Senior College Football Columnist

With normal life in his hands, career coach Meyer has relapse


That day at Michigan State, Urban Meyer couldn't have been happier. He spoke ebulliently of his life -- watching his kids' games during the week, talking about college football for ESPN during the weekend.

Meyer actually came out of the ESPN announcers' booth that day to chat. No police escorts, no denials -- or hint -- of his next job location. His health had improved. He was proud of saying he had gained 22 pounds. The man looked ready to live, instead of just survive the weekly rigors coaching at the highest level of college football.

The bad things were far away. There was a reconnection. Daughter Gigi at Florida Gulf Coast University playing volleyball. Son Nate playing travel baseball. Daughter Nicki at Georgia Tech. In those moments he was nothing more than a proud -- maybe even bragging -- parent.

It was the perfect balance to a perfect life.

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For the fourth time in less than two years, Meyer has reconfigured that life by accepting the Ohio State job. On Dec. 26, 2009, he shocked the sports' world by resigning at Florida. That was it. Family and health were too important. Five of the most successful years in the history of the program were over.

Then they weren't, exactly. Less than 24 hours later, that resignation turned into a leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio became acting coach, but pretty soon Meyer was around the program again. In a couple of months, Florida was functioning like Meyer had never said anything the day after Christmas.

Less than a year later, on Dec. 8, 2010, Meyer resigned again. Essentially the same reasons. This time the program he built was a bit shaken after an 8-5 season, so it seemed like a good time.

Soon, that reconnection to this family turned into a gig at ESPN. It wasn't the grind of coaching, but it wasn't weekends with the family either. Fast forward to that scene outside that press box in mid-October at Michigan State. The man seemed happy, serene with an asterisk.

I'd like to get back into coaching someday, he said.

Someday was Monday, less than a year after resigning at Florida. Meyer is Ohio State's new coach to the surprise of only some monks in a Himalayan monastery that gets supplies air-dropped once a week. When word started to leak that the Ohio State was his, there was a collective rolling of eyes across the nation by those of us who claim to know a little about the man.

What had changed this time? The intervals between decisions keep getting shorter but the drive remains the same. The man has to coach football, whether it's to prove something to himself or maybe everyone. He has to coach, and that's it.

Is his health better? It may be now, but how will serving the cloying Ohio State faithful affect him? The man had to deal with crippling esophageal spasms. There are arachnoid cysts that have caused Meyer severe headaches for years. Just a guess, but coaching at Ohio State isn't going to help those afflictions.

There is talk that Meyer has learned how to delegate, to sit back and let his coaches do the job. But it's hard to discern if the words "laid back" and "Ohio State" have ever been used in the sentence. Columbus is a football fish bowl -- a great town coated with a scarlet-and-gray obsession. In that sense, it is no different than Lincoln, Tuscaloosa or even State College.

In fact, it may be worse. What does it say when favorite son Kirk Herbstreit felt compelled to move away to Nashville?

It's strange that less than a year after its life was altered, Ohio State in late November 2011 looks a lot like Ohio State in late December 2010 when Tattoogate broke. The program, the university, the town and the coach are chasing the football high that must be satisfied.

A program about to go on probation for essentially winning the 2010 Big Ten title with ineligible players, is back on top before the NCAA penalties have even been delivered. The coach is making more than $5 million a year, twice what Jim Tressel made. The sitting AD and president who allowed the wrongdoing to happen -- and reacted excruciatingly slowly after it -- still have their jobs.

So, no, the pace of life for Meyer won't be slower with the Buckeyes. The perfect balance to the perfect life has been replaced by the perfect man for the perfect job. You can't blame him for taking it. Ohio State football will be better because of Meyer.

But will Meyer be better, health-wise? Will there be peace of mind? He has been a vocal crusader for coaching ethics. He loudly criticized the culture in the SEC. Notice that no one has had any ammunition to shoot back at him. If the only thing that sticks is those 30 arrests in six years, well, those aren't NCAA violations, and that's a huge plus for Ohio State. The program has been charged by the NCAA with "failure to monitor," with two notices of allegations to its name, with at least once former booster run amok.

The change will have to come from within for Meyer because the climate isn't going to change around him.

The man has been wildly successful, but there was a price. Instead of winning, those victorious Saturdays came to feel like not losing. For a few brief hours, the landlord had been kept from the doorstep wanting the overdue rent. Too often that rent took the form of Urban Meyer's health.

A massive football factory has the perfect football coach, but there should be the one nagging thought: If coaching is your obsession to the point that your body protests, Ohio State might not be the perfect place you go to get well.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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