Urban Meyer retires at Ohio State as one of college football’s greats

Nick Saban could win every game for the next eight seasons and still not match Meyer's career winning percentage.
Urban Meyer is set to retire as Ohio State's coach, according to multiple reports Tuesday morning. [ AP Photo/Michael Conroy ]
Urban Meyer is set to retire as Ohio State's coach, according to multiple reports Tuesday morning. [ AP Photo/Michael Conroy ]
Published December 4 2018
Updated December 4 2018

It took a half an hour of questions and answers Tuesday for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to finally address the finality of his retirement.

"I believe I will not coach again," Meyer said.

If this is it — if recurring health issues mean that this is really, truly the absolute, official end of his coaching career — he will leave the profession next month as one of the greatest coaches and brightest minds of his generation.

Meyer won two national titles at Florida (2006, 2008), with Tim Tebow's Heisman Trophy season sandwiched between them. He led the Buckeyes to the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014 to join Nick Saban as the only coaches of the modern era to win national championships at two different programs.

RELATED: Photo gallery: Urban Meyer through the years

Meyer's teams finished in the top six of the final AP poll six other times; it'll be seven if the Big Ten champion Buckeyes win his final game against Washington in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.

His career winning percentage (.853) trails only Notre Dame legends Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy in college football history (among coaches with at least 10 years of experience). Saban's Crimson Tide could win this year's national title and the next eight after that, all with perfect records, and Saban still wouldn't catch up to Meyer.

RELATED: Where does Urban Meyer rank among the all-time college coaches?

As gaudy as the win totals were, Meyer's impact on the sport transcends the titles he won.

First-year Gators head coach Dan Mullen still bases his system on the spread-option principles he learned from Meyer years ago, when they were rising through the profession together from Bowling Green to Utah to UF: Spread your players to make the opponent defend sideline to sideline, use your quarterback as a rusher and strive for run/pass balance.

Before Dan Mullen (left) was the Florida Gators' head coach, he was an assistant there under Urban Meyer. [ TIMES FILE ]
Before Dan Mullen (left) was the Florida Gators’ head coach, he was an assistant there under Urban Meyer. [ TIMES FILE ]
“That philosophy hasn’t changed,” Mullen explained during the offseason.

That philosophy has infiltrated all levels of the game and will continue to swell as Meyer's coaching tree grows. Mullen is one of at least nine former Meyer assistants leading Division I-A programs (including offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who will succeed Meyer at Ohio State). The list also includes USF's Charlie Strong and a pair of coaches at top-20 teams, Texas' Tom Herman and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.

Meyer's influence is also obvious beyond specific programs.

RELATED: What do we make of Urban Meyer?

His battles with Saban on the field and recruiting trail fueled the SEC's rise. Meyer's '06 title at UF started the league's run of seven consecutive national championships.

He had a similar effect on the Big Ten. In 2011, the Big Ten signed only two top-25 recruiting classes. When Meyer arrived at Ohio State the next year, his commitment to recruiting (including his ties to Florida) forced the rest of the league to catch up or get left behind.

They chose to catch up. Five teams have top-25 classes for 2019.

Meyer is so consumed by recruiting that it even played a role in his departure. Prospects have been asking about his future. By exiting now, Meyer leaves his highly regarded successor two weeks before the early signing period to try to secure another elite class.

"That put a little push on it," Meyer said.

Of course, Meyer must also be remembered for the messy off-field controversies that followed his on-field success.

Ohio State suspended him for the first three games for mishandling domestic abuse allegations against one of his assistants. Before that, his six years at UF featured dozens of player arrests. He, admittedly, left behind a broken culture in Gainesville that took years to repair. And there were his two exits from UF (one temporary, one final), which led to the understandable skepticism about his impending retirement.

So if this is the end —if it's really the end of Meyer's coaching career — his legacy is tangled and complicated.

Just not on the field, where he was one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.