She’s very visible in her role as First Lady of Ohio State football, something Buckeye fans weren’t used to when she arrived. Even the most ardent Ohio State backers will have few memories to draw from if asked to recall an Ellen Tressel moment. They may be hard pressed to remember John Cooper’s wife’s name (it’s Helen, by the way).
But Buckeye fans know plenty about Shelley.
“Every coach’s wife has their personality and how they want to handle this kind of life,” Shelley said. “Good or bad, I’m very extroverted and I love people and I don’t want to hide. I want to be out and be involved.
“I’ve always kind of taken that approach rather than have people whispering behind my back because they don’t know anything about me.”
Shelley Mather met Urban Meyer when both were students at the University of Cincinnati. She became Shelley Meyer five years later.
She was with Urban during his first stint at Ohio State as a graduate assistant in charge of tight ends and wide receivers and followed him to assistant coaching stops at Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame.
She was there at his first head coaching job at Bowling Green, and was by his side as he climbed the coaching ladder to Utah and Florida and she returned with him to Ohio State.
And despite the well-publicized hardships that came during the stint with the Gators, Shelley was always there and always laughing.
That’s how Shelley approaches the tall task of being Mrs. Urban Meyer. She does her best to simply be herself and that means being very extroverted.
Shelley is defined by much more than her husband. She is a trained psychiatric nurse, for example, who works as a clinical instructor at Ohio State’s College of Nursing two days a week.
Gigi Meyer Escoe, Urban’s sister, said she first met Shelley shortly after the pair started dating and immediately knew that she was someone who could match Urban as a person.
“One was that my brother was smitten,” Escoe said of her first impression of Shelley. “It was really obvious that Urban was pretty excited about Shelley. Two, she is a really substantial person. I appreciated the fact that my brother found someone that was really substantial. She’s smart and she’s strong and athletic and holds her own and isn’t silly and giggly.
“Shelley is a full partner. She is a very accomplished person all on her own. She’s a first lady but she also has this very substantial presence all on her own which I admire a lot about her.”
Her own accomplishments allow Shelley to be her fully extroverted, laughing self despite her high-profile position as Urban’s wife. She doesn’t define herself as a coaches’ wife, but rather just happens to be one.
That’s why when Urban stepped away from coaching after the 2010 season it was an easy adjustment for Shelley. Urban left the Florida program with health and emotional concerns and took a position as a college football commentator with ESPN. Shelley cherished that time, and admits that she sometimes still misses the opportunities that break from coaching provided.
“When he had that ESPN job I thought that was the best job ever,” Shelley said. ‘It was not stressful for him, he was talking football, he was still involved in the sport he loved and I thought he was doing a good job of it.”
Urban was also able to be more involved with his family. He helped coach his son Nate’s football and baseball teams, even helping to start a middle school football program in Gainesville, Fla. He was able to attend the volleyball games of his daughters Nicki and Gigi. Urban was even able to help out with car pool responsibilities.
“It was weird, but it was great and I thought, ‘Yes, this is great, I love this,’” Shelley said. “I loved college football again, I didn’t care who won. I loved watching. And no, I did not think he would go back, I thought he was loving it as much as I was, but he wasn’t. He was loving parts of it, but he was missing the players so badly. Missing the interaction with the players, the mentoring. He just missed it really bad.”
Urban famously returned to coaching when he took the Ohio State job in late 2011. He did so with a nearly-as-famous promise to his family, one to stay engaged with his personal relationships and not let coaching consume every aspect of his life.
In their third year with the Buckeyes, Shelley said it’s so far, so good. The additional stress of life in coaching, however, is unavoidable.
“Now he is still doing great about making time for family, better than he ever has in his career, still handling the stress very well. He makes sure he works out and eats right. He sleeps, he’s not taking sleeping pills,” she said. “So he is doing all those things, but it’s still stressful.”
Since returning to coaching Urban has made a concerted effort to spend time with his family. His daughter Gigi plays volleyball for Florida Gulf Coast University, and when the Eagles played at Ohio State the Friday before the Virginia Tech game, Shelley and Urban where in attendance. The family made the trip down to Florida during the Buckeyes open week in September to take in a special senior night ceremony for Gigi and saw her play on the road this weekend.
Though he remains committed to the promises he made to his family when he took on the OSU job, Shelley knows her husband remains tense.
“I just felt like life was so much less stressful not in the coaching profession. No matter if you handle it great or not, it’s still very stressful. It’s very intense and all the competitiveness is really hard,” she said. “You’ve got to compete for recruits, you’ve got to compete on the field to win games. It’s always a competition and such a big deal because there is so much money involved and so many people involved.”
Shelley is certainly one of those involved, attending every game and the weekly coaches’ wives tailgate that precedes it. Watching the game is too stressful, Shelley said, but the tailgate she is able to enjoy.
So long as it’s not a noon game, Shelley get’s in at least 30 minutes of exercise in the morning to work out some of her nerves on game day.
“That really helps me to be more calm,” she said. “Then I have all my tailgate preparation. I’ve got my coolers I got to get filled, I’ve got my pepperoni bread that I have to make – that’s my tailgate staple. It’s the pepperoni bread that I’ve made for years and years and years.”
Shelley met Urban Meyer in 1984. At that point he was a former minor league baseball player and a backup safety for the University of Cincinnati. She couldn’t have known then that committing to him was committing to a life in the spotlight as the wife of one of the most famous football coaches in the country.
By all accounts she hasn’t changed much in the 30 years by his side. And by all accounts she has found a way to laugh through it all.
“Shelley fell in love with him for him,” Escoe said. “It’s not about titles or about getting up early worried about publicity or anything like that, it’s about living your life and being true to yourself.”