No matter the question, Urban Meyer always has the answer
CHICAGO (AP) Urban Meyer has always had an answer for everything the coaching profession has thrown at him. Nothing in his straight-ahead glare this morning suggested that had changed.
Barely two hours earlier, what had been a months-long victory lap for Meyer and his defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes hit its first speed bump, with the announcement that top-ranked defensive end Joey Bosa and three teammates had been suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech.
Meyer took the stage for his opening Big Ten media day appearance wearing a natty gray suit and scarlet power tie, then reinforced that ''let's-get-down-to-business'' first impression by passing up the chance to make an opening statement and throwing the session open to questions.
''What was your reaction to the news about Joey?''
Meyer acknowledged he knew about the suspensions in advance and supported them.
''Whether it's a sprained ankle or stuff,'' he said a moment later, ''you try to create a culture where teams know how to move forward and not concern yourself. ... You know, we're pushing forward.''
Meyer can be blunt - on the field or off - when he wants to be. Think back to 2009, when he was at Florida and wrapped up the national championship game by sending quarterback Tim Tebow crashing into the Oklahoma defensive line on every one of the six plays on the Gators' final drive. Or how, during spring practice the year after that, Meyer tore into a reporter for quoting one of his players with the warning, ''If that was my son, we'd be going at it right now.''
Suffice it to say early Thursday afternoon was not one of those moments.
Asked a follow-up question about why Bosa, receiver Corey Smith and H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson had been suspended, Meyer replied, ''The way I've always done it in the past is internal is internal and external is external. So if it was a legal something, if you have to address it externally, then I do that.
''But internally, it was a violation of team policies. And that's as far as I'll go,'' he concluded.
Over the course of 13 seasons as a head coach, Meyer has crushed it everywhere he has been: three national titles; multiple conference championships at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and now Ohio State. He has had his share of both internal and external problems, too - 31 players arrested during his tenure at Florida - but it's probably fair to say his deepest wounds have been self-inflicted.
Meyer was such a control freak during his Gators days that he fired off messages to his staff from a pew in church. He was so consumed by losing back then that he dropped 20 pounds in little more than a week trying to make sure he didn't lose again. Three weeks after Alabama ended Florida's unbeaten run in the 2009 SEC Championship game - and after an brief, unannounced hospital stay because of chest pains - Meyer surprised the college football world with a retirement announcement - only to un-retire 24 hours after that.
He finally made good on the threat to leave after a win in the 2011 Outback Bowl, then segued into the television booth. A year on the sidelines stoked his hunger to return, but it also taught him that balancing football, family and fitness was not an impossible act. When he returned at Ohio State, he often showed off a contract he negotiated with his wife and kids - ''tougher than any contract I've ever signed in my life,'' is how he put it - to make sure he kept his priorities straight.
That balance was on display later Thursday afternoon, when Meyer sat down with reporters in a more comfortable setting. He was no more forthcoming about the suspensions, but candid about almost everything else. Every coach in the country preaches a ''next-man up'' philosophy, but through relentless recruiting, shrewd talent evaluation and a player development program that rivals any operation in the NFL, Meyer has turned it into an art form at Ohio State.
He has lost his starting quarterback several times already on the eve of big games and barely missed a beat. And so he was asked at least a dozen times during the later session whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones - two QBs pressed into service because of injuries - would be his starter next season, as well as whether Braxton Miller, whose injury at the start of 2014 began the revolving door at quarterback, was switching to the H-back position.
Meyer said Miller would switch, but wasn't giving up much beyond that.
''Is it possible we'll see all three on the field at the same time?'' someone finally asked.
''Yup,'' Meyer said.
''Would you elaborate?'' came the follow-up,
The grin on his face suggested knew the answer.
''No,'' he said, grinning wider still.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at www.twitter.com/JimLitke