Commentary

Urban Meyer may be short-term solution

Originally Published: November 28, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Urban Meyer might lead Ohio State back to the top of the Big Ten conference. He might build the Buckeyes into a BCS national championship contender again.

If the NCAA doesn't hammer the Buckeyes for rules violations committed under former coach Jim Tressel, Meyer might not even need very long.

[+] EnlargeMeyer/Tebow
Douglas Jones/US PresswireUrban Meyer won two titles at Florida with quarterback Tim Tebow.

After all, Meyer won 104 games in his first 10 seasons in coaching, making him one of only three men in major college football history to win at least 100 games in their first decade on the sideline.

In six seasons at Florida, Meyer won 65 games and guided the Gators to BCS national championships during the 2006 and 2008 seasons.

But Ohio State isn't hiring that coach.

The Buckeyes are hiring a coach who went 8-5 in his final season as Florida's coach and left behind an even worse team for his successor.

After Meyer won two national championships in three seasons with former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, perhaps the greatest player in modern college football history, Meyer left as soon as the Gators started struggling. About three weeks after Florida lost to Alabama 32-13 in the 2009 SEC championship game, Meyer announced he was resigning because of health reasons. But then Meyer changed his mind the next day, and he guided the Gators to a 51-24 rout of Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in Tebow's last college game.

After taking a leave of absence from the team to address his health concerns during the offseason in 2010, Meyer returned to the field for spring practice last year. But without Tebow under center, the Gators limped to a disappointing 8-5 record. Florida was trounced by then-No. 1 Alabama 31-6 and lost three straight games in October. The Gators closed the regular season by being humbled 31-7 by Florida State, ending their six-game winning streak over their rivals.

At times last season, the Gators played three quarterbacks in games and often couldn't even snap the ball to them.

A few weeks before the Gators played Penn State in the Outback Bowl last season, Meyer announced he was retiring again. This time it wasn't because of health concerns but for Meyer's eagerness to spend more time with his family. One of his daughters was playing volleyball at Georgia Tech, and another daughter was about to leave for college. Meyer said he didn't want to miss any more time from his family than he already had.

Others at Florida aren't so sure that was the reason, especially now that Meyer is jumping back into coaching so soon.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireMeyer cited family considerations the second time he retired from the Gators.

"He knew what was coming," a person close to the Florida program said. "He looked at the schedule and knew what we had coming back [as far as talent]. He didn't want to hurt his legacy."

Meyer didn't leave much behind for new Florida coach Will Muschamp. Privately, Muschamp has told people he was shocked at the level of talent he inherited. Muschamp, a former Texas defensive coordinator, finished 6-6 in his first season as a head coach.

When adversity struck, Meyer walked out the door. What's to stop him from doing it again?

I won't criticize Meyer for jumping back onto the sideline after less than a year of retirement. Although I believe the statements Meyer made a year ago about faith and family now truly ring hollow, his decision to coach again is a personal one between him, his wife and their three children.

In Monday's news conference in which Meyer was introduced as Ohio State's coach, Meyer admitted he missed coaching football only two months after he retired. While walking with his wife, Shelley, in February, Meyer told her, "I miss it. I don't know if I can do this."

But Meyer, 47, insists his profession will not consume him like it did at Florida. On the night Alabama ended the Gators' hopes of winning back-to-back BCS national championships in 2009, he was rushed to a hospital with chest pains. He realized the job was going to kill him if he didn't slow down.

Meyer said he lacked balance between his profession and personal life and won't let it happen again.

"I call it the pursuit of perfection," Meyer said. "I think at the end of the day, we all know there's no such thing. I've been to a place where I don't want to go back. I think we've all been there. I don't want to go back."

Ohio State needs stability more than anything else. The Buckeyes are still stinging from a scandal that cost Tressel his job and ended star quarterback Terrelle Pryor's college career prematurely. Ohio State already appeared before the NCAA's committee on infractions in August to answer charges that many of its players improperly received free tattoos and cash in exchange for their football memorabilia. Worse, Tressel was accused of withholding information about the scandal from Ohio State officials and NCAA investigators for months.

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Greg Bartram/US PresswireUrban Meyer has faith that there aren't more issues to emerge at Ohio State.

"I don't think it's broke," Meyer said. "I've done a lot of research. I don't think Ohio State is broke. I think there were some mistakes made in the grand scheme, but those mistakes are very correctable."

Ohio State might not learn its punishment for weeks, but Meyer said he has talked to athletics director Gene Smith and university president Gordon Gee about potential penalties.

"I think that's where faith and trust have to come in," Meyer said. "I have tremendous faith in our athletics director and president. At the end of the day, I asked if there was anything behind door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3. I'm confident that there's not."

Regardless of the NCAA's decision, Buckeyes fans are convinced Meyer will lead them through the storm. He'll inherit an OSU team that went 6-6 under interim coach Luke Fickell this season. The Buckeyes will lose many of their most important players on offense -- center Mike Brewster, left tackle Mike Adams, running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey are all leaving after a bowl game.

Quarterback Braxton Miller, who was forced into action as a freshman this season, might be the perfect fit for Meyer's spread offense (Miller plays a lot like Tebow, relying on his legs more than his arm).

Meyer will need to hire two outstanding coordinators. His success at Florida started to slip after defensive coordinator Charlie Strong left for Louisville and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen left for Mississippi State. According to people with knowledge of Meyer's plans, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops is a leading candidate to become OSU's defensive coordinator. LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa may also be a target.

Fickell, a former Ohio State nose guard and a top recruiter, has agreed to remain on the Buckeyes staff in some capacity.

At Ohio State, where there's no shortage of tradition and resources, Meyer has all the pieces in place to build another winner.

But if Meyer is going to build a dynasty at Ohio State, he'll have to stay longer than he did at Florida, where he had everything at his disposal to win.

Meyer is a native of Ashtabula, Ohio, and grew up rooting for the Buckeyes. He idolized legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and was an assistant under former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce for two seasons from 1986-87. Meyer often has referred to Ohio State as his dream job (although he also said the same of Notre Dame).

Florida should have been Meyer's dream job, and it was for a while.

But as soon as adversity struck, the job became his nightmare.

He'll face an even bigger challenge at Ohio State.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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