Is the nature of the Ohio State job destined to take Urban Meyer back to the dark days he experienced at the end of his 2009 season at Florida?
Despite his best intentions and his brave attempt to redefine his place in the world, are Meyer and Ohio State the perfect storm?
If you’re thinking, “Hey, Meyer is one season and two games into the high pressure job in Columbus, and he hasn’t yet shown signs of falling apart.” Don’t forget that Ohio State has yet to lose a game in the Meyer era.
And a loss—the ultimate knock on perfection—is what preceded Meyer’s health scare in 2009.
According to a December 2009 report from ESPN.com news services, Meyer, “who was admitted to the hospital because of chest pains following the Southeastern Conference championship game,” quit the Florida job “because of health concerns.”
The SEC title game resulted in a 32-13 loss to Alabama, and besides ending the Gators’ hunt for a second consecutive BCS crown, it marked the end of a 22-game winning streak.
In the same ESPN.com news services report, Meyer identified the cause of his health problems, “It was a pattern of what I was doing and how I was doing it. It was self-destructive.”
Meyer’s relentless pursuit of perfection had come at a cost—to his health and to his family.
The more he achieved, the more he felt the pressure to achieve. The desire and expectations were insatiable.
According to an August 2012 article in ESPN The Magazine by Wright Thompson, red flags had surfaced prior to the health issues.
[Meyer] stood on the field with his second national championship team, the 2008 Gators, singing the fight song. After the last line, he rushed into the tunnel and locked himself in the coaches’ locker room. He began calling recruits as his assistants pounded on the door, asking if everything was okay.
Of course, it’s now known that Meyer’s initial resignation was short-lived and that he returned to Florida for a final season, which resulted in an 8-5 finish, the worst since Ron Zook hit the same mark in 2003.
When Meyer resigned for the second and last time, he did so—according to a December 2010 article on ESPN.com news services—for his family. “At the end of the day, I’m very convinced that you’re going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won.”
Meyer spent the next 12 months searching for where he fit into both of his worlds—family and football.
In his ESPN The Magazine piece, Wright Thompson wondered if Meyer “could have the feeling of Bowling Green on the scale of Florida?”
This referred back to 2001 and 2002 when Meyer got his start as a head coach at Bowling Green where, according to Thompson, “he’d loved tutoring his players in math.”
Meyer wanted the best of both worlds. He wanted to be a coach at a big-time school who had time to connect and teach his players, and he also wanted to be a husband and father who was an active part of family life.
But if this is what Meyer desired, why didn’t he take the Houston job or even the post at North Carolina, both of which were open at the same time as the Buckeyes job?
These roles would have given him a better opportunity of hitting both sides of the mark.
But Meyer is drawn to a bigger spotlight and far loftier goals than bringing a mid-level program to prominence. He had already achieved those aims during his stint at Utah.
No, Meyer would roll the dice and move on to another high expectation job, this time at Ohio State.
When Meyer took over the Buckeyes, he talked of balance and of a “contract” his kids had made him sign. This was a deal that, according to an Associated Press report posted on Fox Sports in November of 2011, Meyer called “tougher than any other contract I’ve signed in my life.”
In 2012, Meyer’s first year back on the sidelines, this all seemed easily done. The Buckeyes finished 12-0, and there were no rumblings of major concerns. However, this was a season with no real consequences.
Yes, Ohio State was all dressed up with no place to go—a program with NCAA sanctions that prohibited postseason play regardless of its record.
But now the gloves are off, and the Buckeyes are playing for a real Big Ten title, a real shot at a BCS bowl and a realistic run at the national championship.
Not only are these goals for Meyer and Ohio State, they are expectations.
Is it realistic to assume that Meyer will control his intense behavior and his inherent desire for perfection because of his experience at Florida and what it taught him?
Is the most self-destructive thing Meyer has ever done not his almost maniacal drive to achieve at Florida, but instead his acceptance of the Ohio State job?
And what will Braxton Miller’s tenuous injury situation and the mounting pressure of each week of the 2013 season do to Meyer’s seemingly calm demeanor?
There is no way to go inside Meyer’s head and figure out what he’s thinking. But, if history is any indication and if Meyer is still the same guy equipped with the same appetite, perhaps he’s already shown his hand.
Included in Wright Thompson’s ESPN The Magazine piece is a quote from Meyer looking back at his time at Florida. “All of the sudden, every step, every time I had a cup of coffee, every time I woke up in the morning and shaved, it was all about somehow getting a team to go undefeated at Florida.”
Are the traits that make Meyer a great football coach—a proven winner—the same characteristics that will ultimately be his worst enemy, for the second time?