Lucky wasn’t the word Gene Smith wanted to use when talking about the way things ended up for Ohio State’s football program after the 12 tumultuous months it has just gone through.
But sitting on the stage in which he just formally introduced Urban Meyer as the Buckeyes next football coach, Smith couldn’t help but feel fortunate for the way things eventually turned out.
Ohio State got its man in Meyer — an Ohio native that has proven he understands what it means to be a Buckeye. But he’s found success on a grand scale at other programs, too, winning 104 games in 10 years, some of which were earned en route to two national titles in six years at Florida.
It seemed like fate that Meyer, a seemingly perfect fit to help set up Ohio State for what now could be a seamless transition from Jim Tressel, was available and more importantly interested in the job despite thinking only a year ago that he was done permanently as a football coach.
Smith wouldn’t say he was lucky in completing the slam-dunk hire, but it is hard to envision the Buckeyes could have bounced back from perhaps its most trying year in the history of the program with a bigger splash.
“We can define it any way you want,” Smith said. “Whether it is luck, or whatever it is, that afforded me the opportunity to do what I did.”
Meyer will instantly become one of the highest paid coaches in college football, receiving a six-year contract with a base pay of $4 million a year. However, he could earn as much as an additional $2.4 million if he fulfills his entire contract because of retention bonuses.
Stepping down at Florida prematurely because of health issues, Meyer assured the media that he’s never felt better. Vowing to maintain balance in his life, the 47-year old coach first signed a contract with his children before inking the deal with the Buckeyes.
“Health-wise, I feel great. I had a scare a couple years ago,” Meyer said. “It made me sit back, reflect. I didn't feel right. But I feel fantastic now. I’ve been checked out over and over again and I am ready to go.
“I was proud that I had balance for quite a while. I lost that near the end (at Florida). A year ago, I was in my mind, I was convinced I was done coaching. I was concerned with health issues, family. I just wanted to be around them. I didn't realize I’d miss it so bad.”
But some opportunities are too good to pass up, even for Meyer. Dreaming about coaching Ohio State since he was a child in Ashtabula, Ohio, the combination of the opportunity plus the overwhelming desire to get back into the profession was enough to sway him into returning.
“If not for the coaching position at Ohio State,” Meyer said. I would not have coached this coming year.”
Interim head coach Luck Fickell, who led the program in the time since Tressel was relieved from his duties after breaking NCAA rules, will coach Ohio State (6-6) in its bowl game. Meanwhile, Meyer will concentrate on assembling his staff and recruiting.
“I think Ohio State deserves the best group of assistant coaches in America,” he said. “Some will be on this staff, some will be from anywhere in the country. The amount of calls I have been getting from people who have interest in this great university is overwhelming.”
Though a position has yet to be designated for Fickell, Meyer said Fickell will remain on staff at Ohio State as an assistant and will be assigned a significant job title when it is determined. Meyer, who has yet to make any major decisions for the staff he has hired, said he’d lean on Fickell to help guide him through those choices.
Smith said his first conversation with Meyer was Nov. 20 by phone before meeting face-to-face with him for the first time Sunday evening, where he formally offered Meyer the job. Monday morning Meyer officially accepted the proposition.
“This is a great opportunity to come back to my home state, where I was born, where I went to school and where I met my wife,” said Meyer, who met with his team before his introductory press conference. “Our objective is simple, it is to make the state of Ohio proud and to recruit student athletes who win in the classroom and on the field.
“I am going to do my best to assemble the best staff in all of college football. Our goal is to compete for and win Big Ten Championships.”
Meyer takes over at a time that is unprecedented for Ohio State football given its ongoing battle with the NCAA after numerous off-the-field issues. Meyer, however, isn’t concerned with the pending investigation.
“I don’t think Ohio State is broken,” he said. “I think there were some obvious mistakes made, but on the grand scheme of things mistakes that are very correctable.”
Meyer will get to work as soon as tonight, as he already plans on hitting the phones to get the recruiting ball rolling. He may attend practices during the teams bowl preparation, but he’ll officially get started in January on helping the program permanently move forward.
Maybe Smith isn’t lucky, but he’s fortunate.
“He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the premier leaders in football,” Smith said. “It’s represented in his record, but more importantly, it’s represented in him, the man."
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