Who benefits from Urban Meyer's departure? Dan Mullen and Florida
Urban Meyer is gone again, announcing another retirement, this time from Ohio State, where he had reigned imperiously over the Big Ten for seven years.
Meyer went 82-9 with a Rose Bowl to go in his seven seasons in Columbus, winning three B1G championships and a national championship, a tenure successful enough to earn tenure at almost any job in America.
Meyer’s departure is not in any way surprising, and in fact, after the abysmal way he and Ohio State handled the domestic violence allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith, perhaps the real surprise is that he gets to depart on his own terms. Maybe he doesn’t, and when the postmortem is finally told, and all revealed, his exit is less by choice than by unpleasant design.
Whatever the reason, Urban is out, and as his joyful smile after Ohio State was sent to the Rose Bowl instead of the College Football Playoff hinted, relieved to be so.
Anyone who watched the end of his dominant 6-year stint at Florida saw the signs.
Even before it was revealed that Meyer had surgery in 2014 to treat a congenital cyst in his brain, the signs were present.
The vacant gaze had returned, the headaches were back, and Meyer spent much of the season on the sidelines crouched over, headset on his neck, hands on his knees. It was all very reminiscent of the scene when Meyer resigned as Florida head coach in 2009 due to chest pains, only to return the next season, look like a zombie on the sidelines and retire again in 2010, sitting out a full season before he took the job with Ohio State.
This was coming. Meyer’s a brilliant football coach; you’ll never convince me he’s a decent poker player.
The truth is Meyer only knows one way to do a job: full-throttle. He goes at that speed until his body can’t anymore. He’s a human firecracker, who burns and awes the masses and burns and then explodes, with little regard, intentionally or not, for the damage or debris left in his wake.
The consequences at Ohio State remain to be seen, though it is a safe bet the Buckeyes won’t spend a decade wandering the college football wilderness in his absence, which was the fate of the broken culture Meyer left behind in Gainesville.
Meyer regretted the way he left things at Florida, and made a point to say so whenever asked, which he was, frequently. Part of the reason he’ll leave Ohio State in a better spot than he left Florida is, in the light most favorable to Meyer, probably because of that regret.
But Urban’s departure from the college football scene — at least until the Florida State job piques his interest in 2020 (a joke, I think) — does leave a gaping hole in the college football landscape.
After the Rose Bowl, only three coaches active with national championships will remain: Nick Saban of Alabama, Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. (That doesn’t include former champs Mack Brown and Les Miles, who were recently hired to rescue North Carolina and Kansas, respectively.) Of the three, only Saban has multiple national titles. This is just the beginning of the domino effect of Meyer’s departure.
Jim Harbaugh, successful at Michigan but unable to elevate the program to the levels attained under Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr, now has a window. Meyer always knew the right buttons to push in a big rivalry game — it’s part of the reason he went an astonishing 23-2 against his main four rivals at Florida and Ohio State (Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida State). Ryan Day did an admirable job as the interim coach as Meyer served a three- game suspension due to his handling of the Smith domestic violence allegations earlier this year. Day has already received the endorsement of Buckeyes hero Cardale Jones, among others, as a great next hire.
— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) December 2, 2018
That might prove correct. But Harbaugh has the name recognition and the chance to sell his program as the one poised to turn the corner; he’ll undoubtedly paint the Buckeyes as a program mired in uncertainty in the absence of a legend.
James Franklin and Penn State have an opening now too.
In the SEC, a host of programs will now be able to recruit in Ohio, even if only briefly. This could be huge for a program like Kentucky, already successful there and hoping to benefit even more from a breakthrough season in 2018, or a dormant superpower like Tennessee, which needs an Ohio footprint to get the program moving again under Jeremy Pruitt.
These windows won’t last long. Ryan Day is a big talent in the profession and even if he fails, Ohio State’s brand, facilities, infrastructure and institutional support are too large for the program to fall off the map. Top-5 jobs are top-5 jobs because they yield top-10 finishes with competent leadership.
Perhaps the most interesting and potentially permanent window that opens, however, is the one for Dan Mullen and Florida.
Urban Meyer made a living using his many contacts from his time as the head coach in Gainesville to effectively recruit the state.
Ten players on Ohio State’s 2018 roster hail from Florida, and that number was 11 before the transfer of Fort Lauderdale native Trevon Grimes to Florida last spring. Of those 10, 8 were blue-chip (4 or 5 stars) prospects. Of the blue-chip prospects, 7 came from Florida prep powers St. Thomas Aquinas, Seffner Armwood, Trinity Christian and William T. Dwyer. All four of those programs had been pipeline (three or more players on roster) schools for the Gators under Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer.
Florida lost head-to-head battles with Meyer over several of these players as well, including Johnnie Dixon, Shaun Wade, Nicholas Petit-Frere, and Sevyn Banks, whose own brother, Marcell Harris, was a captain at Florida.
A handful of blue-chip players of that caliber can flip a class, and many of these misses haunt Florida today. More vitally, Mullen’s ability to re-establish in-state pipelines at traditional prep powers in-state, especially while Florida State is down, is essential to the Gators’ ability to challenge the Alabama and Georgia death stars long-term.
Meyer might have regretted the way he left Florida, but ironically, in leaving Ohio State, he might have done his friend and old assistant Mullen an immense favor. It’s up to Mullen to capitalize.