Some Buckeyes were caught off guard by Urban Meyer’s announcement he will retire from coaching Ohio State after the Rose Bowl.
Others not so much.
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Robert Landers said the Dec. 4 announcement, “was kind of out of nowhere,” and Chris Olave recalled having no idea what was in store when the team gathered at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for an early-morning meeting.
“It was a surprise team meeting, and we were supposed to talk about the bowl schedule,” Olave said. “And we all came in, it was like 7 a.m., team meeting was at like 7:15, so we all went in there and he announced it.
“We were all shocked.”
However, Davon Hamilton had his suspicions.
“I kind of knew it was coming as well,” the defensive tackle said. “Throughout the season, he’s just not himself from where he was before. I wasn’t very surprised by it.”
But if Hamilton had an inkling, Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin had full-blown suspicions.
Then again, the senior receivers also had inside information as the coach had already confided in them about the dilemma he was facing.
He wanted to continue his life’s work, but a recurrence of headaches from a cyst on his brain made doing so the way he wants to nearly unbearable at times.
“He actually pulled me and Terry in the previous day before he announced it to the team,” Campbell said. “We just had a real conversation, probably about an hour and a half. My initial reaction was that I wasn’t really that surprised just because of all the things he’s been through, not just this season but previous seasons with those headaches and all the things he has been dealing with.
“To have a dramatic season like we just had, something like that takes a toll on a person. He was thinking about his children, his grandchildren and being in their lives. I wasn’t that surprised. My relationship with Coach Meyer is one of the strongest on the team. I kind of know him like the back of my hand. I know when he’s having off days or he’s not himself. There have been practices where he and I have had conversations about the headaches and all the stuff going on in his head.”
Campbell could tell Meyer was dealing with something.
“I could just see it in his face, see it in his eyes,” Campbell said. “Something like that is very serious. As he has mentioned before, it is not like it is your knee or your back or elbow or something. It’s his brain.”
However, neither was certain what Meyer had decided when he called that meeting.
“I didn’t think he was going to announce it,” McLaurin said. “I thought he had maybe another year or so, but that next day, he told the team, and me and Parris were looking at each other like, this is for real.”
McLaurin said Meyer had sought their opinions on what he should do next and made a decision consistent with the values he’s preached to them.
“First and foremost his health was his biggest concern,” the senior from Indiana said. “He’s always preached to us his family and us, that’s really all he has going in his life. That’s all he cares about, and when something like his health is affecting the way he can coach and how intensive he is, he probably just felt like he couldn’t give it his all anymore.”
No hard feelings
A week passed between the time Meyer announced he would be passing the reins of the program to offensive coordinator Ryan Day and the first press availability for Ohio State players.
Having had time for the news to sink in, all seemed to understand Meyer’s decision.
“It’s just one of those things, man,” said Landers, a junior defensive tackle who went to Wayne High School. “He’s gotta do what’s best for him. We appreciate him for everything he’s done here and the template that he’s put together for Coach Day and the culture and tradition he’s built here. It’s just one of those things where I’m proud of everything he’s done. I appreciate him for everything he’s done and I couldn’t ask for a better coach and a better person to go through my first four years here with.”
Landers was among those to say nothing had really changed yet within the program. Meyer is still in the building, still pushing the players to become the best version of themselves.
“You mess up, he’s gonna tell you about it, so nothing has changed,” Landers said with a chuckle. “I feel that’s a part of what Coach Meyer is. He’s naturally a competitor. Stepping out is one of the hardest things he’s had to do, and while he’s still here in the facility, he’s not gonna change. It’s in his nature. He couldn’t help it if he wanted to.”
Some have seen a weight lifted off Meyer’s shoulders, though.
“I feel like he’s less stressed now,” Hamilton said. “Obviously, football is a very stressful thing that you would play or coach, so I hope he’s going to be happier and able to get his health together when he leaves.”
Senior right tackle Isaiah Prince laughed when asked if he has noticed Meyer smiling more.
“Usually Coach Meyer is really tough on us,” he said. “It brings the best out of us, but lately it is good to just see him smile and joke around and everything is not always about football. You get to enjoy him kind of like a father figure, just enjoy having normal conversations and see a different side of him.”
What made Urban Meyer... Urban Meyer?
The players all expressed gratitude for getting to be coached by Meyer — and provided their view of what made him such a success over 17 seasons as a head coach.
“It’s because he doesn’t let anything slip,” safety Jordan Fuller said. “Coming in as a freshman, you realize pretty quick that if you don’t run through a line all the way it’s the biggest deal in the world. If you don’t do a rep right, it’s the biggest thing in the world. All of the little things we try and take care of.
“That’s the best way to explain it for us as a full program.”
Meyer has won more than 90 percent of his games at Ohio State (82-9), three Big Ten championships and a national title.
Including stops at Bowling Green and Florida, Meyer is 186-32.
He also won a pair of national championships with the Gators.
Campbell said Meyer is a motivator first and foremost.
“He makes the purpose of why you’re here and what you need to do very clear. There is no confusion,” Campbell said. “I think that is the No. 1 thing because a player who is confused is not good at all. He just makes things very clear cut and what you need to do. I think that is a huge part of it.”
Next is Meyer’s ability to connect with players.
“I’m sure he has relationships from years ago that are still strong to this day,” Campbell said. “People just gravitate to that. He loves his guys and we love him.”
Meyer also has a way of making winning contagious.
“He is just a competitive person,” Prince said. “He wants to win and be the best at everything. It is family oriented around here, if you have to do something for one of your family members, you would probably do it to the best of your ability, no matter what the task was. I think he gets us all to buy into that belief. That is how he gets us to win games.”
More than anything, though, the key to Meyer’s success also seems to be attention to detail. That demand for perfection turned out to be a blessing and a curse. While it fueled his success, it also made coaching at his preferred pace unsustainable.
“He doesn’t leave any stone unturned, and he’s a master at motivating guys to come out and do their jobs,” McLaurin said. “He really makes sure you’re prepared from the way you line up to your first step. Everything is in a row and he wants to make it so that all you’ve got to do is worry about going fast. He doesn’t want you thinking too much.
“The way we practice, the way we prepare sets us up to play fast on Saturdays, and I feel like that really sets us apart because when you’re out there, you’re not really thinking too much. He puts all the preparation and he makes sure we prepare all the way up to the game and then it’s about adjustments from there.”
Then of course there is Meyer’s trademark intensity, a level of caring that was evident every time his team took the field.
“I mean a lot of people are highlighting that he’s been in anguish on the sideline and he’s always been like that,” McLaurin said. “Every play is almost like a life or death play. It’s part of the game that he clings to. That part he brings to the game is like no other.”