Urban Meyer took a year off from coaching and said it was precisely the perspective he needed, shifting focus back to family and his health after winning two national championships at the University of Florida.
Meyer, 47, was introduced yesterday as Ohio State University’s new head football coach, returning to his home state and the school at which he began his college coaching career in 1986 under Earle Bruce.
Meyer led Florida to a 65-15 record over six seasons and won two national titles before stepping down in 2010 because of health concerns. After spending the past year as a college football analyst for ESPN, he returns to coaching after making promises to his elder daughter to pay more attention to his health and strike a better balance between football and family.
“I had time to reflect and I feel fantastic now,” Meyer, who coached at Florida from 2005 to 2010, said during a news conference in Columbus, Ohio. “I took that opportunity to do two things: Get my health right and spend time with family.”
Meyer replaces Jim Tressel, who resigned six months ago for his handling of a memorabilia scandal involving some of the Buckeyes’ top players.
Meyer was introduced two days after Ohio State finished a 6-6 regular season with its first loss to rival Michigan since 2003. Tressel went 106-22 in 10 seasons with the Buckeyes and won a national title in 2002.
Meyer has a 104-23 record over 10 seasons as a coach at Florida, the University of Utah and Bowling Green. He won national titles with the Gators during the 2006 and 2008 seasons, with a win over Ohio State for the first championship.
“If it was but for the opportunity at the Ohio State University, I would not have coached again this year,” Meyer said. “A year ago, in my mind, I was convinced I was done coaching. I didn’t realize I’d miss it so bad.”
Meyer said he remains close to Bruce, who spoke at his father’s funeral a week ago.
“My relationship with him is extremely close, second only to my father,” said Meyer, who added that he also has a photo of former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes in his home. “Every step of my career, every part of my family life, Coach Bruce has always been there.”
Meyer signed a six-year contract that will pay him a salary of $4 million per year and bonuses, according to a statement released by the school. That will include base compensation of $700,000 annually, as well as $1.85 million for media, promotions and public relations and $1.4 million in apparel/shoe/equipment payments.
Retention bonuses would be paid every two years and the performance pay would be based on the academic as well as athletic success of his players, including $250,000 for winning a national championship.
Fickell to Stay
“He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the premier leaders in football,” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said at the news conference. “It’s represented in his record but, more importantly, it’s represented in him, the man.”
Meyer said Luke Fickell will remain on his coaching staff. Fickell has been interim coach since Tressel resigned in late May during a scandal over the trading of uniforms and other memorabilia at a tattoo parlor by players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Fickell led the Buckeyes to a 3-5 mark in the Big Ten Conference this season.
Smith said the school would accept a bowl game invitation if the National Collegiate Athletic Association allows it, and that Fickell would coach that game.
The NCAA has yet to finish assessing penalties for the football team related to the scandal. Tressel resigned after it came to light that he had kept information about his players’ infractions from school administrators for more than nine months.
“I don’t think it’s broke,” Meyer said of the Ohio State football program. “There were some obvious mistakes made in the grand scheme of things, mistakes that were correctable.”
During Meyer’s time at Florida, 25 football players were arrested a combined 31 times on charges ranging from misdemeanor possession of alcohol by a person under the age of 21 to felony burglary, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which tracked the arrests.
“We did not have bad guys,” Meyer said yesterday. “Did they make stupid mistakes? Yeah. I’ve made a few stupid mistakes. We’re going to correct them. We’re going to go really hard and try to recruit really good people to represent Ohio State.”