It wasn’t a complicated question, but Urban Meyer is a complex man, so his answer was ... complicated.
After announcing Tuesday that this next month would be his last as the head football coach at Ohio State, Meyer laid out why he would soon part ways with what he always considered his dream job, the program he grew up with and idolized for as long as he could remember, his alma mater.
Essentially, Meyer said, he didn’t want to let people down. Not the school, the fans, or the long line of greats who came to Ohio State before him. It was unhealthy, he said during his press conference, to go to work every day with the weight of an entire state on his shoulders.
But was this, in fact, really it? Is Urban Meyer done coaching football?
“It’s a complicated question,” he said.
“I believe I will not coach again,” he finally answered.
“Certain, yes,” Meyer whispered.
What may or may not lie ahead for a mastermind coach — whose perfectionist ways coupled with an unrelenting addiction to winning helped take him to the top of his profession — remains to be seen. The 54-year-old three-time national champion coach won and won big at every stop he’s made, including Utah, where he turned a middling Mountain West Conference program into a nationally ranked BCS buster. Meyer put the Utes and Salt Lake City on the map during his two years as head coach.
“There’s no question he put a jolt into our program that really changed and made Saturdays so exciting and the people started coming,” former Utah athletic director Chris Hill told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday.
Meyer’s 22-2 record at Utah was the true launching off point for a career that ends with an overall record of 186-32, including 11-3 in bowl games and an astounding 14-1 mark in rivalry games at the various schools where he coached. Utah’s first undefeated season in 2004 created such a landmark shift in the direction of the program that Hill knew, looking back, that Meyer was always bound for more stops, more wins, more heights.
“I knew when he came in, I said, ‘Don’t leave unless it’s for the biggest of bigs, and if it is, God bless ya,’” Hill recalled. “He made us into a championship team and obviously the national recognition we got from Urban was maybe faster than we thought. It helped us continue our progress today to where we are.”
It continued at Florida with two national titles and NFL prospects galore, but the program’s reputation soon turned troublesome, with several players having various run-ins with the law. Meyer’s players were arrested 31 times in six seasons at Florida. When Meyer landed the job he’d always wanted, in 2012 as head coach at Ohio State, the Buckeyes reemerged anew under a revitalized Meyer. Ohio State went unbeaten, 12-0, in Year 1, but was ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions.
Two years later, Ohio State won the College Football Playoff national championship.
In seven seasons in Columbus, Meyer went 82-9, went 7-0 against rival Michigan and went 54-4 in Big Ten Conference games.
But this summer, Meyer’s mostly spotless tenure at Ohio State came under fire. Controversy swirled around the program after Meyer was criticized for the way he handled accusations of domestic violence against a longtime assistant coach, Zach Smith, by Smith’s ex-wife.
Meyer later acknowledged he knew of the accusations, but wasn’t sure they were true, and kept Smith on staff due to no criminal charged being filed. After an investigation, Ohio State University cited a lapse in judgment on Meyer’s part and suspended him the first three games of the 2018 season.
The report issued by an investigative committee laid out how Meyer tolerated bad behavior from Smith for years, including accusations of domestic violence, drug addiction, lies and other acts. Throughout his final season as head coach, Meyer visibly looked uncomfortable and in pain on the sidelines, often doubling over during games. Meyer later announced that he has been dealing with an arachnoid cyst in his brain that causes severe headaches.
From afar, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, who served as defensive coordinator under Meyer, said he noticed the affects of yet another stressful season on Meyer.
“It definitely consumes you, and it takes a toll,” Whittingham told The Tribune. “There’s a price to be paid. Some coaches are strung tighter than others and it takes more of a toll. But you know what you’re getting into. It doesn’t surprise you. You know the deal.”
Meyer always has. And for so many decades now, he has plowed through it with a full head of steam. Meyer played an integral role in getting Utah into the Pac-12 Conference, Whittingham said. He will go down as one of the most successful coaches in the history of the sport.
“We’ve been friends for a lot of years,” Whittingham added. “I knew he wasn’t a guy that was planning on doing this until he was 65 or 70, I don’t believe that was ever in the cards. Did it surprise me? No it did not surprise me.”
So is this really it? Meyer, after being asked again and again, admitted it most certainly is. Hill said to predict what his former head coach will do in the future is too difficult to say right now.
“He’s a heck of a coach,” Hill said. “You can’t argue that.”
Meyer said he plans on sticking around Columbus. He has to. He’ll coach the Buckeyes through the 2019 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 2. After that? Will he return to an analyst’s role on ESPN? Will he be able to stand life away from the sidelines?
Meyer was asked if he would retire from the scene altogether at his Tuesday news conference.
“I hope not,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.