talk with his sister Gigi Escoe, a vice provost at the University of Cincinnati.

“She said there’s different seasons in your life,” Meyer said. “This is a different season. To say I truly love and appreciate that now? Not yet.”

His wife, Shelley, attests to that.

“He has taken it on like anything else he has done — full throttle, pedal to the metal,” she said. “He is all in, but the intensity level doesn’t need to be what it was when he was coaching. And that has him a little bit befuddled — how to live life normal, like all of us.”

Meyer said his family and his religious faith have helped. He calls Shelley “my rock.” Their daughter Nicki and son-in-law Corey Dennis (an OSU assistant coach) live within walking distance. They had their second son five months ago. Urban and Shelley see them most days.

“It’s awesome,” Meyer said.

Their son, Nate, is a freshman baseball player at Cincinnati, but their younger daughter, Gigi, is back in Columbus and engaged to get married next year.

To scratch the football itch, Meyer will be on Fox Sports’ new college football studio show in the fall.

“We’ve had a dry run as a group,” he said.

The show will broadcast from Los Angeles, and Meyer will be on a panel that includes former Southern California players Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush along with Dublin native Brady Quinn.

With speculation about USC coach Clay Helton’s job security already rampant, Leinart and Bush have already spoken of trying to persuade Meyer to take over if Helton is fired.

Did Meyer have any interest in nipping that in the bud or in opening the crack to the door?

“I learned my lesson long ago,” he said. “All I’m going to say is I believe I’m done (coaching). I think I’m done.”

For one thing, the arachnoid cyst on his brain that hastened his departure remains an issue. Though he said he feels good, “It’s just something I have to manage,” he said

Coaching isn’t conducive to that. He said it’s not stress that exacerbates the headaches.

“It’s the pressure from yelling — the intensity, noise,” he said. “It’s the intensity that forces the cyst to rupture.”

Meyer has no need to raise his voice now or do anything that would make his veins bulge. That’s both good and bad for someone with his natural intensity.

But all in all, Meyer is content. He is proud of what he did at Ohio State. He inherited a football program that went 6-7 the previous year and facing NCAA sanctions, including a bowl ban. He never lost more than two games in any of his seven seasons and won an improbable 2014 national championship.

There is contentment in leaving a program better than you found it.

“Every coach dreams of that,” he said.

So while Meyer is still figuring out his post-coaching path, he savors what he has done and appreciates all he still has.

“Life is very good,” he said.


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