COLUMBUS: The last time Urban Meyer was fired from a job, he was a young assistant coach at Colorado State. His wife was 7 months pregnant and he was suddenly unemployed after the entire staff was swept out of office.
Meyer chuckled Monday while recalling those days. He hasn’t even coached his first game yet for the Buckeyes, and already he was being asked about his exit strategy.
Such is life at big-time programs, where nothing lasts forever and even the mightiest of legends seem to eventually fall.
Meyer, at least so far, is that rare coach who has managed to leave teams on his terms. He left his gig at Bowling Green for Utah, then jumped to Florida. He left Florida when his heart, quite literally, told him it was time to go.
As he walks out of the band’s Skull Session this morning and into Ohio Stadium, through the tunnel and out onto the field, emotions are sure to explode inside. Meyer was a small child — 3 or 4 years old — the first time he watched the Buckeyes play. He conceded this week that he’ll have his face buried inside the folder he carries on the sideline, and not just to review his notes. He’ll need it to stay calm and focused.
“I’ll be coming out of my shoes a little bit,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be an emotional time.”
Fans are rightfully excited for Meyer’s debut, but it has little to do with his Ohio roots. His two national titles in America’s toughest conference are proof enough the guy can win. We don’t need to see his Toledo birth certificate or his Ashtabula upbringing to believe he’s right for this job. Meyer instantly becomes the highest-profile coach the Buckeyes have ever hired.
Woody Hayes wasn’t even the school’s first choice, Earle Bruce was a Woody descendant and Jim Tressel, while a legend in Mahoning Valley, was still a risky move.
Tressel’s I-AA success at Youngstown State was by no means sure to translate here, but his conservative approach, family speeches and dominance over Michigan won the hearts of a devoted fan base, the majority of whom continue to staunchly defend him long after the fall.
When Tressel was hired, much of the talk surrounding the move involved his strong Ohio ties. Fans were convinced the Buckeyes needed an Ohio guy to lead them because that foreigner John Cooper never really understood them.
So Tressel made the players sing and watch the band rehearse. He implemented the walk from the team hotel to the stadium. He wore gray suits with scarlet ties to news conferences, fostered strong relationships with Ohio’s high school coaches and forever endeared himself even through the hell and high water that ultimately drowned him.
Tressel was viewed as an Ohio guy first. The fact he won big at Youngstown State was an added bonus. Meyer, conversely, is a proven winner who just happens to be from here.
He has spoken at length this summer about wanting to coach an angry team, about righting the wrong of a historically bad season a year ago. It was the first time in more than 100 years the Buckeyes lost seven games and Meyer has no intention of allowing it to happen again. Not on his watch.
He is keeping all of the traditions Tressel instilled and he’s adding a few of his own, beginning with a “quick cal” pregame ritual that involves both the players and students.
It’s far too early to talk legacy, but it’s worth noting the last coach who left Ohio State on his own terms was Wes Fesler in 1950. The last four, who all won league titles and enjoyed varying degrees of success, were forced out.
Meyer is hoping to change that and he has the juice to make it possible.
While Woody had the pointed glasses, Earle wore a fedora and Jim made sweater vests chic, Urban’s fashion accessory is sexier than all of them.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.