The legendary Urban Meyer retired as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football program on Tuesday, December 4. Two days later, the dust is still settling from Meyer’s decision. His departure leaves several question marks about the direction of the Buckeyes both in the present and in the immediate future.
The roster is still loaded, but will the Buckeyes come back to the pack in the Big Ten? Will Meyer’s departure help stabilize some of the inconsistencies that emerged on-field in the last couple of years? Can new head coach Ryan Day keep Ohio State at or near the top of the recruiting game like Meyer did? Those questions and more will tell the story of Buckeyes football for the next decade to come.
Several issues face the Buckeyes immediately. Urban Meyer gave notice to Ohio State early in recruiting season to stabilize the program far in advance of signing day. The plan worked fairly well. As of this morning, no 2019 recruits have rescinded their commitment to the Buckeyes.
However, two players have already decommited from the 2020 class. One of those decommitments is offensive lineman Jake Wray, a 4-star recruit whose older brother is already on the Ohio State roster. Wray did note that Ohio State is still one of his top schools. He may recommit after taking some time to re-evalute his situation.
Other schools are already going after Ohio State commitments. TMZ reported Oklahoma, Arkansas and Notre Dame have already attempted to sway 5-star wide receiver Garrett Wilson away from the Buckeyes. Wilson chose to stick with Ohio State, but that doesn’t mean more recruits like Wilson will stay in the fold.
Urban Meyer is one of the best recruiters in all of college football. Day must prove that he and his staff can keep the ball rolling, especially in their talent-rich home state, Ohio. When Michigan dominated Ohio State, it was in large part due to the Wolverines’ ability to recruit well in Buckeye Land. Day’s chances of success rest in large part with Ohio.
Urban Meyer also excelled in talent-rich states like Florida, California, Texas and Georgia. Day’s staff has a huge task at hand to both maintain and even grow the recruiting pipeline into Columbus.
It’s fair to wonder whether or not Meyer’s health struggles hurt the Buckeyes’ performance on-field. The evidence is there, and I should also note that Florida’s problems under Meyer began when he started to break down in Gainesville. The Gators’ record dropped from 13-1 with a Sugar Bowl victory in 2009, to a mediocre 8-5 record in his final season. Simply put, Tim Tebow’s departure to the NFL wasn’t the only problem for Florida. Meyer’s Gators struggled on both sides of the ball at times during that 2010 season. They lacked the usual cohesion and consistency that Meyer’s Gators usually featured.
The last couple of years have been no different in Columbus. Urban Meyer first underwent surgery in 2014. The Buckeyes’ performances following their surprise national title victory that season often proved underwhelming. Ohio State struggled to get consistency from its quarterbacks, while the trademark Silver Bullets defense ceased being everything it used to be, especially in the linebacker corps.
Many experts forget how talented the 2015 Buckeyes were. That team should have won another title. Instead, Ohio State set an NFL record for most players selected in the first three (10) and four rounds (12) of the draft in 2016. Meyer kept recruiting top 5 or top 10 classes throughout this time, but we started seeing more and more inconsistency with on the field.
Last year’s 55-24 loss at Iowa, and the Buckeyes’ 49-20 defeat at Purdue in October are two examples of Ohio State’s breakdowns in recent memory. Both blowout losses cost Ohio State trips to the College Football Playoff in two consecutive years. Each loss displayed a disturbing lack of focus and fundamental skills. The Buckeyes fielded teams that far surpassed their opponents’ talent levels, but talent doesn’t ensure victory. Something about these teams was off, and I believe it started with Meyer’s personal struggles.
Those issues are gone
Meyer’s retirement gives Day and the entire Ohio State program a chance to take Meyer’s health concerns off the table. It’s a catch-22. Either Ohio State’s coaching staff will be able to focusing full time on improving the team’s deficiencies, or the Buckeyes could go the way of the Gators since Meyer left Gainesville.
We don’t know. Ohio State does have a couple advantages compared to what the Gators dealt with in 2010. The Buckeyes face less competition in their talent-rich state. Florida basically competes with the rest of the country for athletes at home. Ohio State also has an easier path to the College Football Playoff than Florida does. Finally, the Buckeyes groomed Day for the coaching job. Florida went out and got their rising star, Will Muschamp, without fully embedding him the Gators’ system.
Still, we’ve seen plenty of outstanding programs suffer when their legendary coaches leave. USC, Oregon, Miami (FL) are three examples of programs that have struggled since losing Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly, and Butch Davis respectively. It’s possible that the 39-year-old Day will bury this program, and Ohio State will fall back to the Big Ten. Or Day’s creative offensive mind and passion for the game will finally help Ohio State fully reach its potential.
I don’t think there is a middle ground. One way or another, Ohio State football changed forever two days ago. Time will tell which direction the Buckeyes take.