So it turns out, Urban Meyer is a comedian, too.
The popular and polarizing former University of Utah football coach was back in town Friday to speak at the ACG Utah Intermountain Growth Conference at the Grand America hotel, and he looked healthy and relaxed as he warmed up with a couple of jokes after chatting with reporters about his new life as the head coach at Ohio State.
“I love it, so far,” he said.
The 47-year-old Meyer came out of his health-induced one-year sabbatical from coaching nearly three months ago to take over the Buckeyes from Jim Tressel, who was ousted amid an improper-benefits scandal that rocked the university on the heels of its worst football season in 12 years.
The Buckeyes have been banned from a bowl game next season as a result, something Meyer did not expect to happen when he signed a six-year deal worth about $26.7 million — one of the richest contracts ever in college sports.
“But, you know what? I’m an NCAA fan,” he said. “I want them to increase the penalties. … If someone’s going to break a rule, I want everybody to know that there’s going to be major penalties. I support it 100 percent. So we’re going to move forward. I’m not sure how we’re going to handle the season, other than just go try to win every game we play.”
Meyer said his trip back to Utah is an example of something he never would have done before his stress-related health problems during his last season at Florida in 2010.
But his wife and son joined him on his trip, and they planned to have dinner with current Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Friday night before spending Saturday on a ski slope — though Meyer isn’t much of a skier.
“I’m going to try, but it’s not really skiing,” he said. “It’s kind of flopping around.”
Meyer wasn’t on his new job for long — he spent last year as a broadcaster for ESPN — before he started rubbing many of his new Big Ten Conference colleagues the wrong way.
He has irked rival Michigan fans by refusing to call them by name; the Wolverines are now the “Team Up North,” in same way Meyer referred to Brigham Young as the “Team Down South” when he coached the Utes.
He also mocked the majors of Michigan players on a placard in the Ohio State football building, and angered several rival coaches with his aggressive recruiting tactics that “poached” some of their recruits.
“I think that was overblown,” Meyer said. “But it got cleared up real fast, and everybody gets along. … I made some comments that I probably wish I hadn’t. But it’s all over, and it’s all positive right now.”
An Ohio native, Meyer had long dreamed of returning to Ohio State, where he worked as a graduate assistant when his coaching career was just getting started. In fact, he had it written into his contract at Utah that he could leave without financial penalty if it was to take the Buckeye job.
So far, he said, it has been everything he dreamed.
“I walk into a high school and I either played with someone there or I went to school with them,” he said. “I knew them. I knew their uncle. Ohio is a very connected state, so that, to me, has been the neatest thing about going home. Not just that it’s Ohio State.”
Meyer spoke to the businesspeople at the conference about leadership, team-building and motivation. He talked about his two revolutionary seasons with the Utes and his two national championships at Florida. He mentioned golfing with former Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards, whom he called a close friend.
Oh, and the jokes?
One of them featured three guys — fans of Utah, BYU and Utah State — who happen upon a magic lantern with a genie that comes out and grants them each a wish.
The Utah State fan asks for a beautiful ranch in the Cache Valley. Then the BYU fan asks for a massive wall around Provo, to keep out the “evil spirits.” When it’s his turn, the Utah fan asks the genie more about the wall. “Fifteen miles high, huh?” he says. “Three miles thick? Totally impenetrable?”
Yep, the genie responds.
“Fill it with water.”
Urban Meyer file
• Led the Utah Utes to an undefeated season and historic Fiesta Bowl victory.
• Won two BCS championships in five seasons as coach of the Florida Gators.
• Takes a 104-23 career record into his new job as coach at Ohio State University.