Urban Meyer thought he was set up in a position to succeed when he took the Ohio State job prior to the 2012 season.
Taking over the head coaching job from Luke Fickell, Meyer knew the recruiting job that he and former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel had done, saying he expected there would be quality players in his program coming in who are even better people.
He said that was exactly what he walked into.
“It was a little bit discombobulated for a bit and that team came together and had a magical season,” Meyer said.
Meyer’s mood as he took the podium as he announced his retirement on Wednesday was one of reminiscence, wearing the exact tie he wore to his first press conference as the head coach at Ohio State seven years prior.
As he passed the baton to Ryan Day, his offensive coordinator over the past two seasons, Meyer was not nervous. He was not worried about the state of his program moving forward. He watched as Day, the newly announced 25th head coach in Ohio State history, with seemingly a weight off his shoulders.
Day looked forward, talking about the importance of the early signing period at the end of the month and how his team would soon operate.
Meyer, sitting to his right with a slight grin on his face, fielded questions as though he was content with where he left the program, the same way he felt when he inherited the Buckeyes seven years ago.
“This would be a really tough day if we were a mess. This would be a really, really tough day,” Meyer said. “And personally this would be awful, because this is where we’re all from, where Gene [Smith] and I are both from, and to be able to know that this: We did right or at least we feel like we did right. That makes it that much easier.”
That does not mean the decision to leave is any easier for Meyer.
He said the one thing he is going to miss most is the players. Not the wins, not the conference titles, not the national championships. The players, building teams that lead to a seven-year span in which the head coach won 82 of 91 total games.
“It’s not my tenure, it’s our tenure. And we did it the right way,” Meyer said. “I learned this from Woody Hayes to Earle Bruce, to [John Cooper] and Jim Tressel. And that is you have to be a tough guy to play at Ohio State. You have to be a tough guy.”
That blueprint of creating a program that appeals to the “tough guy,” a team that expects excellence, the atmosphere that Meyer inherited and expanded upon remains for Day to take on.
But this is something Meyer said he told his coaching staff every day.
“No one’s forced you to come here. And average is not acceptable,” Meyer said. “Being excellent in everything is the only acceptable. And that’s hard. That’s a tough challenge. And I look forward to watching Ryan continue that challenge.”
Ohio State is different than any other school Meyer has coached at, something he did not believe when athletic director Gene Smith told him when he was interviewing for the job. Smith called the job as Ohio State head coach “complex,” having to juggle the responsibilities of a team that does not lose.
Day knows there are many responsibilities that come from being the head coach at Ohio State, maintaining the expectation set by his predecessors.
“If you’re a recruit who comes to look at Ohio State, there’s no other place in America that takes care of students, student-athletes, better than Ohio State,” Day said. “Understanding how to manage that, understanding how to manage the staff on a daily basis and what it means to be the head coach here.”
This was an expectation Meyer, himself, could not take anymore, citing his health for his departure from the program after the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
But even though he has one more game left as a head coach, continuing to prepare for No. 9 Washington, Meyer continued to reminisce.
“One thing I’ve done for seven years is every time between the third and fourth quarter, when I hear ‘Hang On Sloopy,’ I take my headsets off,” Meyer said. “If we’re playing really well I take it off for a little while, really enjoy it. And if we’re not playing well I give it a quick and then back on.”
He said he learned his from Bob Davie, the former head coach at Notre Dame who told Meyer this prior to when he took the head coaching job at Bowling Green: pick a time during each game to remember where you are, enjoy those moments.
As the press conference ended, Meyer looked to Day, and with a sigh of relief, said “Wow.”
The baton was passed: Day with the future in front of him and Meyer with those moments, those memories to look back on.