The past 11 months have been the most miserable Ohio State fans can remember. Beginning with the Sugar Bowl non-suspensions of Terrelle Pryor and Co., continuing through Jim Tressel's unthinkable fall from grace amid NCAA violations and culminating in a loss to Michigan to cap a humbling 6-6 season, this has been the bleakest stretch in the storied program's history.
There was only one coaching candidate in the country who could come in and immediately galvanize the program while also promising a quick return to the heights the Buckeyes achieved under Tressel. By happy coincidence, that same candidate happened to be serving a self-imposed sabbatical this past year and was thus readily available when the school he grew up rooting for and eventually working for had an unexpected vacancy.
What's been looming as a possibility since Tressel resigned on May 30 became a reality early Monday when Ohio State named Urban Meyer its new football coach. The school opened its purse strings to secure Meyer so that he will do for the Buckeyes exactly what he did for Bowling Green, Utah and Florida: Win big, quickly.
One need only examine Meyer's past career stops to figure out how things will develop at Ohio State. Year 1 may be a bit of a struggle, as Ohio State players adjust to an entirely new staff and scheme. In Year 2 the Buckeyes will explode, contending for the Big Ten and national titles barring impending NCAA sanctions. All the while Meyer will be recruiting like a mad man -- conveniently, the NCAA recently repealed the ban on text messaging it originally imposed in part because of Meyer himself -- rubbing rival coaches the wrong way and making national headlines every time he says something remotely controversial at a press conference.
But Meyer's biggest obstacle to success won't be Michigan or Wisconsin or any other Big Ten school. It won't be implementing his offense or overcoming forthcoming sanctions.
It will be himself.
It's now clear Meyer went through some sort of existential crisis during his last couple of years at Florida. The hard-wired perfectionist put so much stress on himself he wound up in the hospital, precipitating a leave of absence in the spring of 2010 and a reexamination of his priorities. He returned only to find he couldn't do it any other way. Those close to the program say Meyer "checked out" during that final uncharacteristic 8-5 season, and the players he left behind have only struggled further under successor Will Muschamp.
But a head coach is only as good as his staff, and during his final two seasons Meyer lost trusted offensive coordinator Dan Mullen and renowned co-defensive coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison, all of whom have gone on to success elsewhere. Meyer was left trying to delegate more responsibility to assistants he barely knew.
Given a fresh start and those deep Ohio State pockets, Meyer will likely assemble a dream staff like he originally did in Gainesville. The rebuilding will begin, only there isn't that much to do. Florida had endured three straight five-loss seasons under Ron Zook before Meyer took over. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are only a year removed from winning 12 games and the last (since vacated) of six straight Big Ten championships. A rookie head coach (Luke Fickell), a true freshman quarterback (Braxton Miller), an inexperienced defense and the disruption caused by all those NCAA suspensions conspired to produce a forgettable 2011 season.
At Ohio State Meyer already has his quarterback of the future in Miller, whose running ability perfectly fits Meyer's spread offense but who needs a good position coach to help develop his passing skills. Nearly every one of the Buckeyes' starting defenders returns next season, including six freshmen or sophomores. And Meyer is taking over early enough to still put together a solid recruiting class, which is all the more important considering Brady Hoke is putting the finishing touches on a top three class at that school up north.
Meanwhile, Meyer has his own image reconstruction to perform.
By the end of his five-year Florida reign, the offensive guru had become associated less with those two crystal footballs than with his perplexing retirement, un-retirement and re-retirement, all before age 46. Health concerns played a part (his chest pains were diagnosed as esophageal spasms), but it seems now that burnout was the real issue.
After a year of working a couple of days a week for ESPN, Meyer is apparently ready to return to working all day, seven days a week. He's got $24 million reasons to do so, but the public hasn't forgotten his repeated statements about wanting to spend more time with his family and will surely make jokes about Meyer's latest change of heart for the foreseeable future.
Or at least until Meyer wins 11 games for the first time, at which point the jokes will stop and Ohio State's nightmare will be over.