What Brought Urban Meyer Back?

Urban Meyer said he didn't expect to get back into coaching when he stepped down from the Florida job last winter, but he was announced as Ohio State's 24th head coach Monday. So what changed? A lot, as it turns out. Find out why Meyer said he decided to get back into the game -- and what his wife, Shelley, thinks -- in this piece.

In the span of just a few weeks, Urban Meyer went from college football's most famous retiree to head coach of the Ohio State football team.

It might sound like a whirlwind, but in fact, the return is something Meyer has been considering for months.

After coaching his last game at Florida last New Year's Day, Meyer spent the next few months traveling around the world with his family, watching his kids Nicky, Gigi and Nathan play sports, playing golf and doing the types of things a normal dad would do.

But the itch, clearly, never went away.

"I didn't realize I'd miss it so bad," he said. "I remember (wife) Shelley and I went for a walk one day, and I looked at her and I said, ‘I don't think I can do this.' She started rolling her eyes at me again. She's had to deal with me for 22 years, really 27 years.

"But I said I want to do this again. I had no idea thinking it was going to be in a year. Certainly Ohio State had a great football coach, great football program. If this was the one, then that would be the one."

As Meyer pointed out, there had to be a massive change on the Ohio State side of things as well, and that took place May 30 when Jim Tressel was forced to resign with the program facing major NCAA violations and a public relations nightmare.

The next step in the matter was the matter of both Urban's health and his promise to spend more time with his family.

The first warning something was originally wrong came after Florida fell to Alabama in the 2009 SEC title game. Three weeks after the loss, Meyer shocked the sport by announcing his resignation and admitting he had been checked into a Gainesville hospital after the Alabama game while suffering from stress-related chest pains known as esophageal spasms as well as headaches brought on by an arachnoid cyst.

However, just one day later, Meyer took back his resignation, turning it into a short leave of absence. He was back in time for spring football then piloted the team to a disappointing 8-5 season in 2010. At the end of the regular season, Meyer announced he was stepping down again, pointing to the lack of balance in his life.

Looking back on the situation, Meyer admitted he had let things get the better of him.

"I call it the pursuit of perfection," he said. "I think at the end of the day we all know there's no such thing. I fell victim to that. I've been to a place I'm not going to go back."

There were a number of reasons for Meyer's descent. The head coach mentioned he was dissatisfied with the state of college football during his tenure at Florida and said he tried to spend too much time dealing with issues he thought needed addressed at the NCAA level.

In addition, Shelley said the pressure brought on by two national championship wins in his first four seasons at UF was in many ways crushing.

"You've won two national championships; now what's good enough?" she said. "There's nothing ever good enough again. You have the fans on you, you have criticisms from the media, you're missing your family because you're pouring all of yourself into that job and you're not seeing your kids like you think you should."

Adding to the stress factor was the fact that a number of Meyer's most trusted assistants – including current head coaches Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) and Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Michigan assistant Greg Mattison – left for more high-profile jobs, leaving the coach feeling in some ways like he had to do it all.

"He was able to delegate early at Florida," Shelley said. "He had a great staff that he could do that with, and just some things happened and he just took on too much on his own.

"You lose some of your great coaches that went and became head coaches themselves. You know, when your core staff, that great staff, started to pull apart, then you don't have the trust with maybe some new guys that you have to hire. It was just a whole lot of things."

Those comments help paint a picture of why Meyer fell victim to burnout, so what will be different this time around? For one, Shelley said Urban has promised to be better at delegating this time around, while Meyer himself said he needs to stay in "center field" rather than veer off to the side and deal with things outside of his control like NCAA issues.

There is also the matter of keeping his personal life in check. To that end, Meyer said he feels he is in great health, and during his time off he met with coaches from around the country and found out some of the great ones were able to find a balance in their lives.

In addition, Nicki mailed the family residence a contract, written on pink paper, stipulating that Meyer must promise to keep himself in good health in order to return to coaching.

"This is a contract that my kids made me sign before I was allowed to sign a real contract," he said, removing the piece of paper from his pocket. "It's tougher than any other contract I've signed in my life."

In addition to agreeing to that deal, Meyer also had family discussions in which he assured his family he wouldn't relapse into the kind of condition he was in at the end of his Florida tenure.

"We had family discussions. We fired hard questions at him, even the kids, and at the end we all knew it was the right thing," Shelley said. "There's always concerns, but I'm feeling really confident that he knows exactly what he's doing, and he also told me, ‘I think you're going to be really proud of me.' I feel good about that."

All that is fine with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.

"We will make sure he has balance in his life," Smith said. "I think if you really listen to him, at the end of the day that's something that he needs, and I am one of those athletic directors that believes in that. I will work very hard to make sure he has balance. He'll definitely go see his daughters play volleyball. There will be no excuse.

"I've heard them all in my tenure about relative to why someone can't take a vacation. That's why they call it vacation. It's unacceptable. So I am pretty dogged on making sure that he has the balance that affords him the opportunity to lead our young men."

Those were all reasons Meyer was happy to answer the call when Smith dialed him, and there is precedent the plan will work. By all accounts, Meyer – while still intense – was able to have the necessary balance early in his career, and keeping Fickell on staff should provide him a trusted lieutenant to lean on.

In addition, coming home combined with a year of perspective should provide Meyer all the motivation he needs to get the job done in the right way this time around.

"I will be the same guy that I was the beginning of (Florida) tenure, and that was a guy that did have balance, a guy that took care of himself, a guy that did not try to get involved and change everything," he said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity; and if it was but for the coaching position at The Ohio State University, I would not have coached this coming year."

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