Ohio State names Meyer head coach
Published: Monday, November 28, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 28, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.
A little less than a year ago, Urban Meyer walked away from coaching, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and take care of health issues that had led to his stunning and brief resignation at Florida a year earlier.
On Monday, the man who led the Gators to two national titles in his six years at UF, stepped back into college coaching, accepting the head coaching job at Ohio State, an elite program that is under NCAA investigation.
A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer, 47, is going home. He played college football at the University of Cincinnati, where he met his wife, Shelley, and started his college coaching career as a graduate assistant at Ohio State under Earle Bruce in 1987.
Despite his life-long ties to Ohio, Meyer said at his introductory news conference that Florida is his “dream” job and that he'll always be a Gator.
“My six years in Florida … Florida was my dream job,” Meyer said. “Everyone says is Ohio State your dream job? That's a term that's thrown around loosely. To say since I was this big I wanted to coach at Florida, no. I'm not from Florida.
“The way coach (Steve) Spurrier (did things) and the way I really became a huge fan, I wanted to coach there. I will always be a Gator. We will always be part of that situation.
“(UF athletic director) Jeremy Foley. … I had a great conversation with him today and yesterday. (UF president) Bernie Machen is one of my great friends. However, this is my home state and it's great to be home.”
Meyer said his health is excellent and he's ready to coach again after spending the past year working as an analyst for ESPN and sharing lots of time with his wife and three children, Nicki, Gigi and Nate.
“Health-wise, I feel great,” Meyer said. “I had a health scare a couple of years ago that made me sit back and reflect. I didn't feel right, but I feel fantastic now. I had the opportunity to do two things: improve my health and be with my family.
“I went out and researched and spent time with colleagues I respect. I don't want to be one of those guys that sleeps in the office. A lot of quality coaches out there are able to have a little balance. I lost that balance (the last few years at UF).
“My health is in good shape. I've been checked out over and over again. I feel fantastic and I'm ready to go.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he first talked to Meyer about the job Nov. 20 and met with Meyer on Nov. 23 in Gainesville. Smith said Meyer was offered the job Sunday and accepted Monday morning.
Meyer said when he resigned from UF last December, he thought his coaching career was over.
“I was, in my mind, convinced I was done coaching,” he said. “I was concerned with health issues and family. I just wanted to be around them and I didn't like the state of college football.
“I moved away. I went on with ESPN, did a lot of traveling, spent a lot of time with family. I didn't realize I'd miss it so bad. Shelley and I went for a walk one day and I said, ‘I don't know if I can do this.'''
Ohio State said Meyer will receive a six-year contract that pays $4 million annually, plus another $2.4 million total in "retention payments." He was making $4 million a year at UF.
“If not for the coaching position at Ohio State, I would not have coached this year,” Meyer said.
There also are reports that Meyer could take UF strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti with him to Columbus.
Meyer said he plans to hire the best coaching staff in college football.
Foley, who hired Meyer away from Utah seven years ago to replace Ron Zook, wished Meyer well in a statement released by UF on Monday.
“We will always be indebted to Urban Meyer and his contributions to the University of Florida. He elevated our program, winning multiple national championships and made a strong impact in this community,'' Foley said. “Over the past 11 months, he has clearly had an opportunity to determine that now is the right time to return to coaching.
“He is good for college football and we knew he would return to the sidelines to coach again. We wish nothing but the best for him and his family as he embarks on a new chapter in his career.”
In his six seasons at Florida, Meyer led the Gators to two SEC titles and two national championships (2006 and 2008). His record was 65-15.
Health issues he experienced during the 2009 season led Meyer to resign on Dec. 26 of that year. A day later, he announced he would take a leave of absence instead, with the plan to return in time for the 2010 season.
Meyer took time off and returned to the team on a limited basis by the start of spring practice.
Last season, the Gators struggled, finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record. Less than two weeks after a 31-7 loss to arch-rival Florida State in Tallahassee, Meyer stunned Gator Nation again when he resigned Dec. 8, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and concerns with his health issue (esophageal spasms).
There's a good chance that Meyer's new team will be facing his old one in a little more than a month. Florida and Ohio State appear headed for a date in the Jan. 2 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, but Meyer will not coach in the bowl game. That responsibility goes to interim head coach Luke Fickell, who will be part of Meyer's coaching staff. Fickell took over when Jim Tressel was forced out in May for breaking NCAA rules.
Will Muschamp, who took over for Meyer at UF, has had a tough first season with the Gators, finishing the regular season at 6-6, the school's worst regular-season record since 1979 (0-10-1).
A little more than a week ago, Muschamp said he would be surprised if Meyer returned to coaching this soon, citing Meyer's concerns about his health, which he has shared with Muschamp.
But after Saturday's loss to Florida State, when it had become obvious a few days earlier that Meyer likely would be the Buckeyes' new coach, Muschamp said he approved of Meyer's return to coaching.
“It's good for college football,” he said. “If it's what Urban wants, I'm happy for him.”
Several Florida players who were recruited to UF by Meyer expressed support for him on Twitter on Monday.
“Congrats to coach Meyer and his family,” freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel posted.
“Good things happen to good people. Congrats Coach Meyer,” wrote sophomore cornerback Cody Riggs.
Junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said after Saturday's loss to Florida State that he would be fine with Meyer's decision to accept the Ohio State job.
“Not a problem with me at all,” Hunter said. “If he wants to be at Ohio State, good luck to him. I love Coach Meyer. He brought me here at Florida. I could never say anything bad about Coach Meyer. I respect him a lot and love him as a coach.”
Another Gator recruited by Meyer, sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Tweeted his support for his current coach.
“Lol we got champ we'll be just fine wouldn't trade him for anyone,” Jenkins posted.