Meyer’s retirement rocks football world
Coach steps down, cites health issues
“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, five years after retiring at Texas. He figured Meyer might be calling to offer 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 unofficial gathering place this week of many of college football’s coaches, athletics directors, conference officials 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 five years away from the grind, instead filling 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 field, 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 different 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 first,” 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.”