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Monday, November 28, 2011
Urban Meyer seeks balance, success

By Brian Bennett
ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Before Urban Meyer signed his Ohio State contract, he got another one in the mail.

This contract was written on pink paper by his 21-year-old daughter Nicole, a volleyball player at Georgia Tech. In it, she listed all the things her father would have to do if he wanted to return to coaching football. It states that he must exercise at least every other day, eat three meals a day, make every effort to see Nicole and her sister, Gisela, play volleyball and limit the number of hours he spends on football.

Gene Smith and Urban Meyer
Ohio State AD Gene Smith, left, said he has "a great deal of trust" in Urban Meyer's football program.

"She's not going to win that last one," said Shelley Meyer, Urban's wife.

Meyer pulled the pink contract out of his sports jacket during his introductory news conference Monday. Shelley Meyer said he has kept it with him, though she doesn't think he's actually signed it.

"At least he hasn't ripped it up and thrown it away," she said.

The concern about Meyer isn't whether he will be worth his six-year, $24 million (plus incentives) contract with the Buckeyes. This is not, in sports parlance, a home run hire for the Buckeyes. It is a grand-slam-in-the-ninth-inning-to-win-the-World-Series hire. How many times does a school find a coach who boasts two national titles and four BCS bowl wins, who's a native of the state and fan of the program, and who can start right away? Meyer is the perfect choice to lead Ohio State out of its yearlong misery and back to the top of the Big Ten, if not the country.

But this will work long-term only if Meyer also fulfills his daughter's contract. He already walked away from the game once, following the 2010 season, and nearly did so after the 2009 season. Health concerns and a stated desire to spend more time with his family caused him to "retire" from Florida.

Meyer looked much healthier Monday than the gaunt, worn-down version who showed up in New Orleans for the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl. He said he has spent the past year as an ESPN broadcaster visiting with other coaches and asking them how they balance work and home. He believes he managed that better at Florida until his last couple of years, when the pressure of living up to national titles and the loss of trusted assistants like Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong to head-coaching jobs changed his outlook. Meyer said he started micromanaging everything, including trying "to cure NCAA issues, to cure agent issues, maybe drug issues, whatever."

"You win two national championships, and then, what's good enough?" Shelley Meyer said. "Nothing is ever good enough again. You've got fans on you, you've got criticism from the media, you start missing your family because you're pouring all of yourself into that job. It's just like this cycle that starts to go and grab you."

If Meyer was looking to leave the pressure cooker, he shouldn't have come to Columbus and a program that's as big as anything in the state of Ohio. He knows exactly what he has signed up for, having grown up a Buckeyes fan and having worked there as an assistant coach under Earle Bruce. Expectations will be no less at his new job, as evidenced by a question during his news conference about whether he could win a national championship with the Buckeyes' "current personnel."

Shelley Meyer and Nathan Meyer
Shelley Meyer, with son Nathan, signed off on her husband's decision.

"Wow," Meyer responded, "I'm just trying to get to tomorrow, man."

Meyer insisted he has changed his personality from those final days at Florida and that he will be able to delegate more responsibility this time around. That's one reason why he decided to keep current head coach Luke Fickell on staff, most likely as his defensive coordinator. Fickell knows the program in and out and can handle many of the day-to-day and even larger tasks.

Athletic director Gene Smith promised he'll make Meyer live a more normal life.

"He'll definitely go see his daughters play volleyball," Smith said. "There will be no excuse. I've heard them all in my tenure relative to why someone can't take a vacation. That's why they call it vacation."

Shelley Meyer -- who's from Frankfort, Ohio, and owns a collection of lucky buckeyes -- presided over a family meeting before her husband accepted the Ohio State job. She and their three children "fired some tough questions" at Urban before they gave their blessing.

"If you've ever been in a dark place before, you know you don't want to go back there," she said. "He did some work on himself. He knows he's not going back there.

"There are always concerns, but I'm feeling really confident that he knows exactly what he's doing. And he told me, 'I think you'll be really proud of me.'"

About 10 minutes before Meyer and his family arrived at Monday's news conference, the Beatles were playing over the speakers at the Fawcett Center conference room. Paul McCartney sang, "Get back to where you once belonged." Both Ohio State and his own family hope Urban Meyer can do just that.

Brian Bennett covers the Big Ten for ESPN.com.