Meyer, Buckeyes an imperfect match

BY foxsports • May 31, 2011

Think of it this way, Buckeye fans, if Jim Tressel didn’t originally take the job, Glen Mason probably would’ve been the head man, we’d have had this Who’s Next conversation about seven years ago, and you wouldn’t have your 2002 national title tee-shirt to commemorate the fun – at least until a Buckeyes player was able to sell it.

There’s no reason to speculate on who’ll step in and take over when Luke Fickell’s time as the fill-in is done because there’s only one guy big enough, one figure large enough, one coach legendary enough to make all the recent evils go away. There’s only one coach who would not only keep the machine going, but be an upgrade over Tressel.

But since Woody Hayes is busy, it’ll be Urban Meyer or bust.

Of course, the big matzo ball hanging out there is the upcoming NCAA ruling, which will delay the process to find a new head coach and will most certainly play a role in anything Meyer might end up doing. It’ll be hard to throw in the “lack of institutional control” tag when the institution showed control, at least in theory, by punishing Tressel and helping to speed up the resignation process, but there will be major sanctions of some sort and the game changes if the NCAA decides to go with Reggie Bush-like punishments.

It’s just a guess, but unless there’s some really, really big Stanley McClover-becomes-credible shoe waiting to drop – and players getting cars doesn’t really qualify as an unknown skeleton at this point – Ohio State isn’t likely to get the USC treatment. There’s sure to be the always toothless vacated win “punishment,” and there will be some loss of scholarships, but considering the NCAA knew about the Tattoo Five shenanigans before the 2011 Sugar Bowl and didn’t do anything, and considering the OSU brass will argue that they cut out the cancer with Tressel gone, there probably won’t be a crippling enough sentence to deter any coach worthy of taking one of the biggest jobs in all of sports.

Even so, the NCAA isn’t meeting about OSU until mid-August, so it’ll be impossible to find the right guy until at least then since the big names will bow out if there’s a minimum three-year rebuilding plan attached to the job description.

As great a job as Ohio State is, it might be tough to get a Bo Pelini or a Bob Stoops or a Gary Pinkel without having at least a wink-wink agreement in the middle of the year, but even then the program is a year behind. Going with the hot FCS guy would be justifiable after it worked out – and it worked out before hiring Tressel out of Youngstown State – but that’ll be a tough sell with Meyer still in the picture. The job and the program are bigger now than they were ten years ago, and the plum gig can’t be handed over to a mere prospect, so forget about (insert the hot assistant name here).

No, Jon Gruden isn’t an option; his future is in the NFL. Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson are nothing more than names that get lazily thrown into every coaching search article because they’re supposed to want to move on to bigger and better things, even though they’ve adamantly said they’re not leaving their respective programs and they’re certainly not going to do it now with the payoff of huge conference moves coming up. The same goes for Kyle Whittingham, who isn’t going to bail on Utah now that it’s in the Pac-12.

So Ohio State will have a few choices. It might wait it out for a season with Fickell and then do a full scan for a head coach in January, like it said it will do. The plus is that the school will have the time to come up with the perfect fit and can do an exhaustive, proper search, but then the program will be hosed for a few years considering the 2012 recruiting season will be a waste.

Or OSU can wait until after the NCAA ruling comes out, have Meyer ready to go, and get the recruiting rolling while appeasing the Buckeye faithful by landing the whale. Meyer has already said he'll stay at ESPN and isn't pursuing any coaching possibilities, and OSU appears to be set for now, but give it time; the Tressel resignation is still too fresh.

2011 will probably be a lost year. With all the rumors and allegations swirling around, Terrelle Pryor is almost certainly done and Fickell won't be the head coach in 2012. However, unlike the USC situation, even if Ohio State takes a big hit from the NCAA, the talent is still going to be in place to win and win big next year with the right head coach in place. 2013 could be dominant with a bit more young depth to fill in the cracks. USC wasn't necessarily slipping, but it didn't have the talent when Lane Kiffin took over that it had in previous years under Pete Carroll. ext year, Ohio State's recent monster recruiting classes will start to mature, and even if a bowl game is out of the equation, 12-0 and the respect that comes with it will be possible, at least talent-wise.

Ohio State has to have some idea of who the coach will be to take advantage of the stocked shelves.

The program might be in a bit of a holding pattern a day after the storm, but expect the full focus to quickly shift from Tressel’s resignation, to the slew of slimy infractions that people are going to start spilling out, to speculation on the NCAA ruling, to the idea of Meyer being the main man. And why not?

Even when Tressel was at the height of his powers, it could’ve been argued that Meyer was one of the few head coaches in all of football the Buckeyes would’ve traded for. Tressel might have won a national title and might have kept the program in contention year after year after year, but Meyer is the type of coach who could’ve won the national title year after year after year in a Big Ten that’s far easier to navigate than the SEC.

Put an emphasis on the word could’ve.

Here’s the problem for Ohio State and the Urban Mania that’s about to strike; there's a chance he might not be Urban Meyer anymore.

Meyer taking over at Ohio State wouldn’t exactly be like Michael Jordan taking his talents to the Wizards, but he's not the 2008 version. Of course, résumé-wise, Meyer is a dream option with two national titles, the Ohio roots, the time spent at OSU as a graduate assistant, and the ability to not only load up on in-state recruits, but also hit the south where his name is still legendary. Remember, Florida was a player for recruits nationwide under Meyer, and as good as Ohio State has been under Tressel at bringing in top-shelf talent from across the country, the recruiting area expands even further under Meyer.

The problem is that Meyer now has baggage and question marks that weren’t there three years ago. For a guy who literally broke down under the weight of the Florida job, taking on Ohio State, which joins Notre Dame as one of two coaching jobs more pressure-packed than any in the SEC, the health issue could be a lingering issue.

Combine the ever-present brain cyst that reportedly gives him problems and gets aggravated under stress, the esophageal spasms suffered after the 2009 SEC Championship, and the fears of heart problems if those weren’t just spasms, and it’s not a given that Meyer will be the same let-it-rip recruiter and micromanager genius that took Florida to another level.

Health didn’t play a role on the recruiting trail when he returned from his first resignation from the Gator job, bringing in one of the nation’s best classes over the last 20 years, and the negative selling against him at Ohio State wouldn’t work; he's too good. However, Meyer was clearly off last year on the field as Florida went into a puzzling slide, while the joyless march of a painfully tight 2009 showed exactly how things might be with the Buckeyes when the pressure cooker and expectations are turned to high. No, it wasn’t just the loss of Tim Tebow that sped up the descent into mediocrity; Meyer was different.

He’s a major college football coach, so the prerequisite I’m-curing-cancer arrogance was always there, but it was excused because he was so brilliant at his craft. Like most superstar coaches he always had 27 things going on at once, but the difference was that he was able to do them all at the highest of levels. After the health scare and after the first retirement he became more paranoid – highlighted by the incident with the Orlando Sentinel’s Jeremy Fowler – and his normal gasbaggery was replaced by an insincerity that bordered on the strange. From his coaching to his interviews to the way he was conducting the program, the same confidence didn't appear to be there.

Ohio State is just getting over a coach who tried to hide the football program’s warts with a “but I’m a good guy,” façade, and Meyer, another coach who uses the words God and family way too easily whenever anyone dares to question his methods, has just as much of a believability problem, but in a different way.

Tressel micromanaged and tried unconvincingly to sell the world on the idea that he was always in the dark. Meyer micromanaged and tried unconvincingly to sell the world on the idea that everything was always fine. Will Muschamp is right now coaching a bunch of really, really good players who could've played anywhere but were sold on the idea that Urban Meyer would absolutely, positively still be the head football coach at the University of Florida by the time they graduated.

More troubling is the criminal issue due to a Father Flanagan act that didn’t work. Under Meyer's watch, over 30 players were arrested with more than a third of them committing felonies. At the end of the day, for all of Tressel’s sins, he’s done because he covered up for his players who apparently were trying to sell and trade anything and everything with an Ohio State logo. While there were legal issues from time to time, for the most part they didn’t compare to the problems Meyer had at Florida.

From Meyer's side, he might not be right man of the job because of the quality of life part of the equation. He's a terrific TV analyst who could be something truly special with a little bit of time. It’s early, and there’s always a chance he could go Dick Vitale and suggest that every head coach deserves an extension; or he could go Jon Gruden and make everyone his guy; or he could go Bob Knight and be neutered, but for the moment he’s phenomenal from a straight Xs and Os teaching standpoint.

He’s so good that if he decides he’s done coaching, and if he doesn’t worry about the occasional bridge being burned, he could be the biggest voice in college football and not in a goofy John Madden sort of way. Someone somewhere has to have considered the idea that a three-man booth of Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, and Meyer would be brilliant if everyone could stay in their lanes, but Meyer could also be just fine as a top studio analyst.

Meyer could take it easy, be a huge name in the game, have more family time while not dealing with the issues or the health scares that would likely come from being the head coach at Ohio State. Of course, simply being a talking head isn't going to happen because he's a football coach. Because he’s not a fit for the NFL, and because Notre Dame and Michigan are each set at coach for the next decade, and because Ohio State is the one big opening he’ll have a shot at, if he doesn’t take it he becomes Steve Spurrier, working at an above-average BCS program while wishing he was at someplace bigger. The timing is now, even if Ohio State isn't perfect and even if he isn't perfect, either.

No, Meyer might not be quite the same coach he used to be, and Ohio State might eventually be hamstrung by NCAA sanctions, and it might not be a rocky marriage, but who outside of Ann Arbor wouldn’t want to see them both give it a shot? It would be great theater if he stepped in, made the team his from Day One of the 2011 season – NCAA sanctions be damned – and declared that he was going to bring in multiple national titles to put his stamp on the already great program.

So go ahead, Urban. Leave ESPN. Take the sweater vest.

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