With Urban Meyer officially headed to NFL, will Buckeye staffers follow?
Urban Meyer is now officially the coach of the head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The team announced it had hired the former Ohio State coach Thursday evening.
"Excited for Urban and his new opportunity," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith texted The Dispatch. "So thankful for his contributions to OSU, Ohio and most importantly the student-athletes. A good friend who will be missed."
A pressing question for Ohio State: How many members of his former staff might join Meyer?
Smith said "no one that I am aware of" in the OSU athletic department is planning to join Meyer in Jacksonville. Sources told The Dispatch earlier Thursday that head strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti would remain with the Buckeyes.
Marotti, whose official title is assistant athletic director for football sports performance, is considered the second-most important person in the Ohio State football program behind head coach Ryan Day. Marotti met Meyer while both were students at the University of Cincinnati, and he was Meyer’s right-hand man during his coaching tenures at Florida and Ohio State.
He stayed under Day and it has been a smooth transition. A 9% pay raise last year bumped Marotti's annual salary to $801,150 salary, among the highest among strength coaches nationally. Marotti did, however, take a voluntary 5% pay cut, as did most high-earners in the athletic department, because of the financial crunch caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ohio State is not expecting a large number of the athletic department staff to join Meyer’s staff, but some key employees are Florida natives who came to Columbus to work under Meyer. For instance, Ryan Stamper, Ohio State’s assistant athletic director for player development, is a Jacksonville native who played for Meyer at Florida.
Stamper is well-regarded for his work assisting players in non-football aspects of their lives. He leads the “Real Life Wednesdays” program that began under Meyer and helps prepare players for a post-football business career.
Mark Pantoni, who leads the Buckeyes’ recruiting department as assistant athletic director for player personnel, is from Sarasota, Florida, and also worked for Meyer at Florida. Pantoni is considered one of the top recruiting directors in the country and has overseen large expansion in the Buckeyes’ recruiting department in his nine years with Ohio State.
Marotti, Stamper and Pantoni did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Among Ohio State assistant coaches, only defensive co-coordinators Kerry Coombs and Greg Mattison have NFL coaching experience. Coombs coached under Mike Vrabel with the Tennessee Titans in 2018-19. Mattison was with the Baltimore Ravens from 2008-10.
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline is the only assistant who played in the NFL, mostly with the Miami Dolphins. Corey Dennis, Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach, is Meyer’s son-in-law, but he became a position coach only last year.
Meyer, 56, had an 83-9 record in seven seasons at Ohio State, starting with an undefeated team in 2012, when the Buckeyes were not eligible for postseason play because of NCAA violations. His 2014 team won the first College Football Playoff, beating Alabama and Oregon.
Meyer decided to step down as Ohio State coach in 2018. That season began with a university-imposed three-game suspension for his handling of the allegations of domestic abuse by receivers coach Zach Smith, the grandson of Meyer’s mentor Earle Bruce.
During that season, Meyer also dealt with the flareup of the arachnoid cyst, which can cause headaches in times of stress. He decided to step down as Ohio State coach in December, with Day named as his successor. His final game was a victory over Washington in the Rose Bowl.
Meyer then became an assistant athletic director for athletics initiatives and relations at OSU, with a salary of $100,000. In that role, he helped with fundraising efforts and mentored coaches and captains from Ohio State’s 36 sports programs.
“I have a great boss, Gene Smith,” Meyer told The Dispatch in a 2019 interview. “My genuine love for Ohio State is real. It’s never really been a job.”
He also worked for Fox Sports’ college football pregame show for the past two seasons.
In the 2019 Dispatch interview, Meyer acknowledged he still had pangs to coach again. He said then that he didn’t believe he would return to coaching, but he wouldn’t rule it out.
“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.”
Eventually, the pangs prevailed.
Dispatch reporter Joey Kaufman contributed to this story.