Meyer to re­tire

Rose Bowl will be coach’s farewell

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE -

COLUM­BUS, OHIO (AP) — As Ur­ban Meyer walked of f the field af­ter Ohio State routed Michi­gan, he was pon­der­ing his fu­ture and when to make a de­ci­sion about when to call it quits.

The 54-year-old Meyer, in fact, had been think­ing about re­tir­ing since the mid­dle of last sea­son.

The pain from headaches caused by an arach­noid cyst in his brain had grown worse this sea­son. Offthe-field is­sues, in­clud­ing a three­game sus­pen­sion for mis­man­age­ment of an as­sis­tant coach ac­cused of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, had worn on him. And an ideal suc­ces­sor just hap­pened to al­ready be in place in the per­son of Ryan Day, his 39-year-old of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

On Tues­day, two days af­ter the Buck­eyes beat North­west­ern to earn a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Big Ten cham­pi­onship, Meyer an­nounced he was step­ping down af­ter the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and likely would never coach again.

“The de­ci­sion was a re­sult of cu­mu­la­tive events,” Meyer said dur­ing a packed news con­fer­ence. “And health num­ber one. The fact that we have an elite coach on our staff. The fact that our pro­gram is very healthy. We’ve re­cruited very well. All played a sig­nif­i­cant role in this.”

Meyer is leav­ing at the top of his pro­fes­sion af­ter three na­tional cham­pi­onships in a ca­reer span­ning three decades, the last seven years at Ohio State, where he has an 82-9 record.

He had shown ob­vi­ous ef­fects of be­ing in pain on the side­line this sea­son, lead­ing to ques­tions about his fu­ture. Meyer ex­plained the headaches be­came se­vere last sea­son dur­ing Ohio State’s game at Penn State and have be­come a per­sis­tent prob­lem this sea­son.

Meyer said he be­lieved he could no longer coach the way he has from the early days at Bowl­ing

Green to Utah, Florida and, fi­nally, with the Buck­eyes.

“The style of coach­ing I’ve done for 33 years is very in­tense, very de­mand­ing. I tried to del­e­gate more and CEO more and the prod­uct started to feel ...,” he said, not fin­ish­ing his thought. “I didn’t feel I was do­ing right by our play­ers and by Gene (Smith, the ath­letic di­rec­tor).”

Meyer said leav­ing would have been more dif­fi­cult if the pro­gram wasn’t healthy. The Buck­eyes are 12-1 and Meyer said he felt good about his re­place­ment. Day will take over as the 25th coach of the sto­ried pro­gram where Meyer won a na­tional ti­tle in 2014 af­ter two at Florida (2006, 2008).

“You want to hand it off to some­one who could make it stronger,” Meyer said.

It was Day who led the Buck­eyes when Meyer was sus­pended be­fore the sea­son opener over his role in the han­dling of now-fired as­sis­tant Zach Smith, who was ac­cused by his ex-wife of do­mes­tic abuse. Meyer said he knew about the al­le­ga­tions against Smith — grand­son of for­mer Ohio State coach Earle Bruce — but wasn’t sure they were true and kept Smith on staff be­cause no crim­i­nal charges were filed. The univer­sity cited that lapse in sus­pend­ing Meyer af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

A re­port is­sued by an in­ves­tiga­tive com­mit­tee left a stain, de­tail­ing be­hav­ior by Meyer that could have taken down a coach of lesser stature. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed he tol­er­ated bad be­hav­ior for years from Smith, in­clud­ing do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence ac­cu­sa­tions, drug ad­dic­tion, lies and other acts that di­rectly clash with the val­ues Meyer touts publicly.

Meyer ac­knowl­edged the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was among the rea­sons for step­ping down, and he was asked if the sus­pen­sion will af­fect his legacy.

“I’m sure it will,” he said. “I can lie to you and say it is not im­por­tant to me.”

The an­nounce­ment came as the Buck­eyes be­gin prepa­ra­tions for the bowl game against Wash­ing­ton and less than three weeks be­fore schools can sign a fresh batch of re­cruits. Meyer said his de­ci­sion had to come be­fore the early sign­ing pe­riod opens Dec. 19.

The Buck­eyes’ strong fin­ish this sea­son be­lied on-the­field prob­lems that made for a stress­ful sea­son for Meyer and his staff. He lost star de­fen­sive end Nick Bosa to an early sea­son-end­ing in­jur y, and the de­fense never fully re­cov­ered.

The team al­ter­nated ex­pected blowout wins with puz­zling play that in­cluded a pair of one-point wins (Penn State, Mary­land) and a closer-than-ex­pected win over a strug­gling Ne­braska team. A star­tling blowout loss at un­ranked Pur­due on Oct. 20 pushed Ohio State to the fringe of the na­tional cham­pi­onship chase and prompted ques­tions about Meyer’s fu­ture. He was forced to ad­dress spec­u­la­tion that he would step down and Oct. 29 said he def­i­nitely planned to re­turn next sea­son.

Ohio State fol­lowed that with five straight wins, in­clud­ing a rout of archri­val Michi­gan that gave the Buck­eyes an­other di­vi­sion ti­tle and then pulled away for the easy win over North­west­ern.

The suc­cess was noth­ing new for Meyer, who was a stand­out coach at Utah be­fore he left for Florida in 2005 and rock­eted to the top of the col­lege foot­ball coach­ing ranks, a peer of Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban in terms of re­spect and abil­ity. Crit­ics noted his suc­cess with the Ga­tors was marred by a se­ries of le­gal is­sues for his play­ers, with more than two dozen ar­rests.

Al­most ex­actly nine years ago, Meyer shocked col­lege foot­ball by re­sign­ing at Florida af­ter five sea­sons amid what he called stress­re­lated health con­cerns that came to light when he suf­fered chest pains fol­low­ing the SEC cham­pi­onship game. He quickly changed his mind, re­turned for an­other sea­son and then stepped down in De­cem­ber 2010, say­ing he wanted to spend more time with fam­ily.

He was 46 then. And he wasn’t gone long: He took the Ohio State job be­fore the 2012 sea­son af­ter Jim Tres­sel was forced out for ly­ing to the NCAA amid a mem­o­ra­bilia-for-tat­toos scan­dal.

It ap­peared to be a dream job for the Toledo na­tive. His con­tract was ex­tended in April by two years through 2022, in­creas­ing Meyer’s salary to $7.6 mil­lion in 2018 with an­nual 6 per­cent raises. Meyer has about $38 mil­lion left on his con­tract.

Ohio State will now turn to Day, a sec­ond-year Ohio State as­sis­tant who had never be­fore been a head coach be­fore he stepped in dur­ing Mey­ers’ sus­pen­sion. Gene Smith said tran­si­tion­ing im­me­di­ately to Day made more sense than con­duct­ing a na­tional coach­ing search.

“Our pro­gram does not need dis­rup­tion,” Smith said. “It does not need to blow up and have peo­ple come in and try and adapt to our stan­dards of op­er­a­tion and try and change the in­fras­truc­ture that we’ve put in place for the stu­den­tath­lete.”

For­mer play­ers and fel­low coaches were full of praise for Meyer. As for­mer Ohio State run­ning back Car­los Hyde gushed about Meyer in the Jack­sonville Jaguars locker room, for­mer Florida de­fen­sive end Ler­entee McCray walked by and shouted “Ur­ban Le­gend! Ur­ban Le­gend!”

“He’s def­i­nitely one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” Hyde said. “That’s one thing I’m go­ing to al­ways re­mem­ber about him: We won so much.”

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