Urban Meyer announced his retirement from coaching on Dec. 8, 2010, less than a month prior to his Florida squad’s date with Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
The then-46-year-old heralded coach claimed he wanted to spend more time with his family. Media reports claimed he had lingering cardiovascular health issues.
Nonetheless, Meyer spoke with a sense of relief following the Gators’ ugly 37-24 win over the Nittany Lions on New Year’s Day — which he announced to be his final game.
“My wife [Shelley] started crying so she shook me up a little bit,” Meyer said after the game. “[My family has] given six years, and six equals about 40 years of your life to Florida. And we couldn’t have dreamed of doing it anywhere else.”
Meyer took less than a year-long hiatus from coaching, spent primarily as an analyst for ESPN, before opting to replace Jim Tressel as the head coach at Ohio State.
And the man named Sports Illustrated’s Coach of the Decade in 2009 hasn’t looked back since taking over the reigns in Columbus.
His win against Penn State back in the Outback Bowl was the first of what has become a 20-game personal winning streak as the now-No. 4 Buckeyes prepare to host the Lions Saturday night.
Meyer, who led Ohio State to an undefeated season through a sanctioned 2012 season, has become one of the most renowned coaches in the country through the most recent part of his illustrious career.
But if it weren’t for a deal arranged by his tight-knit family, Meyer never would have returned to sideline.
Man of temperament
Meyer quickly rose the ranks to the SEC coaching level after turning around a lowly Bowling Green squad, then leading an undefeated Utah team in 2004.
He began his career in Gainesville in 2005 at an incredible pace, winning 57 of his first 68 games through five seasons — including two national championships along the way.
But this torrid pace did not come without a price, said Bill Rabinowitz, author of “Buckeye Rebirth,” a book about the Buckeyes’ historic 2012 season and Meyer’s road to Columbus.
Rabinowitz, who has covered Ohio State for three seasons with the Columbus Dispatch, spent several hours interviewing Meyer for the book, which published earlier this month. He learned the finer details regarding the coach’s health toward the end of the 2009 season in the process.
“After the SEC Championship game, he thought he was having a heart attack,” said Rabinowitz, describing the aftermath of Florida’s only loss that season, a 32-13 Alabama victory.
“His wife, as a nurse, realized after about 30 seconds, it was not that. It was something in his esophagus and he took medicine and he was fine. But, clearly, the pressure and the stress caused…it wasn’t a nervous breakdown per say, but it was probably closer than he would have liked.”
Meyer toyed with the idea of retiring following this chaotic finish to the 2009 season, but he returned for one more season at Florida — a topsy-turvy 7-5 year ending with the Outback Bowl selection.
Rabinowitz said Meyer’s health wasn’t the only mal-affect of the stress from coaching, as his relationship with his family began to suffer as well.
“He would lose a game or two, and then he just kind of lost it,” Rabinowitz said. “He would spend all night trying to devise punt return plays or whatever, instead of getting sleep. He lost a ton of weight and he didn’t know how to cope.”
The author also mentioned a fear developing within Meyer of what the coach called becoming “that guy” — a coach who cares more about championships than his own children.
“He didn’t want to be that guy, and he was becoming that guy,” Rabinowitz said. “And that scared him to the bones.”
Meyer moving forward
Meyer enjoyed his ESPN position that allowed for much more time with his wife and three children, helping him put things back in perspective.
However, he quickly gained interest in rejoining the coaching realm when Ohio State went searching for a replacement to Tressel.
Rabinowitz said Meyer’s family did not immediately respond well to the idea of him returning to coaching so soon, and one of his daughters even created a contract he would have to abide by if he were to do so. The contract included yearly family vacations, work hour limits and times when he must answer his phone.
As Meyer explained in his opening Ohio State press conference, he was certainly not alone in making the decision to return to his home state.
“I chose to pack up and move the most precious things in my life, and that’s my family, to back home,” Meyer said. “…There’s no people more important than my three children and my wife.”
The results on the field, of course, have been staggering. The Buckeyes are a cool 19-0 under Meyer — who with last weekend’s 34-24 win over Iowa became the first coach in college football history to win 20 straight games with three different teams.
Penn State will have the next chance to knock off the Buckeyes come Saturday night, meaning coach Bill O’Brien will have another shot at taking Meyer down on the gridiron after beating him out for for the Maxwell Coach of the Year award last season..
Despite Saturday being Penn State's best chance for a marquee win this season, O’Brien had nothing but positive things to say about Meyer.
“Well, where do you begin?” O’Brien said. “First of all, he’s smart, a smart guy. He’s a mentally tough guy. He’s won two National Championships with different types of teams…Of course, we want to go out there and win, and he wants to go out there and win. But there’s a lot of respect for their program and for him as a head football coach.”
Meanwhile, Rabinowitz said Meyer believes he’s more prepared to handle setbacks in his new setting, with his family serving as his anchor.
And if his response to a question about making postgame adjustments after last week’s win is any indication, Meyer won’t be staying up into the night devising plays any time soon.
“I learned a lesson in my life. I’m going to enjoy this win,” Meyer said after Saturday's win over Iowa. “I feel outstanding. I’m going to go hug my players and my family, go to work tomorrow. But tonight I’m not worrying about any defense. I’m going to enjoy this win.”
John Stuetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU.