You’re an Ohio State fan, and you’re not too worried about Saturday’s game. You know that Ohio State has not lost to an in-state team in 106 years and has never lost to a MAC team. You know that Miami has never beaten a Big Ten team not named Northwestern, Indiana or Purdue. You know that this game is practically already a win. And you’re probably right. But you don’t know Urban Meyer’s secret.
The RedHawks scare the hell out of him.
From 1981-1984, Meyer played for the University of Cincinnati as a defensive back. “Played” is probably too strong of a word, as he was a walk-on and rarely saw the field. Even back then, he had earned a reputation as a motivator and in 1985 he served as a student assistant coach. UC just happens to be one half of the Victory Bell rivalry, the oldest non-conference college football rivalry in the nation. The other half is, of course, Miami University. And in the five years that Urban Meyer was a part of the Bearcat team in some fashion, they went 1-4 against Miami, each loss by less than a touchdown.
In 1986, Meyer attended Grad School at Ohio State and was a GA under Earle Bruce. UC won the next four Victory Bells.
Meyer continued his coaching path, paying his dues and formulating his own master plan. His mission, though he’ll never admit it, was to lead a team on to the field against Miami University and destroy them, to rip out their hearts the way they had ripped out his over and over and over and over.
The Dark Coach
In 2001, he got his first head coaching job, at Bowling Green and in the same conference as the red and white cloud that had hung over his head for two decades. Bowling Green hadn’t beaten Miami since 1997 and Meyer was going to change that in dramatic fashion. He assembled a coaching staff full of innovative minds and put together the first version of his revolutionary offense.
He circled November Third.
Bowling Green got off to a decent start, with just a couple of road losses on their way to the life-changing clash. Miami rebounded from early blowouts by Iowa and Michigan and were starting to roll behind a freshman QB named Ben Roethlisberger. They were 6-2. Bowling Green was 5-2.
Miami took an early lead, but Meyer’s Falcons fought back and a late drive was capped off by a touchdown with just 31 seconds remaining. He had them right where he wanted them as Bowling Green lined up for the onside kick and a series of plays that would forever—what? Oh, hell.
The score went final. 24-21, Meyer had lost to Miami again. The Falcons wouldn’t lose another game that season. Miami wouldn’t win. Fate continued to twist the knife. The two teams wouldn’t meet the following year and by then it was obvious that Roethlisberger was something special. Urban knew he had to do something.
Utah came calling and Meyer was on the next plane. Out there, he would never have to face the RedHawks again. Unsurprisingly, free from the ghosts of Oxford that had held him back, Urban Meyer turned Utah into a powerhouse in just a couple of short years, going undefeated in 2004 and beginning the raised awareness of top-notch mid-major programs that would eventually topple the increasingly unpopular BCS.
Meyer became the hottest coaching commodity in the country and decided he needed to move up yet again. He chose Florida over Notre Dame with the thought that he could at least beat up on a different Miami for a while. Maybe that would exorcise his demons.
Urban took over the Gators and before you knew it, he’d won two national titles and helped snag a Heisman trophy for the least quarterbacky quarterback to ever play the game. After a disappointing loss to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game cost him a shot at a third title, Meyer suffered a heart-related episode that was kept under wraps for several weeks.
Job-related stress is the widely-accepted cause of Meyer’s scare and that’s not entirely inaccurate. The whole truth, though, goes deep into Meyer’s past, to those long-forgotten days as a seldom-used DB in the Queen City. To put it simply, he had a nightmare. But not the naked-in-gym-class kind of nightmare that brings glorious relief upon awakening. No, this dream was completely immersive, the sort that can barely be separated from reality even when you shoot up in bed with a dry mouth, clutching your chest.
Florida’s next two games—their upcoming Sugar Bowl appearance and their season opener the following year—were against Cincinnati and Miami University. The Victory Bell. Meyer had just experienced a heart-breaking loss, and—likely due to his heightened spirituality inspired by Tim Tebow—he saw this as a sign. It was like a growling whisper from a bad horror movie.
Get. Out. Now.
Meyer abruptly resigned, but was later talked into instead taking a leave of absence. His initial plan was to coach the Gators in the Sugar Bowl, which he did, and then return to the team after the Miami game. Instead, he came back for spring practice, determined to shake the monkey off his back. He was going to face the RedHawks for the first time in nearly a decade, and he was going to win.
He did win, but it wasn’t pretty. The final score indicates a blowout, but the Gator offense—Meyer’s baby—was plagued all day by poor timing, errant snaps, and far too many fumbles. They couldn’t even manage to outgain Miami, with each team registering a sickly 212 yards of total offense.
From there, the season fell apart. The Gators finished unranked and 7-5 with losses to rivals Alabama, LSU and Florida State. Meyer had learned his lesson. He was finished with football. After beating Penn State in the Outback Bowl, he quit Florida again. This time for good.
The Dark Coach… Rises?
On January 31, 2011, Meyer signed on to ESPN as a college football analyst/color commentator. Four months later, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel after lying to the NCAA about his knowledge of rules violations. Urban’s first assignment for ESPN was the Ohio State/Akron game. His partner was Buckeye legend Chris Spielman. This happened. (That’s Meyer saying “Wow.”)
By the time the Michigan game rolled around, rumors were flying from everywhere that Ohio State was set to announce Urban as the next head coach. Why was he so eager to return to coaching after less than a year off? Was it just the coincidental availability of the job he’d longed for since childhood? Or was there something else drawing Coach Meyer’s attention?
Some unfinished business, perhaps?
If the Gators’ poor performance in their win over Miami was a sign that it was time for Meyer to move on, then the wide open door to an embarrassment of talent to unleash upon the RedHawks at Ohio State was a sign that it was time to come back.
As a player and a coach, Urban Meyer has only seen his team defeat THE Miami University twice, and neither time was wholly satisfying. Neither was the relentless 60-minute punishment that the boys from Oxford deserved.
Can the Buckeyes administer that punishment tomorrow?