ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — If he wasn’t a member of the club before, he definitely is now.
Take a bow, Urban Meyer.
You’re one of the greatest coaches in college football history.
Meyer joined a very elite group — right up there with guys named Bryant and Leahy and Saban — by leading Ohio State to the national championship with a 42-20 victory over Oregon on Monday night.
It was Meyer’s third national title. The first two came with Florida, this one with the Buckeyes — a program in disarray when he took over in 2012 after taking a one-year sabbatical from coaching.
He said he needed the time away to take care of his health and reconnect with his family. But if anyone thought it would be a softer, kinder — and more beatable — Meyer who returned to the sideline, they were sadly mistaken.
This was the 41st game he’s coached since taking over in Columbus.
He’s won 38 of them, an astonishing turnaround for a team that went 6-7 during the 2011 season, reeling from the forced ouster of longtime coach Jim Tressel and an NCAA investigation into tattoos and other illegal benefits.
“The chase is complete,” Meyer said.
Ahh, the chase. That’s been the theme of the program since Meyer watched Alabama demolish Notre Dame in the BCS championship game at the end of the 2012 season. The Buckeyes went 12-0 that year but were banned from postseason play. Nevertheless, the coach knew his unbeaten squad didn’t match up to the Crimson Tide, so he sent every member of the program a text that very night with a simple message: “The Chase is on.”
Quicker than even Meyers envisioned, the Buckeyes became the team everyone else is chasing.
And with many of his top players returning, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, they’ll certainly start next season as the favorite to win another.
“The word repeat, we’ll have that conversation, but certainly not today. It’s about enjoying it,” a weary looking Meyer said Tuesday morning, the championship trophy by his side. “Elite warriors, when they accomplish their mission, they celebrate. The next thing they do is learn from it, and then the final thing is they look forward to the next mission, next assignment. Right now, we’re in the celebration phase.”
Meyer seemed a little more willing to appreciate this title than the first two, but it’s not his style to relax for long.
“He just demands excellence out of everybody, every aspect of your life,” said Elliott, the MVP of the title game after rushing for 246 yards and four touchdowns. “When he demands that every day from you, you don’t have any choice but to change.”
Clearly, Meyer is still the same fierce competitor he always was — mercilessly poking players and coaches alike, all in a desire to get the best out of them. Before a Sugar Bowl victory over top-seeded Alabama, he talked about the need to make life uncomfortable for those around him, saying that’s often how you get the best out of people.
He’ll get no complaints from the Buckeyes, whose victory signaled a northward shift in the game’s power structure after years of dominance by the Southeastern Conference (with Meyer playing a key role in that, as well).
Meyer became only the eighth coach to win as many as three Associated Press and BCS national championships, a club led by Bear Bryant with five. Frank Leahy and Nick Saban have four apiece, followed by Meyer, Bernie Bierman, John McKay, Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, all with a trio.
Saban and Meyer are the only coaches to win championships at different schools.
By the time Meyer is done — remember, he’s still only 50 — he might go down as the greatest of them all, at least in the modern era.
“I’m very humbled by that,” he said, “but I’m also the first one to appreciate the people who did it, and that’s our players.”
Give Meyer some credit, too.
This was his best coaching job yet.
The Buckeyes lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury during fall practice. They had to shake off an early home loss to Virginia Tech, when Miller’s replacement, J.T. Barrett, struggled behind an inexperienced offensive line. Barrett improved to such an extent that he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting, but he sustained a season-ending injury of his own against Michigan. About the same time, the team had to deal with something far worse: the death of scout team player Kosta Karageorge, who is believed to have taken his own life.
Meyer had to turn to a quarterback who started the year as a third-stringer, Cardale Jones. All he did in his first three career starts was guide the Buckeyes to a 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, a stunning 42-35 upset of Saban’s Alabama powerhouse in the Sugar Bowl, and finally a resounding triumph over Oregon and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, which would’ve been even bigger if not for Ohio State’s four turnovers.
There are not many coaches who could overcome that sort of adversity.
Maybe not any.
Not even Saban, dare we say.
“One of the great stories in college football history of closeness, of team, of selflessness and strain,” Meyer said.
When he was growing up in Ashtabula, a small town on Lake Erie, his family had a picture of Woody Hayes hanging in the home. The fiery Ohio State coach was clearly an inspiration, because Meyer found his calling on the sideline after a short-lived professional baseball career in the Atlanta Braves organization.
To this day, he still keeps a picture of Hayes in his home.
Maybe it’s time to put up something different.
If Meyer wants a coach to look up to, all he needs is a mirror.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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