Meyer comes home as Buckeyes coach, looking like the right choice

by | CBSSports.com
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Ohio State swung for the fences and hit one out of the park. Wrong sport, but the analogy still applies to the hiring Monday of Ohio native Urban Meyer as the Buckeyes football coach.

Athletic director Gene Smith introduced Meyer as the school's 24th head coach on Monday. Meyer will replace Luke Fickell, who served as interim coach for six months after Jim Tressel was dismissed on May 30 in the midst of an NCAA investigation.

Fickell will remain as coach through a possible bowl game and then serve permanently on Meyer's staff in an unnamed capacity. Meyer will recruit and construct a staff during bowl preparations but won't be involved in any on-field coaching.

The Gator Bowl is courting the Buckeyes for a possible matchup with Florida on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla., pitting Meyer's former and current teams.

Meyer, 47, agreed to a six-year contract with various incentive clauses bringing its value to $24 million. Fickell made $775,000 this year and reportedly was told he'll remain at that salary.

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"In my eyes, it's a home run," said Chris Spielman, a former Ohio State linebacker who worked with Meyer as a broadcast partner with ESPN this season. Meyer appears to be a perfect fit in every sense. At a news conference Monday afternoon, he expressed his fondness for former OSU coach and mentor Earle Bruce, his admiration for Woody Hayes and his respect for high school football in the state. He said all the right things.

For Meyer, the move feels as though he's "coming home." He grew up along Lake Erie in Ashtabula, Ohio, graduated from the University of Cincinnati, worked as a graduate assistant at Ohio State under then-coach Earle Bruce in the 1980s and received his head-coaching baptism at Bowling Green, where he posted a 17-6 record in 2001-02.

He moved on to Utah and led the Utes to a 22-2 record in two seasons, including a 12-0 mark in 2004 and national coach of the year honors, before taking the job at Florida.

With the Gators, Meyer reached coaching super-stardom, winning two BCS championships. One of those came courtesy of a 41-14 victory over Ohio State in 2007.

Meyer briefly resigned at Florida after the 2009 season for health reasons and stepped away again in 2010, also citing health concerns and his desire to spend more time with his family.

His coaching hiatus lasted one season.

His wife and kids signed off on their own family contract to permit him to return to his passion and profession at Ohio State.

His wife, Shelley, also an Ohio native, and teenage son Nate accompanied him to Columbus on Tuesday. He also has two daughters who play volleyball at Georgia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast University.

Meyer stressed that he'll be better able to balance work and life outside the office in such a high-pressure position.

"My health is in good shape," he said. "I've been checked out over and over again. I feel fantastic. And I'm ready to go."

Meyer indicated that he wouldn't have left ESPN for any other job.

"If it was but for the coaching position at the Ohio State University, I would not have coached this coming year," said Meyer, whose career record is 104-23.

"A year ago, in my mind, I was convinced I was done coaching. I was concerned with health issues. Family. I just wanted to be around them. Also, I didn't like the state of college football. A lot of stuff was going on. And I just didn't want to be a part of that."

Spielman saw Meyer's passion for Ohio State during ESPN's telecast of the season opener against Akron when Meyer watched the marching band enter Ohio Stadium.

"I saw tears in his eyes," Spielman said.

And Tuesday, Meyer admitted that he snuck out of the locker room while he was a graduate assistant on Bruce's staff to watch the band enter the stadium.

Smith contacted Meyer on Nov. 20 about his interest, took a slate of possible candidates to a search committee and then interviewed him Nov. 23. Meyer was offered the job Monday and accepted Tuesday morning. Smith and the committee didn't formally interview any other coaches.

"He is without a shadow of a doubt one of the premier leaders in football," Smith said. "He gets it. This is the right time for Urban Meyer to lead our football program."

Smith also paid tribute to Fickell for guiding the program through a difficult regular season that ended with the first loss to Michigan since 2003 and a 6-6 record, pending a bowl game.

"Luke and his staff took on an unbelievable challenge to lead this football program through this particular year at this particular time and we all saw it on the field of play," Smith said.

Meyer will have his work cut out with the NCAA sanctions and the potential impact.

"I don't think Ohio State's broke," he said. "There were some obvious mistakes made, mistakes that are very correctable."

Meyer met with the team on Monday and later was asked about the potential of freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, given Meyer's history of developing Josh Harris at Bowling Green, Alex Smith at Utah, and Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida.

"To tell you I'm excited to coach him, I'm not using the correct adjectives," Meyer said. "And because there's mixed company around I'm not going to use the correct adjectives, how excited I am.

"So I think you get it, right? Really excited."

The excitement around campus and even the state is palpable. Social media was going crazy with news of the hiring. Even Gov. John Kasich tweeted, "Excited to welcome Urban Meyer home to OSU, and so very proud of coach Fickell and his work to keep the team together."

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