COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer was ready to retire and step down from coaching the Ohio State football program.
There wasn’t necessarily a precise moment when he knew he was ready, but by Monday he had come to terms with his decision.
While his health played a huge part in his overall decision to retire this year, the timing of the early signing date for recruits was what pushed him to make the decision at this time. He didn’t want to leave his future up in the air because it wouldn’t be fair to the recruits who will be able to sign on the early signing day later this month.
“I can’t tell you the exact time…walking off the stadium against our rival in that last game, things started to cross my mind. Going into Indianapolis, started to cross my mind. I wanted to go longer,” Meyer said. “The thing that really started to make things, when recruits started asking me, will you be here for four or five years…recruits I’m very close with.”
Meyer had conversations with senior captain wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell, as well as recruits on Monday night to gauge how they would handle it. Athletic director Gene Smith gave him until Tuesday morning to decide.
“I walked into his office this morning and he was sitting at his desk,” Smith said. “And I stood before him and we looked at each other in the eye and I said it in a different way than I’m going to say it right now. I said, ‘If you want to stop this thing, I’ll pull the plug right now.’ I articulated it a little differently. But at that moment — actually, yesterday I knew.”
Meyer has had constant conversations with Smith throughout the process, beginning earlier in the season. Smith has been fully aware of everything that Meyer has been dealing with, as early as 2014.
The first time Meyer thought about retiring was last season, when he had serious conversations with his doctors about longevity. There were conversations back in 2014 when he had the surgery on his arachnoid cyst. But after fine ‘15 and ‘16 seasons, the problems began to reoccur in 2017.
“More specific was Penn State a year ago. It hit real hard,” Meyer said. “And we have a great medical team that was over the top trying to help me through it. I was on medicine and all that. But we had conversations back then about longevity and the seriousness of it. Because, as they said, it’s not your elbow or your foot. We’re talking about something else.”
With knowing of the challenges the 2017 season brought him, Meyer said that there was another conversation before the season this year about potentially making a head coaching change.
“I met with Gene and I knew that this isn’t something I’m going to do for the next 15 years, 10 years,” he said. “I knew after the experiences I had on the sideline again and in 2014, just dealing with the headaches, that I wanted to do Ohio State right and Gene Smith right.”
In January of last year, Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day had head coaching offers. This also played a role in Meyer’s decision to retire this year. In knowing that he wouldn’t be here much longer, part of the push was to keep Day around.
Meyer said that he feels good about his decision knowing that Ryan Day is taking over. But had Meyer stayed, it would have been a hard job convincing Day to stay at Ohio State in exchange for a head coaching job elsewhere. Without Day in the picture, this decision would have looked a lot different.
“I hired Ryan Day because I thought he was a very good coach,” Meyer said. “I knew he was. He was with me before. What I found out was that he’s far past those thoughts. He’s elite.
“A head coach position, as I’ve learned over the last 17 years, is very complicated. It’s management of people. The one piece of advice I give coaches all the time — and Ryan, I see it with him, and Gene and I have discussed this — this is why I think Gene Smith is as good as there is — you have to have genuine love and care for that student-athlete. And I underline genuine. It can’t be ‘No. 78.’ It can’t be ‘that guy.’ It’s got to be his first name, his last name, where he’s from, his sister, his brother, and what he does after his football career is over.
“Once those players know that you have that genuine love and care for them they’ll move mountains for you. And I saw that with Ryan Day.”