One of the most resounding coaching careers in American college football reached the end of another decorated chapter on Tuesday, when Urban Meyer announced his retirement at age 54 after a seven-season, 82-9 run at Ohio State, the fourth university to hire him and then win frequently.
Discussing his decision at a news conference in Columbus, Ohio, the native of Ashtabula, Ohio, on Lake Erie, said, “It’s not healthy, but I came to work every day with the fear of letting people like Archie Griffin and Buckeye Nation down,” a reference to the 1974-75 Heisman Trophy winner who still graces the place. Such drive was worrisome when combined with the headaches Meyer has suffered intermittently for two decades, caused by an arachnoid cyst in his brain.
“The style of coaching that I’ve done for 33 years is a very intense, very demanding,” he said, before veering to another sentence. “I tried to delegate more and be CEO-ish more, and the product started to fail. ... The challenge was, Can I continue to do that in that style?”
When he decided he could not, he said he combined that with other factors, including “the fact we have an elite coach on our staff.” That coach, who sat to Meyer’s left at the dais Tuesday, is Ryan Day, the 39-year-old offensive coordinator who played quarterback at New Hampshire under Chip Kelly and has coached for New Hampshire, Boston College, Florida, Temple, Boston College again, Temple again, Boston College again, the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers and Ohio State, for the last two seasons.
“It didn’t take long to learn what the expectations were,” Day said. “Number one, win the rivalry game (against Michigan), and number two, win every game after that.”
Meyer said he hired Day thinking him “a very good coach,” but “found out he’s far past those thoughts; he’s elite.”
When Day said, “We continued to force defenses to cover the entire field this year,” he rather echoed what Meyer said at age 36 in his introduction at Bowling Green in December 2000: “We want to force the opposition to defend the entire field using spread formations.”
Oppositions did suffer as Meyer maniacally built the third-best winning percentage (.853) in the major-college game’s 149-year history, behind only the Notre Dame stalwarts Knute Rockne (.881) and Frank Leahy (.864), just ahead of Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne. The .853 came about during Meyer’s two seasons at Bowling Green (17-6), two seasons at Utah (22-2), six seasons at Florida (65-15) and seven seasons at Ohio State (82-9, with one national championship, one other College Football Playoff appearance and three Big Ten championships).
Images also suffered at times. Meyer’s programs at Florida and Ohio State knew their share of taint, the former much more so than the latter, with at least 31 player arrests according to a Boston Globe investigative series about the life of Florida and New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez.
Meyer will coach Ohio State (12-1) in his first Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 against Pacific-12 Washington (10-3).
“I believe I will not coach again,” said Meyer, who stepped away from Florida in December 2009, citing health issues born of stress. He recanted that decision by Jan. 1, 2010, to coach another season, which at 8-5 became the worst of his 17 as a head coach. In December 2010, Meyer stepped down again, taking a year away before becoming the coach at the flagship program of his native state in November 2011.
While citing health and the presence of an “elite” coach on staff, he also fielded a question about whether the list of factors could include the troubled summer of 2018, when Meyer took coast-to-coast censure and a three-game suspension after an investigation of his handling of the employment and firing of assistant coach Zach Smith, a subject of domestic violence allegations stretching back to 2009.
“Sure,” Meyer said.
Day, born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, recalled watching Ohio State-Michigan games from his “grandfather’s couch.” He had turned down the head-coaching job at Mississippi last January, an inkling that Ohio State might have been prepping him for something larger and louder. While Day becomes the first coach since 1946 to make Ohio State his first head-coaching job, Meyer said, “I wasn’t knee-deep in it, like he was,” when Meyer took over at Bowling Green at age 36.