For the first time since a 52-14 laugher against Illinois last November, Urban Meyer will coach the Ohio State football team in a game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
After serving a six-week, three-game suspension for mismanaging the employment of former assistant coach Zach Smith, Meyer made clear this week there is nowhere else he would rather be.
“This to me has never been a job,” said Meyer, who grew up in Ashtabula, played at Cincinnati and was a graduate assistant at OSU before later becoming a coaching star at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. “You know, when I took a year off, I wasn’t planning on coming back to coaching football.”
He gave up coaching the Gators after the 2010 season, citing health issues, but was lured back into the profession in late 2011 after NCAA violations ended Jim Tressel’s tenure at Ohio State.
“And part of my family didn’t want me to coach again,” Meyer said. “And I came back because of my sincere love for the state. I grew up here. I played high school football here. Played college football here. I love this school. I have a master’s degree from Ohio State. My love is unwavering for Ohio State. Even more so now.”
While putting to rest rumors he had any hard feelings for OSU director of athletics Gene Smith or OSU president Dr. Michael Drake after the decision was made to punish him in August, Meyer acknowledged the program has been damaged by the scandal that erupted from reports Meyer mishandled allegations Zach Smith had abused his then-wife, Courtney.
“I’ve already had conversations with recruits and families of our players,” Meyer said. “We sent out several letters to the families, but to say there’s not damage, there was.
“I’m hoping that the clarity of the damage is that why I was suspended and what the report came back, and that I was not lying to the media. I was not lying to people, or that I turned — I or we turned our back to domestic violence.”
While the support of the fan base never seemed much in doubt, outside criticism has been intense.
Beating Tulane won’t change any perceptions, but Meyer hopes time heals all wounds.
“I’m going to do the best I can,” he said. “If we can remove (the perception he lied to the media or ignored domestic violence), which is the truth, the damage, I believe, is that we just went through a really hard time and I made a mistake in helping a troubled employee, went too far trying to help someone that had some work-related issues.”
Here are three more things to know about the game Saturday:
Can the Ohio State defense clean up mistakes?
If styles make fights, the Ohio State-Tulane matchup figures to be more interesting than many games with a five-touchdown spread.
The Green Wave brings a unique triple-option offense that operates out of the shotgun, and its success has been almost exclusively via big plays this season according to advanced stats from Football Outsiders.
Meanwhile, the Buckeye defense has been strong from play to play but yielded a handful of explosive runs and long passes in its first three games.
OSU will have to play sound, assignment football, and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano wants to see better angles from his young safeties.
“I always liken secondary players’ angles to the ball carrier like when you’re a new driver,” he said. “You know how everything is sort of mechanical, and as you drive more and more you get comfortable. I think that’s how our safeties will be.”
Bosa’s absence creates opportunities.
With All-American defensive end Nick Bosa sidelined indefinitely by a groin injury, a bigger spotlight figures to shine on junior Jonathon Cooper and sophomore Chase Young at end.
“They understand and (defensive line coach Larry) Johnson makes it very clear what kind of production we want for our defensive line,” Schiano said. “The fortunate thing is we have good players in addition to Nick, but Nick’s special.”
Junior Jashon Cornell and true freshmen Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday figure to get more playing time, too.
What will Ryan Day be doing on Saturday?
The man who served as interim head coach in Meyer’s absence will have less on his plate starting this week, and that should benefit the offense.
“We’ll be able to sit down on the bench with the quarterbacks and discuss what happened throughout the last series and make some in-game adjustments right there,” Day said, “where maybe the last couple of weeks I wasn’t able to do that because I was watching the defense or watching special teams and making sure I was ready for that stuff.”