We've seen this before: Meyer ready to dominate at highest level
He looked a little older. He sounded a little less brash. The questions were slightly different, because his reputation had changed. He wore a black suit and a red tie instead of a black suit and an orange tie.
Other than that, there wasn't much difference between the press conference Monday in Columbus to introduce Urban Meyer as Ohio State's coach and the press conference in Gainesville on Dec. 7, 2004, to introduce Meyer as Florida's coach. Each time, Meyer looked like a man smart enough to understand the challenge ahead of him and confident enough to believe he could succeed. Each time, Meyer seemed like the perfect coach in the perfect place at the perfect time.
Try to guess which of these quotes came from Monday and which came from 2004. If you didn't watch Meyer's introduction Monday, you may find it difficult.
Quote one came from Monday. Quote two came from 2004, but they're really interchangeable. While the situations aren't identical, they're close enough. That should lift the heart of every Buckeye, because Meyer won a national title in Year Two at Florida. Florida didn't have any impending NCAA sanctions, but it was coming off three mediocre years under Ron Zook. Still, Zook had recruited well, and the Gators had a stockpile of young talent -- especially on defense. The Buckeyes' awful record this season is a direct result of the scandal that engulfed the program and cost former coach Jim Tressel his job. Ohio State will face scholarship reductions and possibly other NCAA penalties, but the Buckeyes were 12-1 a year ago. They have recruited well, and they have a stockpile of young talent -- especially on defense. (An added bonus in Columbus is freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who is a perfect fit for Meyer's offense. Chris Leak, the quarterback Meyer inherited in Gainesville, was good, but the offense didn't take off until 2006, when Percy Harvin showed up and when Meyer used fellow freshman Tim Tebow as a single-wing fullback who took snaps as an occasional change-of-pace.)
What's different? In 2004, Meyer was a 40-year-old rising star. Today, he's a 47-year-old who has accomplished more than most of his peers ever will. He also has retired twice in the past two years. Whereas Meyer brought only excitement to Gainesville, he'll bring excitement and baggage to Ohio State.
Remember, it has been only 51 weeks since Meyer said this: "Sometimes, we make it too complex," Meyer said. "At the end of the day, I'm very convinced that you're going to be judged by how you are as a husband and as a father and not by how many bowl games you've won."
The cynical will say Meyer must have gotten sick of his family. The truly cynical -- this mostly applies to Florida fans who must feel like a guy who got dumped only to watch his ex marry someone exactly like him a year later -- will say Meyer was sick of losing at Florida and knew he wasn't going to succeed in the same way again.
You won't find that here. No one has the right to criticize Meyer for taking another job. Big Ten coaches, however, may use this flip-flop against Meyer in recruiting every chance they get. It will take Meyer years to prove he's willing to stick with this job, and his rivals would be wise to exploit that notion. As for the cupboard at Florida, the defense is stocked with good young players, and the Gators tried to run an offense in Will Muschamp's first year that didn't match their personnel. Muschamp knew he had taken over a spread team and hired a pro-style offensive coordinator anyway. The blame for that can't be laid at Meyer's feet.
For his part, Meyer held up a pink slip of paper on Monday and said his family forced him to sign a contract far different from the one that will pay him $24 million over six years. "It's tougher than any other contract I've signed in my life," Meyer said. Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith said he'll try to ensure Meyer doesn't go to the same dark place he went in Gainesville. "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."
That's easy to say now, but Ohio State fans expect the same 12-14 wins a season Florida fans expect. Meyer said he got too caught up in "the pursuit of perfection," at Florida. He said he now realizes perfection isn't attainable. If he does what he plans to do, everyone will expect perfection again. Managing those expectations when they come will be far more difficult than talking about them now.
Meyer didn't have to lug such weight when he could call a staff meeting and watch Dan Mullen, Greg Mattison, Charlie Strong and Steve Addazio walk in the room. Those guys made Meyer's job easier, which is why Mullen is now Mississippi State's head coach, Mattison is Michigan's beloved first-year defensive coordinator, Strong is Louisville's head coach and Addazio is Temple's head coach.
Meyer's best move Monday mirrored one he made upon arrival in Gainesville. At Florida, Strong was the interim coach after Zook was fired. He was the most popular coach on the staff among the players. He was the closer in recruiting. He also had a great defensive mind. Meyer retained Strong. Luke Fickell was the interim coach at Ohio State after Tressel was fired. He was the most popular coach on the staff among the players. He was the closer in recruiting. He also has a great defensive mind. Meyer retained Fickell. If Meyer can assemble a staff comparable to the one he assembled in 2005 at Florida, he'll be able to manage those expectations as long as he can keep that staff together. Keeping Fickell is the ideal start.
Will Meyer coach into senior citizenship at Ohio State? No. He has always said coaches in this era will always burn themselves out or wear out their welcome before they reach Bobby Bowden-type years. Will he last 10 years? Maybe. But it sure seemed as if he would last 10 at Florida.
Don't worry about that now, Buckeyes. At the moment, Meyer is refreshed. At the moment, he is once again taking over a once-dominant program with virtually unlimited resources and top-notch facilities in a recruiting hotbed. At the moment, he appears ready to dominate again.
So don't look too far into the future. Simply enjoy Meyer for as long as you can.