Meyer is both healthy and happy at Ohio State

Apr 19 2012 - 5:23pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer swats aside the question about his health as if he were a cornerback batting down a wobbly pass.

"I'm taking care of myself. Thanks for asking," he said this week during Ohio State's last few days of spring workouts. "No, we're fine. That's kind of old news."

Then, turning to more pressing issues, he quickly added, "We just have to get our skill a little bit better here and we'll be ready to go."

In other words, personnel considerations take precedence over the coach's stress level. The dire need to find game-changing players is more important than the hours spent at his office in the Woody Hayes football facility.

Meyer says everything is OK with him a few months into his first year as the head coach of the Buckeyes. He had left his job in Florida in December of 2010 saying that health and family reasons forced him to step aside. A year spent as a television analyst only caused him to pine for a return to the sidelines.

Before taking the job at Ohio State -- which came about after Jim Tressel was forced to resign for covering up his knowledge that his players had broken NCAA rules -- Meyer's family made him promise to not overdo it, to not suffer physically from the pressure and long hours. They said he needed to take it easy. He said he would.

Yet others close to him think Meyer hasn't changed a whole lot.

"I'll tell you what, Urban Meyer is the same Urban Meyer as far as Xs and Os, as far as intensity on the football field," said Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton, who was also on his Gators staff. "He's in a better place right now spiritually. He's not letting a whole lot of things get to him as much. But it's not like he's taking the foot off the gas pedal at all. He's just learned how to manage it that much better."

Zach Smith, the Buckeyes' wide-receivers coach, also was on Meyer's staff at Florida. He's unaware of it if Meyer has scaled back on the intensity.

"I wouldn't say scaled it back. Time to work is still time to work. And the intensity and the effort from him and from us as coaches hasn't really changed," he said. "I don't notice a difference. But when it's time to get away, I think he gets away."

One place Meyer, who is paid $4 million a year, can get away is his new home. Priced at $1.45 million, the 11,700-square foot place backs up to the seventh fairway at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village Golf Club in suburban Dublin.

Meyer has said that his wife Shelley -- whom he met while he was a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986-87 and teasingly refers to as "Miss Junior Ross County Fair Queen" -- his young son and two college-age daughters will not move full-time to Ohio until after the school year ends.

Judging from the reaction of fans, he's also found another home. Meyer was almost crushed by those who rushed toward him for pictures and autographs a week ago when he invited around 3,000 students to get a close-up look at practice.

It's been an interesting spring for Meyer, a native of Ashtabula, Ohio, and the Buckeyes.

Almost before he started, he caught heat from around the Big Ten for continuing to recruit players who had already offered verbal commitments to other conference schools. Those skirmishes faded, but there are still some lingering hard feelings. Still, the Buckeyes pulled in a bumper crop of top recruits.

That was the first step in reconstructing a program that is coming off a 6-7 season and enters the 2012 season with a four-game losing skid.

Almost everyone observing an Ohio State practice this spring has remarked about the intensity of the workouts. Every play, every drill -- even calisthenics -- is a win-lose proposition. Meyer has rewarded sprint winners with ice-cold Gatorade while the losers drink from an old garden hose. Scrimmage winners get good food on nice tablecloths while the losers eat cold-meat sandwiches off by themselves.

He has also assembled a coaching staff to implement his fast-paced offense.

"He's laid the philosophical groundwork for what he wants and what his expectations are and then he hands it over for us to be the engineers to put it together," offensive co-coordinator Ed Warinner said. "So, he's the design-and-planning team. It's our job to build and put it together and make it work so that it's strong and makes sense and will hold up."

Despite his responsibilities, Meyer does distance himself from the job from time to time.

"The biggest issue for him was probably turning it off," Smith said. "That's obviously the biggest thing he's done differently."

On the day in November when he took the Ohio State job, Meyer didn't exactly sound as if he'd embrace a lot of change in his approach to coaching.

"I will be the same guy that (I was at) the beginning of the tenure (at Florida)," he said. "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. I think as it rolled on, we were dealing with magical things there. I call it the pursuit of perfection. I think at the end of the day we all know there's no such thing. I fell victim to that. And so I've been to a place I'm not going to go back."

Meyer became a head coach in 2001 at Bowling Green. Those were heady days when he spent long hours trying to build something that he's added to over the years.

Drayton was with him on that staff, too. More than anyone outside of his immediate family, he's seen the subtle changes over the years.

"Where you see the difference now is he's able to trust his coaches and delegate some of that stuff that he had on his plate," he said. "The intensity is still there, and the demand is still there, but now that he's delegated some of those responsibilities and trust in his support staff that much more, it's just going to be better for him."

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