Urban Meyer may no longer be in Florida, but he’s still “bringing the juice” in Columbus.
The 47-year-old head coach gave two large fist pumps and fired up the crowd after Ohio State’s overtime win against Purdue last Saturday. This is just one example of the intensity Meyer is bringing to the Buckeyes in his first season as their head coach.
“It’s a great experience to be playing for coach Meyer,” said Ohio State junior quarterback Kenny Guiton. “He’s a guy that’s outgoing, and he loves to be hyped up. As we like to say, “bringing the juice.”
Meyer is has an unblemished record in eight games at Ohio State, but that will be put on the line this Saturday.
In a game that will be one of the biggest in the country this weekend, the Buckeyes visit Penn State with first place in the Big Ten Leaders Division on the line. This will be Meyer’s first contest as a head coach at Beaver Stadium, but about a year ago, many thought he’d be walking up and down the home sideline.
An abundance of rumors swirled — before and after the firing of Joe Paterno — that Meyer was a candidate to replace the legendary coach. Meyer, who won two national championships as a head coach at Florida, was serving as an analyst for ESPN at the time but was hired by Ohio State in late November.
Penn State players said they were conscious of the comments media members and fans were making about the possibility of Meyer coaching in Happy Valley last year. But that’s all a thing of the past now.
“We have coach O’Brien here now. We’re very happy with him as our coach,” fullback Michael Zordich said. “We don’t think too much beyond that. It is where we are, and he’s our coach. There’s really no point in thinking coach Meyer might have been our coach last year.”
At the time of Meyer’s hiring, Bill O’Brien was known by few outside of the New England area, and now the two will meet as head coaches for the first time Saturday.
“I have a lot of respect for coach Meyer and what he’s done in his coaching career and what he’s doing at Ohio State,” O’Brien said. “I can tell you Ohio State is the most talented team we’ve played to this point in the season.”
Meyer started in the coaching business as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986 and after stops at Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame. He finally got a chance to lead his own program in 2001, as he was named the head coach of Bowling Green.
The Ashtabula, Ohio, native turned around a scuffling program at Bowling Green, winning 17 games in two seasons before getting hired for the same position at Utah.
Meyer had even more success when he headed west. This time, Meyer won a combined 22 games in two seasons with the Utes and in 2004, Meyer and current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith led the team to a perfect 12-0 record and a victory in the Fiesta Bowl, a 35-7 win against Pittsburgh.
Then it was onto Florida for Meyer, where he really made a name for himself. As mentioned, Meyer won two national titles (2006 and 2008) with the Gators, and he coached the likes of Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow.
Former Florida defensive end Duke Lemmens — who played for Meyer from 2007-2010 — said he sees some similarities between teams he played with in Gainesville to the 2012 Buckeyes. Like Guiton, Lemmens said Meyer was a passionate coach, and he expects him to be successful in Columbus.
“He’s a coach I have tremendous respect for just because of how he cares about his players, not just on the field but off the field,” Lemmens said. “To this day, I consider him a close friend.”
Meyer finished a six-season stint in Gainesville with a 65-15 record, his last game and victory coming against Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl. After the bowl game, Meyer stepped away from coaching due to health reasons and to spend more time with his family.
But after one season as a commentator, the Ohio State offer was apparently too much to pass up for Meyer. He’s back on the sideline and said he’s doing great health-wise.
“A lot of the stress related issues were from health issues that I’m not sure what they were. Once they were diagnosed, I knew how to handle it and take care of it,” Meyer said “…That part of it was the biggest stresser, but I’m handling it fine, I feel great.”
And as Meyer seems to be glad to be coaching again, people of Ohio are welcoming one of their own to lead the way for the Buckeyes.
“He wants to make the state of Ohio proud,” Guiton said. “He is leading this team, and I think it’s showing. Everybody loves him around here, and they can’t say enough good stuff about him.”