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Health, family prompt Urban Meyer to retire as Ohio State head coach

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer listens to a question during the press conference at the Fawcett Center on Dec. 4. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

The Urban Meyer that stood at the podium of the Fawcett Center seemed different.

He joked with reporters. He was straight forward in his speech.

He was calm.

The last time Meyer addressed a crowd of reporters across the street from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, he was in the Longaberger Alumni House, nervously ticking his hands as he reluctantly accepted his three-game suspension for the start of the campaign.

But this time, he was at ease.

“I want to start off by wishing my grandson, Troy, a happy second birthday today,” Meyer said in opening his press conference. “That’s why we’re all here. So make sure Troy is aware of that.”

Of course, that wasn’t why the Clinton Room was packed with video cameras, media, coaches, former coaches and family. Meyer, speaking in front of his wife and children, announced he would be stepping down as Ohio State’s head football coach, with offensive coordinator Ryan Day taking over at the helm.

“I’m honored to have represented my home state and this great university the past seven years,” Meyer said. “I want to thank Buckeye nation, our students and faculty, our state high school coaches, Gene Smith for giving me this opportunity, my awesome family and most importantly our staff and student-athletes for all they’ve done during this time.”

When Meyer left his post at Florida after 2010, he left citing health concerns. The stress he lived with caused him to be depressed, he later said, and a heart condition forced him to take a step back and spend more time with his family.

The 2018 season mirrored much of that season, though not all was health related. He was suspended for the first three games for his handling of domestic abuse allegations surrounding former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, with many claiming his legacy will be forever tarnished by questions of him covering up for Smith.

As the year progressed, he dealt with headaches stemming from a cyst in his brain, which he said has caused him issues for many years.

But when Meyer was asked what ultimately prompted him to leave as head coach, he said the health was the first concern, not the controversy around Smith.

“The decision was a result of cumulative events,” Meyer said. “And health number one. The fact that we have an elite coach on our staff. The fact that our program is very healthy. We’ve recruited very well. [That] all played a significant role in this.”

Of course, Meyer acknowledged that the events of the summer will impact his legacy, and how he is remembered at Ohio State. “A disappointing time,” he called it, and something he can’t control or change.

“I can lie to you and say that’s not important to me. Any human being, that’s important to you,” Meyer said. “And people will have their opinions. And just do the best to do things the right way.”

Part of the reason to leave came from confidence in his successor.

He prepared his successor for the job by telling him how to balance life and work. The energy one can devote to football should be limited, and Meyer often has pushed those limits.

“You have a pie of energy,” Meyer said. “And your family and faith don’t touch that. I’ve touched that before and it starts to implode — it creates issues for you. Don’t touch that.”

Coaching football has been in Meyer’s life since he was 21 years old, leading St. Xavier High School’s defensive backs before moving to Ohio State as a graduate assistant in 1986.

He stepped away once before at the end of the 2010 season before returning two years later to lead Ohio State. He’s dedicated his life to the game, often admitting he has given too much.

This time, however, he believes it’s all over.

“I believe I will not coach again,” Meyer said. Is that a certainty?

“I’m certain, yes.”

Before long, the press conference was over. Hugs and congratulations to Day for the promotion and Meyer for the retirement greeted the pair as they began to work their way out of the room and into the main lobby of the Fawcett Center.

Meyer lingered, as he will, for just a little bit longer, talking to friends and family. He still has time left. The headset will remain on until Jan. 1 when he leads his team onto the field at the Rose Bowl, the “Grand-Daddy of Them All.”

After that, Meyer will take the headset off and return to Columbus. Ready to be grand-daddy to Troy, finally putting the stress of coaching behind.

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