This is an updated version of a previous article.
Days after Ohio State won the Big Ten and clinched a Rose Bowl bid, the school announced Urban Meyer’s impending retirement for the day after the game against Washington, with offensive coordinator Ryan Day to take over.
Before and after Meyer served a three-game suspension for his handling of abuse allegations against former assistant Zach Smith, rumors swirled all season about the status of the three-time national champion, and for several different reasons at once.
People often crack jokes about Meyer’s medical history, but simply put: he’s had chronic health problems.
His mental health has suffered at different points, as the former Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida head coach has been public about.
He’s been diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst in his brain and dropped to the ground on the sideline during one 2018 game. In later games, he regularly looked anguished in ways that were both normal and not normal for a coach in his position. He’s dealt with “aggressive headaches” in the last two years, his doctor recently told Yahoo Sports:
Meyer decided to outline his medical history because of persistent questions about his future as Ohio State’s coach. He reiterated to Yahoo Sports that he has no plans to step down at Ohio State, but wanted to be fully transparent about his health issues to alleviate questions about his future. “I just want people to know what’s going on,” Meyer said. “I’ve been dealing with this for several years.”
“As with many medical conditions, the issue with his cyst is incurable and progressive,” Cleveland.com wrote after Meyer talked in late October with local media about his health.
These issues have lingered for a while. Ohio State investigators decided Meyer didn’t lie at a press conference about his knowledge of Smith, and the investigators put forth memory loss and medication as possible explanations.
Meyer is 54 and has spent all but one of the last 18 years as an FBS head coach, working absurd hours and dealing with huge pressure all that time.
Additionally, amid the Smith fallout, Meyer reportedly wasn’t on the best of terms with his bosses.
Smith, the former Buckeye receivers coach, should have been fired by Meyer even before any consideration of the domestic abuse allegations made against him.
FootballScoop reported after the Purdue loss:
The past few weeks industry sources have mentioned to FootballScoop issues at Ohio State between the football staff and athletics leadership as well as within the program itself. Multiple times, the term “friction” has been used to describe issues between Urban Meyer and Gene Smith (and their respective key lieutenants). Within the football program itself, it has been said there is a tension that hasn’t been present in previous years.
Meyer and Smith then denied they weren’t getting along.
There are still unresolved differences between Meyer’s version of events around Zach Smith and the one the school’s investigators told, and Meyer strongly objected to his suspension, a punishment school president Michael Drake fought for. Smith’s attorney characterized it as Meyer “falling on the sword” for the school.
Meyer’s future was a topic all season.
The Purdue loss was ugly enough to ratchet up speculation that was rooted in other factors. Ohio State then continued to look iffy for a while, nearly losing to Maryland in Week 12.
When asked about retirement rumors during the season, he didn’t exactly shoot them down with ferocity.
Urban Meyer on retirement rumors: "I plan on coaching."— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 29, 2018
Reporter: "Can you say for sure you'll be back next year at Ohio State?"
Meyer: "Yes." pic.twitter.com/dHZ74bwq9j
It was a strange final season for Meyer, even beyond the suspension. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten, but didn’t look like themselves.
- Their running game is shockingly inept due to poor offensive line play. The defense was a million miles from what it should be, even before it got blasted by Purdue.
- Former blue-chip recruits failed to provide answers at positions of need, calling into question how Ohio State’s staff is developing them.
- Meyer’s filled his staff with old friends, a few of whom have produced badly underperforming units. The biggest example is defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
- Though it remains one of the top recruiters, Ohio State’s firewall in Ohio doesn’t look as strong as it once did.
Some in the coaching community voiced similar views ...
... as did this prominent former Ohio State QB:
And now Day takes over.
The team went 3-0 with no publicized off-field issues during the 39-year-old’s time in charge, and the passing game was Ohio State’s strongest trait this season. Day inherits one of the most prominent jobs in all of football, formally replacing the head coach who began the season sidelined.