Before taking the Ohio State job, Urban Meyer vowed to address his workaholic nature that led to stress-related symptoms and burnout at Florida and forced him to resign in 2011.
After enduring chest pains for three years, Meyer collapsed at his home one night, leading to a frantic 911 call by his wife. He learned later he was having esophageal spasms, not a heart attack, but the experience was sobering enough that Meyer knew he’d have to change his ways if he ever wanted to get back into coaching.
His plight is a common one. Two NFL coaches have had health issues in the last week that have sent them to the sidelines.
Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, 52, collapsed while leaving the field at halftime of Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He’s recovering from a transient ischemic attack, commonly referred to as a mini-stroke.
Denver Broncos coach John Fox, 58, will miss several weeks after undergoing an aortic valve replacement. He knew he had a heart condition but tried to put off surgery until the offseason. But he became dizzy while playing golf during the Broncos bye week, and doctors told him the procedure couldn’t wait.
“That’s a daily battle with me,” the 49-year-old Meyer said about not getting consumed with work. “I completely let it go at one point. And every time I hear something like that, I pray for their family and the coach.
“It’s something you’ve got to constantly watch. I’ve sought counsel from guys I’ve got great respect for, and the bottom line from everything that comes back is just keeping things in order as far as balance.
“There are so many hours you can put into this job. And I can speak on behalf of myself and our staff that we, at times, tried to overcome any issues we had (on the field) with just spending more time in the office, spending more time at work.”
Long hours may be a badge of honor for some coaches, but Meyer is no longer proud of that.
His family wouldn’t allow him to take over the Buckeyes in 2012 without agreeing to being committed to his physical and emotional health. Asked how he’d grade himself on that pledge, he replied: “I’d say a B. It’s been pretty good. I have some things around my office that remind me to get out of here and do the right thing.”
Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton has spent six years working for Meyer, including four at Florida, and has seen how driven he can be. But Drayton believes Meyer is a changed man.
“One thing I’ve noticed primarily is he’s a lot more spiritually aware,” Drayton said. “Every morning, he’s on his computer reading Scripture. We have our coaches Bible study, which is voluntary, and he’s constantly there. I can just hear and see that it’s a part of his life, that he’s gotten much more focused in on that.”
Drayton added: “When it’s time to get out of here, in the past, he didn’t. Now, he’s getting out of here when the time allows, and he’s delegating more to his coaching staff. There’s a huge difference from Florida to Ohio State right now, and it’s really neat to see.”
College football coaches have a few weeks off in the summer and perhaps a short break before and after spring practice and during Christmas. But they’re constantly on call, knowing they could be needed at any time to deal with a player issue.
“It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job,” Drayton said. “Our families — my wife — is involved with these running backs. The job never stops. From that respect it’s tough to find a balance.
“It’s not for everybody. You’ve got to really love kids. You’ve got to really love what you’re doing. And you’d better have a strong wife at home.”
No job hunting: Meyer dismissed media reports that co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell interviewed for the vacant Florida Atlantic head coaching job.
The current FAU athletic director is a former OSU staffer, Pat Chun, which is partly why Fickell is seen as a logical candidate.
But when asked about the proper protocol, Meyer said: “The AD calls the head football coach. The assistant comes in and says, ‘They have an interest in me, when would be the right time?’ My answer is, ‘Don’t do anything to disrupt this team.’ I get the whole thing. But there’s absolutely no interviewing going on during this time. No chance.”
Getting better: Right tackle Taylor Decker is recovering from a sprained knee ligament suffered in the third quarter of the Purdue game. He was the only starter on the field at the time, and Meyer said they wanted the sophomore to get some extra work.
But when Decker went down, Meyer said: “You should have heard (O-line coach Ed) Warinner. It was like someone shot him: ‘Oh, my gosh!’ “
Meyer said he’s certain Decker will be ready for the Illinois game.
Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at Illinois (3-5, 0-4), Nov. 16, TBA