Whoever said you can’t go home again probably told Urban Meyer “no” once when a job was offered to him as well.
Thomas Wolfe may have written an entire novel on the trials of returning home, but Taver Johnson has been living it for the past six years.
When Meyer took the Ohio State job, his intentions were to retain Luke Fickell as defensive coordinator and Johnson as cornerbacks coach. Both had been successful in those roles in the past and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t continue.
The only problem, however, was that Johnson felt it was time to move on and take his next step on his coaching journey.
“That’s always the No. 1 question, ‘What made you leave?’” Johnson said this week. “At that time, I felt like I just needed to venture out into the profession. When you go through different stages and are trying to get to a different stage, at that point in my career that’s what I felt. Was it right, was it wrong? It was a great learning experience.
“I wouldn’t take it away for anything in the world, even though we had some bumps and bruises. But that’s what allowed me to continue on in my career and actually get back here at this point in time. I’m very thankful for that. I really am.”
Johnson left OSU and went to Arkansas as the linebackers coach and assistant head coach under Bobby Petrino. Petrino was fired prior to the 2012 season and John L. Smith stepped in as the head coach. Bret Bielema was then hired prior to the 2013 season. Johnson spent one season under Bielema before leaving for Purdue where he spent three years as the cornerbacks coach under Darrell Hazell.
Hazell was fired after the 2016 season and Johnson was soon named the defensive coordinator at Temple for the 2017 season.
It has been a wild ride for Johnson, but when he saw an opportunity to get back to Ohio State, he did everything he could to make it a reality.
“Crazy process. When things happen, you kind of go through that hope stage,” he said. “Having some familiarity with the guys on the staff, and then you have to go and attack and do everything you can to make it happen and get yourself in a better position. When Coach gave me a call, again I was surprised because all you may do and all the help you may get, you never know until the end. But it happened and I couldn’t be more excited.”
There was certainly a part of Johnson that thought a return would never happen, which is why there was some surprise when he got the call.
“Kind of yes and no,” he said of being surprised. “Coach Meyer and I have known each other for over 20 years. He knew that it was not personal whatsoever. When I left it wasn’t on bad terms. But again, when you tell coach Meyer no, that’s always a tough thing because I know what type of person he is, as well as coach, so that was tough. But also, I think just going back and having a friendship that we believe in the same things. When the opportunity came about, I was thankful for that.”
Johnson returns to Ohio State with more coaching experience, as well as experiences, so he chooses not to look at his path as one with regret.
And why should he? As a cornerbacks coach, he teaches his players to have a short memory, so he is only following the same teaching he gives to his players on a daily basis.
“Do you go through that phase? Not really, because you try to tell the players don’t have any regrets,” he said. “Don’t have things that get to you. More importantly I was ecstatic because I know the kids. I knew everyone in the administration.
“Coach Meyer, I’ve always been a big fan of his. So again, I grew up in Cincinnati, I grew up a Buckeye. I always rooted for them regardless. To see all the success that has happened, I was really excited.”