Whenever there is a coaching change in college football, those who follow the game are quick to rush to judgment.
So, it was no surprise that long before Urban Meyer was officially announced as Ohio State’s next football coach, fans and media alike began to predict how successful he would be in Columbus.
Now that it’s official, we’ll have nine months to hype up and anticipate Meyer’s Buckeyes. Early guesses from the overwhelming majority—he’ll be a rousing success.
There’s no denying Meyer’s track record at every stop he’s made in his coaching career.
He went 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green before moving to Utah, where he went 10-2 and 12-0 in consecutive seasons, winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2004. After his two seasons in Utah, he went on to coach for six seasons at Florida, winning two national championships.
If he could turn Bowling Green, Utah and Florida into winners, there’s not doubt he can turn Ohio State—with the second-largest athletics budget in the country—back into a perennial power as well.
But for as good of a coach as Meyer is, there are some red flags in his past that suggest he may not be the immediate savior Buckeye fans are expecting.
From a recruiting and on-field standpoint, Meyer should be fine right away.
This Ohio State team doesn’t look much like the later teams he coached at Florida, but he has inherited great players at every stop—Josh Harris at Bowling Green, Alex Smith at Utah and Chris Leak at Florida—and succeeded, despite differences in the systems of the previous coaches. He should find success with Braxton Miller, as well.
However, beyond the X's and O's, Meyer has had trouble. He’s been scrutinized for his lack of control over his program, as 30 players were arrested during his tenure at Florida.
Will that affect already scandal-ridden Ohio State? Time will tell, but this program clearly doesn’t need any more negative publicity.
But the biggest question of all is whether Meyer is really ready to handle this job.
After the 2009 season, which ended with a win in the Sugar Bowl and marked the end of Tim Tebow’s career, Meyer initially announced that he would resign, but then decided to take a leave of absence, citing health concerns that turned out to be esophageal spasms and the need to spend more time with his family.
“I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family,” he said before the bowl game (via Orlando Sentinel)
However, Meyer returned for spring practice in 2010, saying that he had found a balance between football and family. Despite a stable of top recruits, that team vastly underachieved, finishing 8-5 with a win in the Outback Bowl—Meyer’s worst record in all his years as a head coach. He resigned following the bowl game.
Balance? Maybe his heart just wasn’t in it.
Now, Meyer claims that he will strike that same balance, but still have a commitment to winning. But at Ohio State, you can’t have both.
The Ohio State job is one of the toughest in America, with some of the most unforgiving fans in college football. The expectations are that Meyer wins Big Ten and national championships, maybe not in his first season, but very quickly.
The Ohio State job consumes coaches’ lives. Meyer will have constant media attention and constant pressure to win.
There’s little time for anything but football.
Athletic director Gene Smith promised Meyer that he will have time to watch his daughters play volleyball and that he will have time off with his family. As we learned from his final season at Florida, that means a 7-5 record, or at least a finish that is well below expectations.
It’s tough to tell where Meyer’s priorities lie.
This is his dream job, but even at his introductory press conference he seemed hesitant to go all in. That won’t fly at Ohio State, not if the expectation is to win national championships.
Meyer has the talent to return Ohio State to prominence and make fans forget the past year ever happened. He has the talent to bring in top recruits and assemble an All-star cast of assistant coaches. He has the talent to live up to the hype. And most importantly, he has the talent to win a national championship.
But to reach the lofty expectations of Buckeye Nation, he can’t have balance: It’s either all in or bust.
Because as we learned from his last year in Florida, balance means mediocrity, and mediocrity will be a failure.