The worst kept secret in all of college football won’t be a secret very much longer. In a story that was first reported a few weeks ago and seemed like nothing short of a done deal days before the Thanksgiving holiday, Urban Meyer will be named the next football coach at Ohio State later this afternoon.
According to the Columbus Dispatch’s Bill Rabinowitz, a 5:15 press conference has been set, where the school will make the announcement.
Again, the writing has been on the wall on this one for weeks, and Meyer-to-Ohio State speculation has run rampant for months since Jim Tressel was fired as head coach on Memorial Day. Meyer is an Ohio native, played football at the University of Cincinnati and started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in the mid-1980’s. In addition, Meyer- who’d spent the 2011 season in the broadcast booth- was pulled off ESPN’s telecast of Ohio State-Michigan Saturday, only adding fuel to the fire.
Of course now that the news is official, there are still plenty of questions which remain in the Meyer to Ohio State move.
Most of it centers on how quickly Meyer will be able to rebuild one of college football’s most dominant programs, which fell on hard times during the 2011 season. Prior to the year, the Buckeyes were a college football super-power, winning at least 10 games in each of the previous six seasons (although all wins from the 2010 season have since been vacated), and played in a BCS bowl game in each of those years. Overall, Tressel took Ohio State to eight BCS bowl games in his 10 years as head coach.
But with Tressel’s firing, the departure of controversial quarterback Terrelle Pryor, suspensions of other key stars and the graduation of even more, the 2011 season was unlike any other in recent history. Under interim head coach Luke Fickell, the Buckeyes finished the regular season at 6-6, and just 3-5 in the Big Ten. Included was a loss to rival Michigan this past Saturday, the first to the Wolverines since the 2003 season.
With Meyer’s arrival, it should signal a change to his famed spread-option offense, and truthfully, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Buckeyes have always been able to run the ball (even without starter Dan “Boom” Herron for six games this year they finished 28th nationally in rushing), and true freshman Braxton Miller seems perfectly equipped to play quarterback in the system. Miller finished this season as the Buckeyes leading rusher with 695 yards on the ground, and seven scores.
Beyond that, other, not so easy to answer questions remain.
They start with an ongoing NCAA investigation into the program, an investigation which led to Tressel’s firing last May. At the forefront of the situation was the former coach’s cover-up of a free tattoo scandal which involved Pryor, Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey and others. In addition, the Buckeyes program will have to defend itself against a “Failure to Monitor” charge from the NCAA, in light of allegations early this fall that booster Robert DiGeronimo overpaid players for summer work they did for him.
With the Failure to Monitor charge now in play, Ohio State has eliminated three scholarships over the next five years and in addition to their pre-emptive firing of Tressel, Buckeyes brass hopes it’s enough to assuage the NCAA. There have also been rumors (none yet substantiated) that Athletics Director Gene Smith could be on his way out as well.
Apparently, the sanctions don’t appear to be of much concern to Meyer, who is now almost certainly headed to Columbus. He brings with him a nearly flawless resume of three quick and efficient rebuilding jobs as a head coach, at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He coached the Utes to the first ever BCS bowl game for a non-AQ school in 2004, and then won two National Championships while at Florida.
Speaking of Florida, the final piece to the Meyer puzzle is this: Is he ready? Meyer nearly left coaching because of stress in 2009 before being talked back into it for the 2010 season…one which finished with the Gators going just 8-5. During his final season many questioned his commitment to coaching, questions which were apparently validated when Meyer retired for good at the end of the 2010 season to “spend more time with his family.” Whether that goal was fully accomplished with his year away or not, only the Meyer family knows.
However, maybe the biggest question of all for Buckeyes fans is if Meyer has the heart and head to hold on for the long-haul. He’s entering a meat-grinder in Columbus similar to the one he just left in Gainesville, where BCS bowl games have become the norm, National Championships are expected and college football is a 365-day a year way of life.
Is Meyer ready to jump back into the saddle and handle the pressures that come with being the head man at a college football super-power? Only he knows.
The rest of the college football world will find out soon however.
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