Urban Meyer stood before Ohio State boosters seven years ago with one goal in mind as he returned to the state he grew up in and the university where he got his first job.
“Our objective is simple: to make the state of Ohio proud,” Meyer said.
As Meyer walks away from coaching — perhaps for good — the final report card on that is mixed, at best.
Yes, there was a lot to be proud of on the field, where Meyer earned his huge salary and more. Under his watch, the Buckeyes won a national championship and lost only nine times in seven years.
Those are the kind of numbers that get statues erected for coaches at some schools. But there won’t be any statue of Meyer out in front of the Horseshoe in Columbus.
Too much baggage and too many questions about his judgment and propensity for disregarding the truth for that to happen.
It’s a conflicted legacy in a world where success is almost always defined by wins and losses. For all the victories Meyer had — and all the money he made — it was getting increasingly hard to believe some of the things that came out of his mouth.
That was a problem every time he stepped before a microphone to talk about his team. And it was surely becoming more of a problem when the parents of 18-year-old recruits began asking the kind of hard questions that Meyer had no desire to answer.
He should have been fired before the season even began after a university report showed he tolerated domestic violence accusations and other bad behavior from assistant coach Zach Smith — and then lied about what he knew.
Meyer kept his job but didn’t do his cause any good with a series of defiant statements that seemed to portray himself as the real victim in the ongoing drama. After a three-game suspension, Meyer was back on the sideline and ended up leading Ohio State to a Rose Bowl appearance that at any other school might have been considered a successful season.
But even before he announced his resignation Tuesday — ostensibly for health reasons — it was becoming increasingly clear that Meyer wouldn’t be completing a contract that paid him $7.6 million a season and ran through 2022.
Again, too much baggage and too many questions. Meyer seemed to acknowledge as much when asked whether the suspension would cloud his legacy once he leaves Ohio State.
“I’m sure it will … I can lie to you and say it is not important to me,” he said.
Probably not the best choice of words considering everything. But football is Meyer’s life work, and how he’ll be remembered for that work is important to him, as it should be.
He won two national titles at Florida and added a third at Ohio State. Aside from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, he’s the only coach in the country who hasn’t been steamrolled totally by Nick Saban and the machine he’s built at Alabama.
But the controversy that Meyer played a big part in creating was never going to completely go away. Meyer wasn’t going to win in the court of public opinion like he won on the football field, no matter how aggrieved he felt.
And, in the end, maybe there’s one thing we can take Meyer’s word on — and that’s his health. It was hard to watch Meyer at times on the sideline this year bent over from pain from a cyst in his brain that causes severe headaches. And don’t forget that he left Florida earlier because of stress-related issues.
Meyer said he doubts he will coach again, and that’s the right call. He’s got nothing more to prove on the field, and he’s never going to prove to his detractors that he is a different person than they think he is.
But if the mark of a good coach is that his former players still love him, Meyer seems good on that count. A number of them took to social media to give their thanks as the news of his retirement spread.
“To the man who gave me the opportunity of a lifetime,” Detroit Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker, a former Ohio State star, posted on Instagram, “and whose football program molded me into a man … all I can say is THANK YOU.”
Meyer will coach on New Year’s Day against Washington in his first — and presumably last — Rose Bowl. With designated successor Ryan Day by his side, Meyer will try for one last win before going on to an undefined role at OSU, presumably with a settlement of the $38 million he has left on his contract.
It’s a good way for Meyer to go out.
And a really good time to say goodbye.
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