Now A Buckeye, Meyer Grew Up A Bearcat

Long before he was one of the most successful college coaches in the nation, Ohio State's Urban Meyer was a back-up defensive back and fraternity member at the University of Cincinnati. With the Buckeyes and Bearcats set to square off this weekend, BSB takes a look at Meyer's ties to his alma mater and what he was like in his college days.

There’s a famous story about Urban Meyer that makes it seem like he was ordained to become the head coach at Ohio State from the time he was a standout athlete at Ashtabula St. John High School in the northeast corner of the state.

Meyer grew up enthralled with the noted leadership of Hall of Fame head coach Woody Hayes, and while suiting up for the Heralds football team, Meyer wore the No. 45 of another legendary Buckeye, Archie Griffin.

So when Meyer was hired to lead the Buckeyes in late November 2011, it seemed like a fairytale come true – the state’s legendary program matched up with a two-time national championship head coach who grew up loving the scarlet and gray.

“It’s great to be back home,” Meyer said when he was hired. “At the end of the day, to tell you we’re excited to be back, once again, is not a strong enough statement. We’re grateful to be welcomed back home.”

But there’s another university that is close to the heart of not just Meyer but his entire family, as Urban Frank Meyer III is a third-generation Cincinnati Bearcat.

His grandfather Urban taught traffic law at UC, and his father, Urban “Bud” Meyer Jr., graduated from the school’s College of Engineering in 1957. His older sister, Gigi Meyer Escoe, earned an undergraduate degree from UC in 1983 and has worked for the university since 1991, rising to the post of vice provost for undergraduate affairs. Meyer’s younger sister, Erika Meyer Judd, earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees at UC as well.

And Meyer himself graduated from the school with a bachelor’s degree in arts and sciences in 1986. While at UC, he played on the football team, serving as a backup safety and a holder on extra points.

As such, the ties between the Meyers and the University of Cincinnati – which is the next challenge on Ohio State’s schedule, as the meeting in the Horseshoe will kick off Saturday at 6 p.m. – are strong.

“I love Cincinnati,” Meyer said last week on his radio call-in show. “My sister is a provost there. My father went there, my grandfather went there. Not many people know this, but my youngster sister was the homecoming queen at Cincinnati the year I played, so it was kind of neat for my parents to see that.”

Cincinnati Proud
As most Ohio State fans know, Meyer grew up in Ashtabula, a lakeside community of close to 20,000 residents in the far northeast corner of the state. More knowledgeable fans likely know Meyer was born in Toledo, as his father was on temporary assignment in the Glass City when his wife, Gisela, gave birth to Urban.

But the family has its deepest ties in the southwest corner of the state. The family on both sides of the Meyer tree lived in the Cincinnati area as the three Meyer children grew up, with Bud, Gisela and the family moving to Ashtabula when the kids were at a young age only because Bud took a job at a chemical company, Detrex.

So when it came time for Gigi, Urban and Erika to make their college choices – Urban after his minor league baseball career came to an end – it wasn’t a hard decision to return to their roots and don the black and red of UC.

“The University of Cincinnati has really strong ties to the community and therefore to the Meyers as well,” Gigi told BSB. “We’re third-generation Bearcats, the three of us. Bud was very proud to be a UC graduate. We were born into a family of Cincinnatians, and UC was dad’s school so we would hear about it.

“We grew up watching more Ohio State football on TV, but my recollection is if I went to a live football game, it was at UC because it was with my granddad because he lived there and he had tickets.”

All three were an integral part of the UC community as students and even attended school at the same time. In addition to playing on the football team, Meyer was a psychology major who was in the Sigma Chi fraternity. Both sisters were in plenty of student organizations as well, and Erika was popular enough to be named homecoming queen.

“It was really cool,’ Gigi said. “We were all very, very active. You don’t become homecoming queen without being in every club, so my sister was absolutely engaged. I was absolutely engaged, and Urban was a football player so of course he was engaged here. UC was good to us, and our college years were good for us.”

One thing that wasn’t good, though, was the UC football team. Meyer lettered in 1984, a year in which head coach Dave Currey’s Bearcats posted a 2-9 record, and on his radio show last week Meyer said, “We weren’t very good. As a matter of fact, we were bad.”

Still, in the days before the 2009 Sugar Bowl between Meyer’s Florida Gators and the Bearcats, he spoke fondly of his time at UC.

“I wore No. 49,” Meyer said. “I was not a very good player. I tried real hard. I loved Cincinnati – met my wife at Cincinnati. We were not a good football team … (but) I loved my time there.”

While Meyer wasn’t a starter in the secondary – he played with future NFL player Rob Niehoff, whose son Kevin is now a walk-on under Meyer at OSU – it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“What you see now is what you see then, except he was playing,” his wife, Shelley, told BSB. “He was as intense as he is now; he was as committed, as passionate. He trained all the time, he lifted weights all the time. Even at the Sigma Chi house they had a bench and dumbbells, and anytime he had free time he was out there with some of his buddies lifting weights. He was always training and was extremely committed to being the best football player he could be.

“I know he was really good in high school, like a star in his high school, but you get to college and everybody is stars. I think that was a little tough on him that he wasn’t the star, but he was still there and he still played as hard as he could whenever he got in.”

Meyer met Shelley, a nursing student at UC originally from Lattaville, Ohio, in Ross County, in May 1984 at UC. While he was dedicated to football, he was also dedicated to the woman who would eventually become his wife.

“He would play a football game and afterwards we would go on a date,” Shelley said. “We’d usually go see a movie and he would fall asleep during the movie because he was so exhausted. But just the fact that he made the effort to see me, to go out, that was fine with me.

“We saw each other a lot, he would wait for me after class and we would walk to the next class together. We took a few classes together. We both made efforts to see each other quite a lot.”

A Family Affair
When Meyer was asked this summer by BSB about facing his alma mater, his memory immediately went back to that trip to New Orleans five seasons ago as Florida’s head coach to take on the Bearcats. Specifically, he remembered an anecdote about Gigi, who was put in a tough spot as both a Cincinnati employee and a Meyer.

“She was wearing a Florida Gators T-shirt and the president of the university walked up to her and said, “You work for us. Why are you wearing that?’ ” Meyer said with a laugh.

There will be even more emotions at play for Gigi this time around as she has two graduate degrees, including her doctorate, from Ohio State, and her daughter is a student at the university. When Gigi earned her master’s degree from OSU, she was given a choice by her grandmother – she could either receive a car or a trip to Pasadena to see Ohio State play in the 1985 Rose Bowl.

“I chose the Rose Bowl,” she said.

She’ll be in Columbus for Saturday’s game, but it won’t necessarily be a happy time because while she’s guaranteed a win for one of the two schools closest to her heart, she’s also guaranteed a loss.

“This is like when the Bowden brothers play,” Gigi said. “I prefer when Urban doesn’t play the Bearcats. I personally hate it because it’s like if you had two children who were fighting each other, but I always side with my brother.”

Meyer’s ties with Cincinnati don’t just stop with his family or his time as a Cincinnati student. He spent a year working as a coach at St. Xavier High School before taking his first job at the college level as a graduate assistant at Ohio State, of course.

He’s returned to the Queen City on and off a few times over the years and been honored by his alma mater, and even developed a relationship with the UC staff when Brian Kelly was in charge.

Following in the footsteps of Mark Dantonio, Kelly helped take the UC program to a level not seen when Meyer was wearing the school colors, winning 33 games from 2007-09 and taking the Bearcats to the Sugar Bowl appearance. Butch Jones followed with a pair of 10-win seasons in 2011 and ’12 before taking over at Tennessee, and Tommy Tuberville has the Bearcats at 2-0 this season heading into the OSU contest.

"I do believe they can sustain," Meyer said of his alma mater in 2009. "Cincinnati is a great town. It's got great players. That's two prerequisites of having a good program. I could tell you stories about where we practiced, our weight rooms, and it was just not high-level football. And now it is."

Meyer hasn’t spoken much about his thoughts on playing UC when asked, though he has said the on-field rivalry between the two schools is good for the state.

Saturday will be a confluence of many factors of Meyer’s life, but though he’s a proud Bearcat, that won’t be on his mind Saturday.

“I don’t think (playing Cincinnati) bothers him whatsoever, and it shouldn’t,” Gigi said. “UC is proud of Urban.”

BSB staff writer Blake Williams contributed to this report.

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