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'God has a plan': Ohio State's Urban Meyer wrestled with decision to retire

Angelique S. Chengelis
Associated Press
Urban Meyer answers questions during a news conference announcing his retirement Tuesday.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer appeared upbeat as he spoke of his retirement from coaching and said he hopes to remain with the program in some capacity.

The 54-year-old Meyer, who won three national championships, including one with Ohio State which he has coached the last seven seasons, revealed his decision to retire Tuesday at a news conference.

Ryan Day, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach during his two seasons with the Buckeyes, will take over as head coach on Jan. 2, a day after the Buckeyes face Washington in the Rose Bowl.

Day, 39, coached the Buckeyes the first three games this fall and went 3-0 while Meyer was suspended for his handling of domestic violence allegations against his then assistant coach Zach Smith, whom he had fired before the start of the season.

His contract will be for five years at $4.5 million per season, according to the Columbus Dispatch. This year, Meyer signed a contract extension through 2022 and made $7.6 million this term.

Meyer has dealt with health issues, most recently an aggravated condition stemming from an arachnoid cyst on his brain that has triggered headaches.  This was first diagnosed in 1998, and he underwent surgery in 2014 to remove fluid from the cyst. He complained this season of severe headaches.

He led the Buckeyes to a 12-1 record this season, including a Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl. He was 7-0 against rival Michigan during his career. Meyer was asked at the news conference if he believes he will not coach again and offered a response open to interpretation.

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“I believe I will not coach again,” Meyer said.

Asked if he was fairly certain about that, Meyer replied, “I’m certain, yes.”

Earlier in the news conference, he was asked when it became clear it was time to retire, whether he’s at peace with that decision and if his coaching career was truly over.

“It’s a complicated question and I’ll try to answer it the best I can,” said Meyer, who won two national titles while coaching at Florida, a program he left because of health issues. “This is home. This is where I grew up. It’s not healthy, but I came to work every day with fear of letting people like Archie Griffin and our great state of Ohio and this incredible university down because this is home. We have the best fans in the land, and I didn’t want to let them down.”

He then discussed his surgery in 2014 and that he started to have “issues” last year because of the cyst and the effect of stress on the condition.

Meyer was criticized early in the season for his handling of Smith, who had been accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife. Meyer had said he kept Smith on staff because no criminal charges were filed, but also said he knew about the accusations and wasn’t certain they were true. Following an investigation by Ohio State, Meyer was suspended three games and Day became interim head coach.

Day led the Buckeyes to a 3-0 record and this season helped guide the offense ranked No. 2 nationally. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a Heisman Trophy finalist, is No. 1 nationally in passing yards and No. 2 in passing per game under Day’s tutelage.

“In trying to build the most comprehensive premiere program in America, you also want to hand it off to someone at some point so it can get even stronger,” Meyer said Tuesday. “My witnessing of the work Ryan has done made this decision not as difficult as I thought.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Meyer’s “presence” elevated the Big Ten conference.

“We knew Urban was going to be a game-changer,” Smith said. “His command of football strategy is second to none.”

Meyer has gone 82-9 through seven seasons with the Buckeyes, including a 2014 national championship. Ohio State was 54-4 during the regular season under Meyer. He is 186-32 overall.

He said coming to this decision was difficult.

“I can’t tell you the exact time,” he said. “Walking off the stadium against our rival (Michigan) in that last game, things started to cross my mind. Going into Indianapolis (for the Big Ten championship) started to cross my mind. I wanted to go longer. The thing that really started to make things, when recruits started to ask me, ‘Will you be here four, five years. Recruits I’m very close with. That’s what made it now.”

In this Dec. 6, 2014 photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer runs onto the field with his team at the start of the Big Ten Conference championship game against Wisconsin.

Smith said he considered a national search to find Meyer’s replacement, but he was immediately drawn back to Day.

“It’s rare you have the opportunity to create a succession plan where you have the right person in place,” Smith said. “We recognized the talent Ryan Day had early. I spent a great deal of time getting to know him. Did that this summer. We met in my office in the summertime and spent some quality time getting to know one another.

“He had an opportunity to audition in a different way. Not relative to the winning on the field but how he mastered leading not just the football staff but everyone else around it. This is a complex place, so having someone be able to continue the stability and consistency we have was important to me. I didn’t feel I needed to conduct a public national search.”

Day said all of this transpired “really, really fast.”

“Very humble to be taking over for coach Meyer,” Day said. “The footprint that he’s left here and infrastructure is strong. Knowing that and being here for two years and seeing exactly how it’s been done gives me great confidence.

“Walking in those shoes during the beginning of the year, during that time I took a step away from just working with the offense and the Xs and Os and took a wider step back and looked at the leadership role and what it means to be the head coach at Ohio State and understand what Gene spoke of. I’ve walked in those shoes, had a chance to experience that, so I’m excited and confident about it.”

With the early signing period beginning Dec. 19, Day will go on the road, but Meyer said he will stay back and be available for recruits if they want to talk.

Smith mentioned several times that Meyer will work in a “new capacity” at Ohio State, but that was not made clear.

“God has a plan,” Meyer said. “I’m not quite sure what that is. I hope to stay involved.”


Twitter: @chengelis