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Urban Meyer Leaves Behind A Complex Legacy At Ohio State

Jay LaPrete
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, left, answers questions during a press conference announcing his retirement Tuesday while assistant coach and Ohio State's next coach Ryan Day looks on.

Ohio State football fans wake up this morning to a new reality: The Urban Meyer era is ending. After a season that began with a suspension and recurrences of headaches caused by a brain cyst, Meyer says he’s stepping away from coaching.

Word of Meyer’s plans spread quickly on Ohio State’s campus. First-year student Emily Laudo said she was just texting a friend about it.

“It’s disappointing but I’m not surprised either, I think a lot of people saw it coming,” Laudo said.

She wasn’t the only student to express some mix of disappointment and resignation. Another freshman, Alex Schutz, wondered about the effect on recruiting.

"I'd just say I'm disappointed because I think it's going to definitely hurt recruiting as a whole, but they say he's been saying Ryan Day's a great coach, so I'm definitely happy we've got someone good to fill in," Schutz said. "But I mean, I'm definitely disappointed, he's one of the best coaches in the country and you just hate to see it."

Day, the offensive coordinator who led the team during Meyer’s suspension, will take over as head coach.

Meyer has had a remarkable tenure as Ohio State’s head coach, leading the team to a national championship in 2014.

His overall record of 82 wins to nine losses gives him a winning percentage better than 90 percent. He faced rival Michigan seven times, and his Buckeyes beat Michigan seven times.

At the press conference announcing his retirement, Meyer couldn’t point a specific time where he settled on his decision to leave.

“Walking off the stadium against our rival in that last game, things started to cross my mind, going into Indianapolis started to cross my mind. I wanted to go longer," Meyer said. "The thing that really started to make things—when recruits started to ask me, 'Will you be here for four or five years?'”

But Meyer’s run has also been remarkable for the way he’s skidding into retirement. His three-game suspension to start this season came after domestic violence allegations against former receivers coach Zach Smith came to light.

The university investigation raised questions about whether Meyer tried to cover it up, which he vehemently denies. Meyer then faced further criticism for initially failing to apologize to the fired coach’s ex-wife. He admitted the scandal will likely cloud his legacy.

“You know the legacy is, you only can control so much, and I can lie to you and say that’s not important to me. Any human being that’s important to you," Meyer said. "People will have their opinions, and just do your best to do things the right way.”

Day will take the helm after the Rose Bowl, signing a five-year contract that will pay him $4.5 million a year.

Day had an impressive stint to start this season, winning all three games of Meyer’s suspension. He wants to continue the program Meyer built, rather than starting over from the ground up.

“You know the footprint that he left here and infrastructure is strong, and knowing that and being here for two years and seeing exactly how it’s been done gives me great confidence,” Day said.

As recruits consider where they want to play, and more college athletes consider transferring, creating a smooth transition is important for a program so recently rocked by scandal. Day pitched current players to stay while recruiting Ohio’s high school players to the team.

Athletic director Gene Smith said Day’s audition at the beginning of the year helped convince him to make the hire without going through a national search.

“Our program does not need disruption, it does not need to blow up and have people come in and try to adapt to our standards of operation and try to change the infrastructure that we’ve put in place for the student athlete,” Smith said.

The all-important effort to attract recruits also played a role in Meyer’s timing. Had he waited until after early signing day, recruits could easily walk away from the team.

Although Meyer is stepping down from his role as a coach, he seems likely to take up an administrative position with the school in the near future. His last contract extension included a clause allowing him to transition into a new role in the athletic department.

Meyer and Smith didn’t speak about specifics, but it seems likely a new post is coming.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.