Meyer’s re­tire­ment rocks foot­ball world

Coach steps down, cites health is­sues

USA TODAY International Edition - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - Ge­orge Schroeder

“Ob­vi­ously, any­time some­one of his suc­cess leaves our game, it’s dis­ap­point­ing, so we wish him noth­ing but the best heath-wise, and the best in his fu­ture en­deav­ors.” Pat Fitzger­ald

North­west­ern coach, on Ur­ban Meyer

NEW YORK – When Mack Brown took a phone call Tues­day morn­ing from Ur­ban Meyer, he was sur­prised by the topic. Brown re­cently was hired at North Carolina, five years af­ter re­tir­ing at Texas. He figured Meyer might be call­ing to offer con­grat­u­la­tions.

In­stead, Meyer told him he was re­tir­ing for health reasons. And re­fer­ring to Brown’s de­ci­sion to re­turn, he asked: “Are you crazy or what?”

The news of Meyer’s exit sent a rip­ple through the lobby of the New York Hilton Mid­town, the un­official gath­er­ing place this week of many of col­lege foot­ball’s coaches, ath­let­ics di­rec­tors, con­fer­ence officials and oth­ers for the Na­tional Foot­ball Foun­da­tion’s an­nual awards din­ner.

Brown, 67, who is be­ing in­ducted into the Col­lege Foot­ball Hall of Fame, seems en­er­gized af­ter spend­ing five years away from the grind, in­stead filling his time as an ESPN an­a­lyst. He said Meyer told him health is­sues were “the to­tal rea­son he was step­ping away.”

The Buck­eyes’ sea­son was tu­mul­tuous, be­gin­ning last sum­mer when Meyer was sus­pended af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his han­dling of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence al­le­ga­tions against then-as­sis­tant coach Zach Smith. Ear­lier this sea­son, Meyer re­vealed that a cyst on his brain causes oc­ca­sion­ally ex­treme pain and can be ag­gra­vated by stress. As Ohio State strug­gled at times on the field, cam­eras fo­cused on Meyer on the side­line in ap­par­ent agony. Brown said Meyer told him, “it’s time for him to (re­tire), and time to move for­ward.”

When Meyer re­signed at Florida af­ter the 2010 sea­son, cit­ing differ­ent healthre­lated is­sues, he spent a year at ESPN, then took the Ohio State job. At his in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence, he said he’d signed a con­tract, writ­ten by his daugh­ter Nicki, in which he promised bet­ter work-life bal­ance than he’d had at Florida. In­cluded: “My fam­ily will al­ways come first,” and “I will take care of my­self and main­tain good health.”

“He told me he couldn’t be an­i­mated at the level he needed to be to en­er­gize his team and stay healthy,” Brown said. “That’s the prob­lem. … He said, ‘If I can’t coach like I need to coach, I’m not go­ing to coach.’ ”

For­mer Vir­ginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who like Brown is a Hall of Fame in­ductee, ex­pressed sur­prise. Beamer re­tired in 2015 af­ter 29 years as the Hok­ies’ head coach.

“He’s re­ally been at the top of the coaches in col­lege foot­ball,” Beamer said of Meyer. “But you know, you’ve got to do what’s right for you and your fam­ily. I’m sure he’s do­ing that. … That’s No. 1.”

North­west­ern coach Pat Fitzger­ald ex­changed small talk with Meyer last week dur­ing the run-up to the Big Ten cham­pi­onship game. He said there was no hint Meyer might be near­ing the end.

“We talked about fam­ily,” Fitzger­ald said. “We talked about his sec­ond grand­son on the way. We talked about our boys. It was pretty laid-back.”

It’s in part why Fitzger­ald said he was sur­prised at the news.

“He’s a great guy and an amaz­ing foot­ball coach,” Fitzger­ald said. “Ob­vi­ously, any­time some­one of his suc­cess leaves our game, it’s dis­ap­point­ing, so we wish him noth­ing but the best heath­wise, and the best in his fu­ture en­deav­ors.”

Fitzger­ald said he hadn’t paid much at­ten­tion to the Buck­eyes’ tu­mul­tuous sea­son.

“We just tried to beat ’em last week,” he said, “and ob­vi­ously didn’t do a good job of it.”

Brown said he in­vited Meyer to visit North Carolina dur­ing spring prac­tices, say­ing, “I’ve got more prob­lems than you’ve got, and I need some help.”

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