Off to the NFL, Urban Meyer candidly looks back at his years at Ohio State
From the moment Urban Meyer took over as football coach at Ohio State, nothing was ever the same.
He returned to his native state in late 2011 to restore a proud program to its rightful place among the elite. His coaching journey had taken him all over the country, but he always was an Ohioan at heart.
To Meyer, being from Ohio meant something.
“A great work ethic and brutal honesty,” Meyer said. “When I think of Ohio, that’s what I think of.”
Urban Meyer retrospective:The long road home to Ohio State
Meyer, who was hired last month as coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, spoke at length with The Dispatch to reflect on his seven years as Buckeyes coach.
In a three-day series, Meyer details the many successes, including the undefeated 2012 season and 2014 College Football Playoff championship. He also is candid about the low moments — the rare but devastating losses, the tragic death of walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, and the Zach Smith ordeal in his final season.
Get the full subscriber-only series
- Part 1: Second thoughts and instant success
- Part 2: The 2014 National championship team
- Part 3: The end of the Urban Meyer Era and moving to the NFL
One of a kind
Ohio State had never hired a coach like Meyer. For his predecessors, their ascension into the role was a major promotion. But Meyer had already won two national championships at Florida, including a 41-14 upset of Jim Tressel’s 2006 Buckeyes.
In style and temperament, Meyer and the diplomatic Tressel were opposites. Joshua Perry found that out immediately. The linebacker from Olentangy High School committed to play for Tressel, who was then fired on Memorial Day in 2011 for his role in the tattoo-and-memorabilia scandal.
Perry enrolled early as a 17-year-old freshman the following January as Meyer took over.
“I remember having a conversation with Urban like five days into my Ohio State experience,” he said, “and he was like, ‘If I was still at Florida, I would have never recruited you. I don’t think you’re twitchy enough. I don’t see the pop on tape. You didn’t jump off the tape to me.’ ”
Welcome to college, kid.
“I remember years later talking to coach Fick,” Perry said, referring to Luke Fickell, OSU’s interim coach in 2011 who became defensive coordinator under Meyer. “His recollection of that same time was probably as stressful as mine was. Early on, it was a whirlwind, and he wanted to make it known that the culture he was building there was unlike anything that anybody had ever seen.”
Those who know Meyer well describe a person as an almost unique combination of raw intelligence, extreme intensity and laser-like focus.
“That’s exactly it,” said his wife, Shelley. “I always tease him because I’ll say something to him and he’ll pause for three seconds and say, ‘Sorry, babe. I didn’t hear that.’ I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. You have such focus when you’re in football. You can focus on every single thing that’s going on and you have attention to detail like nobody I’ve ever seen before. But then I sit here and talk to you and you don’t hear me at all?’ ”
She said her husband takes after his father, Bud, who was quite demanding of Urban.
“I will give him credit for installing this work ethic in Urban that is unmatched,” she said. “I’ve never met anybody like him.”
Shelley said her husband does have a softer side. He is capable of relaxing much more than he did at Florida. She lamented that more people don’t get a chance to see how funny he is.
But as a coach, Meyer unrelentingly demanded the most out of himself and everyone else.
“It was a whole new ballgame,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said of the culture shock in the program when Meyer took over. “He was a hard charger. It was a different environment, where every single day you were on pins and needles to some degree, based upon the time of year, because he was challenging constantly. That was his style. You could walk by him in the hallway and he might say something to somebody to just motivate him.”
To Meyer, complacency was the constant opponent, maybe as much as Michigan was.
“I believe in productive discomfort,” he said. “The objective truth is that greatness is hard. I don’t believe that’s being taught as much in society anymore, that greatness is really, really hard, and that hard work gets rewarded. I still believe in that.”
However uncomfortable people might have felt, Meyer’s method worked. The Buckeyes didn’t lose more than two games in any season under him.
“I truly don’t know what my Ohio State career would have actually looked like without Urban,” Perry said. “I’m sure that Tress would have been able to bring the greatness out in me, maybe in a different way. I don’t know if it would have happened as quickly.
“I don’t know if we would have been a national title team. I don’t know if I would have been a fourth-round (NFL) draft pick. I truly don’t know if my life would look the way it does right now. Urban was going to be great with or without a guy like me, and he made me hop on the bandwagon, for sure.”
Retrospective:A complex legacy
Smith said Meyer’s legacy is secure. He raised the bar at Ohio State, and really for the Big Ten. Smith said Meyer forced the conference to recruit at a higher level to try to compete with the Buckeyes, though OSU’s rivals haven’t been able to match the level of Meyer or his successor, Ryan Day. Ohio State is as dominant in the conference as it has ever been.
Under Meyer, the Buckeyes also created the Real Life Wednesday program that delves into societal issues and helps prepare players for post-football careers.
Meyer is 56. One-eighth of his life was spent as Ohio State’s coach. He had success elsewhere and now hopes to in Jacksonville.
The Meyers have sold their home at Muirfield Village Golf Club, but he has a restaurant in Dublin and another to open in the spring. He will retain family ties here as well. His daughter, Nicki, and her husband, OSU quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis, have two young sons. The Meyers also have charities here.
So while the Meyers won’t live here full-time, they aren’t leaving Ohio behind. It’s simply a part of him.
“His genes are in Ohio,” Shelley said. “He is Ohio.”