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Former Buckeye football greats reflect on Urban Meyer’s tenure at OSU

Former Ohio State University football standouts Keith Byars and Jeff Graham both labeled Urban Meyer a good fit for OSU football. Byars said Meyer separated himself from other Buckeyes coaches.

“Urban is the first coach since I don’t know when who got to leave Ohio State on his own terms,” said Byars, a Roth High School product who starred at OSU for then-coach Earle Bruce in the mid-1980s and then in the NFL.

“Woody (Hayes) didn’t get to leave on his own terms. Earle Bruce didn’t. (Jim) Tressel didn’t. (John) Cooper didn’t. To get to go out on your own terms, when is the right time?”

»» RELATED: Meyer on leaving, “it’s very difficult”

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Meyer announced on Tuesday he would retire after seven seasons as the Buckeyes’ coach following the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl against Washington. He’ll be succeeded by OSU offensive coordinator Ryan Day.

Among those former OSU head coaches Byars listed, only Tressel wasn’t fired: He resigned amid an NCAA investigation into improper player benefits during the 2010 season.

Buckeye football roots run deep among the area’s historically best high school players who extended their careers at Columbus.

»» RELATED: Urban Meyer makes announcement

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There are five area products on the OSU roster this season: senior tight end Derrick Malone (Thurgood Marshall), junior defensive lineman Robert Landers (Wayne), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Josh Myers (Miamisburg), freshman receiver L’Christian “Blue” Smith (Wayne) and freshman linebacker Ben Schmiesing (Piqua).

Byars had headliner success for Bruce from 1982-85. His program impact was equal to that of Heisman Trophy runner-up Bob Ferguson of Troy (1959-61).

“I’m happy for (Meyer),” said Byars, whose position coach was Tressel when Byars finished second in the 1984 Heisman voting after winner Doug Flutie of Boston College beat Miami on a famous last-second Hail Mary pass. “The program is in good shape. It’s in better shape today than it was when he took over.

»» RELATED: How does Meyer compare to other OSU coaches?

“He’s an Ohioan. I think that’s one of the requirements for the job. He won a national championship (2015). He definitely was a good fit. He got the tradition. He got everything. He respected it. When is the right time to leave Ohio State? I don’t know. I’m sure his health is going to be a factor.”

Graham, Trotwood-Madison’s head football coach, was a receiver at OSU from 1988-90 and like Byars also had a long NFL career. Graham was wooed at Alter by Tressel, the recruiting coordinator for Bruce in 1987. Graham recalled Meyer as a Buckeyes graduate assistant.

“We can only speculate, but we have to think that was best for him and the Ohio State family,” Graham said. “I thought that once Urban served his suspension it would rejuvenate him as far having a chance to get away from the game for a while. It also gives you a chance to think about other things.”

»» RELATED: Highlights from Meyer’s coaching career

Graham said Meyer visited Trotwood during its state-title runs to wish the Rams luck and take a close-up look at possible recruits. That’s a common occurrence at the football and boys basketball state power. Football coaches from West Virginia, Bowling Green, Georgetown (D.C.), Tiffin, Thomas More (Ky.) and Duke huddled with Graham at the school on Tuesday. Pitt will be there on Wednesday.

“He was a great fit,” Graham said of Meyer. “He knew the lay of the land for Ohio State and what football in the whole state really meant. We’re tops in the country as far as having recruits and athletes and players that go to Ohio State. I’m sure he thought it was a good decision for him and his family and his health.”

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Alter football coach Ed Domsitz was Graham’s coach in high school. Domsitz finished his 44th season as a head coach by leading the Knights to a Division III state runner-up last weekend at Canton.

“The man is a terrific coach, but this year he has looked tortured on the sidelines,” Domsitz said of Meyer. “The pressure to win every game at Ohio State must be staggering. I wish him the best. This will be a difficult act to follow. As an alum I am hoping the new coach can continue the amazing success we have experienced under coach Meyer.”

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