Urban Meyer finds that Fox pregame show satisfies his college football fix
Urban Meyer and his new team had the segment all prepared and loaded.
They had practiced it, tweaked it, had fancy graphics ready. It was Aug. 31, the first Saturday of the college football season and the day of Meyer’s debut on Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff pregame show.
Then, just minutes before the “Urban’s Playbook” segment was to air, disaster struck. A malfunctioning air-conditioning unit caused a breakdown with the in-studio computer system. The prerecorded piece couldn’t be played; Meyer would have to do it live.
Viewers had no idea. For five minutes, Meyer explained the basics of the run-pass option out of the spread offense he helped popularize during his 17-year head coaching career, capped by an 83-9 record at Ohio State from 2012-18.
He directed Brady Quinn, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and studio host Rob Stone as he demonstrated, in Football 101 terms, a quarterback’s various options out of the spread.
The segment was a hit.
“It’s about time the networks learned this is the content people want,” one commentator on YouTube wrote.
During the spring, Meyer wondered whether he could find something to fill the void left by his coaching retirement. The Fox show has given him that.
“I feel great,” he told The Dispatch this week as he and his crew prepared for Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Penn State. “I was very concerned going into it (because it’s) just something new and a little bit uncharted.”
He has proved to be a natural.
“My job is to take the viewers to places that not many people can take them,” Meyer said. “And I love it because I think there’s a lot of people — how do you politically correctly say it? — that talk about the game that really don’t understand it, don’t understand the amount of time and work and the finer points of this incredible, complex game. And I love sharing it.”
It takes more than knowledge to be a success on television. A high-quality pregame show must include chemistry and warmth. Meyer and his colleagues have to be welcome guests in a viewer’s living room.
Plenty of dry runs and time have helped. So does the obvious mutual respect among Meyer and his partners.
Stone gushed about Meyer’s smooth transition to television.
“He just runs through the competition with his analysis, his preparation, his passion for the sport,” he said. “His stories are able to take us behind the curtain really quickly and really passionately. It has been more than I think any of us bargained for, and I would say Urban has probably overdelivered, even in his own book.”
That’s not to say that Meyer makes it easy on everyone. His reputation as a coach was based in large part on his relentlessness in demanding the best from himself and everyone around him.
“He’s hard on everybody, and I mean that in a really good way because he’s so dialed in and passionate,” Stone said. “He’s forced questions upon us that we haven’t ever really faced, to be honest.”
Stone said Meyer is constantly seeking ways to improve the show and to push for discussion about issues, whether it is questioning the College Football Playoff committee or athletic directors for the way they make their schedules.
Sometimes, that involves blunt talk about teams, such as when Meyer said recently that Michigan State’s talent level has slipped. He prefers not to call it criticism but rather honest analysis.
“The comment I made is that I think (Mark Dantonio) is one of the greatest coaches of all time, he’s a dear friend and one of the hardest guys to coach against,” Meyer said. “However, they don’t have the same players that they’ve had. And that’s not being critical. That’s factual.
“I think all of us do a good job of that. I won’t be part of something that starts getting personal and attacking people. I will never be part of that.”
Meyer isn’t new to television. After he stepped down at Florida after the 2010 season, he spent a year as an ESPN game analyst before taking the Ohio State job. This is different.
Asked if he feels that this is where he belongs and wants to be professionally, Meyer said, “Yes, it does. I knew early on that the last time I wasn’t finished (coaching).”
That begs the one question that Meyer declined to address — whether he’d coach again.
The Fox gig isn’t the only thing on his plate. He has a regular spot on the Big Ten Network with former coach Gerry DiNardo that goes even more in-depth with X’s and O’s. Meyer remains an assistant athletic director under Gene Smith at Ohio State, where he mentors coaches as well as captains from all of OSU’s 36 varsity sports. He also teaches a leadership class at the Fisher School of Business.
Meyer also finds time to visit football practice about once a week. He said he talks to his successor, Ryan Day, on a regular basis.
“I remember after our first year together (in 2016), I went to Gene and said, ‘We need to keep him here. This will be the next coach,’ ” Meyer said. “Every coach’s dream is to hand it off to someone who can make it even stronger.”
Meyer’s top staffers stayed, keeping the program’s infrastructure in place.
“The good thing about Ryan is he’s not had to worry about the building of a program,” Meyer said. “He's been able to focus on his strengths. He’s a very good motivator. His football acumen is off the chart. His managing of people is very good. That’s something that you would never know because he’d never been in that position, but I think he’s done exceptional.”
The Buckeyes are 10-0 and have dominated every team they’ve played.
“I think top to bottom, it’s as talented a team as maybe Ohio State has ever had,” Meyer said.
Except for Justin Fields, the rest of the roster was recruited under Meyer. He doesn’t seek credit for that, but he is thrilled by the team’s success.
“It would be a terrible feeling right now if they were struggling,” Meyer said.
But they are not. Nor is he in his new job, starting with that first impromptu live segment.
“For the first time out, that was great,” he said. “It’s been great ever since.”