What do we make of Urban Meyer?

The coaching legend's career, retirement and legacy can be summed in one word.
Urban Meyer, shown here holding his hands to his head before a game at Maryland, is retiring as Ohio State's football coach, according to published reports.  (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Urban Meyer, shown here holding his hands to his head before a game at Maryland, is retiring as Ohio State's football coach, according to published reports. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Published December 4 2018
Updated December 4 2018

It's complicated.

That best describes our relationship status with Urban Meyer.

He is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of college football. Based on that and his extraordinary success, we should be celebrating one of the greatest coaching careers in sports history and mourning its end.

Yet our celebration is muted by confusion as to what to make of Meyer's career, his retirement and his future.

It's all so, well, complicated.

It's hard to wrap your brain around what to think about Meyer because you can't wrap your arms around him.

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He's wildly successful. And charismatic. And driven. And committed to his job. He is adored by his family. Current and former players, including those with fine character and high morals like Tim Tebow, swear by Meyer.

But his career was full of controversy and sketchiness and player arrests and the nagging feeling that he wasn't always telling the truth about those controversies. Some called him Urban Liar.

He won two national titles in Gainesville, one more than the great Steve Spurrier, yet Gators fans mostly despise him. That right there tells you of how messy Meyer's career has been.

The ending, if it truly is an ending, is as perplexing as his career.

RELATED: Photo gallery: Urban Meyer through the years

Is he leaving Ohio State because his health is in jeopardy and his body can no longer take the stress of coaching? Or is he, after some backroom deal, leaving because Ohio State wants him out after he bungled the case of an assistant coach accused of years of domestic violence?

Did this just happen in the past few days? Or has this been in the works for months?

And even during this season of doubt, strife and distractions, Meyer had his team in the mix for another national championship.

That's the part that makes Meyer's legacy so hard to understand or embrace.

This season started with a defiant and tone-deaf Meyer being suspended for three games and demands from across the country for him to be fired. A few within the Ohio State family fumed when he wasn't dismissed.

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When he did return, the lasting images were startling. There was Meyer falling to one knee against Indiana as if was going to die right there on the field. There was Meyer grabbing his head and looking sick to his stomach as the Buckeyes were blown out by Purdue. There was Meyer looking like a ghost as his team survived a scare against Maryland. Word was Meyer would step down after the season.

Ohio State fans fiercely defended him, while the rest of the country not-so-quietly reveled in seeing Meyer and the Buckeyes struggle.

Yet after all that, his team went out and waxed rival Michigan and suddenly a one-loss Ohio State team was making valid arguments for getting into the college playoffs. Meyer actually started to look healthy again. Rumors kicked up that a reinvigorated Meyer had no intention of walking away.

Then comes Tuesday's news that he is stepping down and we're not totally convinced why he is retiring or even if he is really retiring.

Would you be surprised if he turned up at USC or Notre Dame or the NFL in the next couple of years? And even after a career filled with uncomfortable moments and hurried departures, there might not be a football program in the country, pro or college, who wouldn't think about it if Meyer said he was interested in coaching there.

If Meyer put out feelers that he wouldn't mind moving back to Florida and giving the NFL a shot, how long before the Glazers would pick up a phone? Bet you could measure it in seconds, not minutes. And even Bucs fans starving for success would feel conflicted about Meyer.

His record as a coach is undeniable. If it wasn't for Nick Saban, Meyer would be, by far, the greatest coach of his generation. He's only 54 and remains as sharp as ever as a recruiter and a coach.

On one hand, no matter how you feel about Meyer's public life and coaching career, you can't help but hope and pray that he is physically and mentally okay. You have to hope he is around for years and years to enjoy his life and his family.

But you also can't help by think here we go again. This feels like the time he left Florida because he said he wasn't feeling good and wanted to spend more time with his family. You almost feel guilty thinking that because what if his life is at stake here?

His career. His retirement. His future. His legacy.

All of it can be wrapped up in one word.


Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones