This is part four in a series on new Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and his life, starting with his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio. For Part 1 on his high school athletic exploits, click here; for Part 2 on the birth of his work ethic, click here; for Part 3 on the city's reaction to his hiring, click here; for Part 4 on the 2006 national title game, click here.
Rather than focus on any particular topic, this notebook features anecdotes about Meyer that were too short for their own story but
Growing Up Buckeye: It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Urban Meyer remembers Dec. 30, 1978. His high school classmate Rick Pugliese does.
On that day 31 years ago, Ohio State was forced to end the coaching career of football mentor Woody Hayes after he punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman in the dying seconds of OSU’s Gator Bowl loss. When the news broke, Pugliese remembers getting a phone call from Meyer in their hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio.
“I remember he was the one who called me and told me, ‘Jeez, did you see what happened to Woody Hayes?’ ” Pugliese said. “Urban, I remember, was heartbroken by it. I remember telling me to turn on the news, ‘They fired Woody Hayes.’ ”
To this day, Meyer has always had a photo of Hayes hung up in his office, just one example of his lifelong relationship with Ohio State. At his introductory press conference, Meyer mentioned he remembered the city of Ashtabula shutting down for Ohio State-Michigan games, and he wore No. 45 on the St. John High School football team in honor of Buckeye legend Archie Griffin.
Meyer’s ties were strengthened when he took a job on Earle Bruce’s staff in 1986, and he spent two years as a graduate assistant at OSU. At the time, Meyer would sneak out of the locker room on game days to watch the Ohio State University Marching Band take the field before each game.
“There’s a game clock in the locker room,” he said. “And I would always know, it was like 16:36 when the band would come out. Coach Bruce would be doing his stuff. I would look at the clock, shoot down the stairs and just watch the band come out, play ‘Across the Field’ (and) march across the field.”
When Meyer returned to Columbus in September to broadcast the Buckeyes’ season opener vs. Akron, he said he saw the band again and had to wipe tears from his eyes.
As a result, when the OSU job came open, friends weren’t surprised to know Meyer was considering a return to the coaching field even after his highly publicized leave of absence after leaving Florida.
“Knowing him, it was his dream job,” Pugliese said. “It’s no lie. He has the Woody Hayes (picture) in his house. He was an Ohio State fan growing up.”
In fact, if it were any other school, Meyer likely would not be back in the coaching profession.
“It’s Ohio State,” his wife Shelley said. “If it were any other job, we wouldn’t have taken it.”
More Than One Meyer: It’s not easy being the wife of a college football coach, but Shelley appears to handle it in the only way she knows how – by embracing it.
There have been stories written about how Shelley plays a major part in Urban’s program, helping him handle disciplinary issues and relating to players on a personal level. As an example, at Bowling Green, Shelly would help coaches and their wives pass out candy to players after practice sessions once a week.
“It was a family affair,” former BG quarterback Josh Harris said.
Of course, Shelley still knows her fair share about the sport, Meyer’s longtime friend Tom Penna said.
“She knows as much football as he does,” said Penna, who would visit Meyer once a year at his previous coaching stops. “I was listening to her after one game and he’s got the TV on some games, and she’s like, “Did you see that they ran this play?’ His buddies are looking at each other like, ‘Jeez, she knows more than I do.’ ”
Shelley Meyer is also helpful when it comes to engaging both the campus and recruits. Noah Spence said Urban immediately called his wife – who then talked to Spence – after he committed earlier in December.
“She’s crazy on game day,” Penna said. “She’ll be Ohio State head to toe. She’ll get the whole student body into it, the community. She’s big into that stuff and he’s big into that stuff.”
As a result, Shelley has become known as one of the pillars of the community at each of Urban's stops. It's almost impossible to find anyone who has bad words to say about her.
Erie Feelings: Any story about Ashtabula isn’t complete without mentioning the fact that the city is along Lake Erie’s Snow Belt. During the winter, winds passing over the lake whip up the warmer water then dump prodigious amounts of snow on the leeward land when they reach shore. Ashtabula averages more than five feet of snow per year.
But those stories forget about just how wonderful it can be to live along the lake during the summertime. Many children who grow up along Ohio’s northern border spend their summers either swimming or boating, and things are the same in Ashtabula.
“It’s a nice town to grow up in,” said current St. John athletic director and former Meyer teammate Dave Rozzo. “I don’t have any complaints. You have the lake. In the summer, it’s beautiful.”
Meyer developed a thing for sailing with his late father, Bud, but he also spent a fair share of time in Lake Erie growing up. The Meyer household on Lake Road West was right across State Route 531 from the lake, and football practices also often ended with a trip to Walnut Beach near downtown.
“In the summer you used to go to the beach every day, especially after two-a-days,” Rozzo said. “Sometimes after that because it was so hot, you’d go and take a dip in the lake just to cool off.”
Of course, the players at the other schools in town – Harbor High, Ashtabula High and Edgewood High – would do the same, sometimes resulting in what seems like a scene from a typical ‘80s movie.
“You’d see all the other guys doing the same thing,” Rozzo said. “We had some good rivalries here with Harbor and us and Ashtabula and Edgewood. You’d see each other at the beach and there would be fights.”
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