Five Lingering Questions About Where Urban Meyer and Ohio State Go From Here
The announcement of Urban Meyer’s retirement on Tuesday was shocking only in the moment Ohio State chose to drop the news, not in the substance of the news itself, which has been at least a possibility for months. The why of it was evident—health, and perhaps the scandal of this season—and Ohio State quickly made the how of it clear: Ryan Day, the offensive coordinator who coached the team during Meyer’s September suspension, will be promoted. Meyer will stay on through the Rose Bowl. There will be no coaching search, no wild speculation about why this happened now and what it means.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions facing both Ohio State and Meyer, no matter how neatly disseminated the news might have been. Here are the five most pressing concerns going forward:
Is this it for Urban Meyer as a coach?
This is it—until it isn’t. We’ve been through this with Meyer before, in 2009 at Florida, and then again in 2010, when his decision stuck for a season. This time around, the coach is calling it a retirement, rather than a resignation, but even that language proffers only a weak argument that Meyer is finished coaching for good.
He’s 54, still relatively young, and though the arachnoid cyst on his brain seemed to be exhibiting painful symptoms this season, the condition isn’t something life threatening—and, more crucially, those symptoms will likely subside with some minimal medical intervention. Meyer will start feeling better, and then he’ll get bored, fast; he’s not the kind of retired coach fans will get accustomed to seeing out for a grocery run or at the local car wash. My best guess is that Meyer will end up in some kind of advisory position to a program, but I wouldn’t rule out another TV gig or full-blown coaching stint. And don’t kid yourself: Neither Meyer’s health issues nor his inept handling of the Zach Smith situation will be a barrier to him re-entering the industry.
How will Day tweak the coaching staff in the short and long term?
Almost as soon as Day’s promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach was announced in conjunction with Meyer’s retirement, multiple reports surfaced that Day would be retaining at least several key members of the Buckeyes’ coaching staff, including (according to Yahoo! Sports) strength coach Mickey Marotti, personnel director Mark Pantoni, director of operations Brian Voltolini and player development director Ryan Stamper. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s minimal coaching turnover in Columbus this year to ease the transition and offer some continuity for the first-year head coach.
But to assume that the staff will stay static in the seasons to come is to overlook Day’s background: Despite having a history with Meyer—he was a grad assistant at Florida in 2005—this is a coach who’s a relative outsider to the Buckeyes’ system. If everything were humming along perfectly, then maybe there’d be less impetus for change, but if Greg Schiano’s defense doesn’t do an about-face, fast, major adjustments could be looming. Which brings us to the next question.
How will the Buckeyes address their shortcomings on defense?
This year’s defense was the worst unit Ohio State has fielded during Meyer’s tenure as coach in Columbus. It was the No. 67 defense in the FBS in terms of yards allowed, averaging 400.3—a number made all the worse when considering the Buckeyes faced just four top-50 offenses in 2018. Losing top pass rusher Nick Bosa early in the season was a blow, but in past years, Ohio State has been able to move on from injuries without missing a beat. It’s not a talent issue—this unit is loaded with blue-chip recruits—but rather a problem of development that seems to have taken hold since Schiano arrived in ’16. And though this year’s unit struggled more across the board than others of the past few seasons, a trend seems to be developing: Defensively, the Buckeyes look unprepared for teams they should beat on paper nine times out of 10. There was Iowa in 2017 and Purdue and Maryland this year, sloppy performances that cost Ohio State playoff bids. The Buckeyes need to figure out how to stay engaged for lesser opponents and how to limit big plays—and that may take a change on the coaching staff.
Will Dwayne Haskins go pro?
This question has dogged Ohio State fans for much of the season—and the talented redshirt sophomore bolting for the NFL has looked increasingly likely over the course of the past month. That said, it’s still nowhere near certain, and any announcement is unlikely to come until after the Rose Bowl.
Haskins, one of three quarterbacks named as the finalists for this year’s Heisman Trophy, was the brightest spot in a weird season for Ohio State, which posted the FBS’s No. 8 scoring offense. That was thanks in large part to Haskins, who completed 70.2% of his passes (348 of 496) on the year, throwing for 4,580 yards, 47 touchdowns and just eight interceptions—in just his first season of appreciable playing time. (Last year, Haskins played in eight games, but he attempted just 57 throws.)
A month ago, it seemed as if Haskins might benefit from another year at Ohio State to develop further and chase a playoff bid. But his last three games were phenomenal; against Maryland, Michigan and Northwestern, he was a combined 82 of 110 (74.5%), throwing for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also rushed for three touchdowns against Maryland, salvaging one of the Buckeyes’ worst defensive performances this season and highlighting exactly how much Ohio State needed him this year. Those three games pushed Haskins into serious Heisman consideration, and they also might be an impetus for him to go pro, though the Buckeyes’ elevation of Day, with whom Haskins is comfortable, will provide a level of continuity that might convince the quarterback to give college one more season.
Is there a new team to beat in the Big Ten?
It’s too soon to say. To assume Meyer’s retirement counts the Buckeyes out in the near term is simplistic and premature; this is a team that’s been a juggernaut under any number of coaches. It’s loaded with talent, in a state loaded with talent, where recruits’ allegiance is to a program, not necessarily the man in charge. Just look at what Oklahoma did in a similar situation before the 2017 season, when Bob Stoops retired in June; offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley took over, and the team has made the playoff in both seasons since.
Still, this does introduce an element of uncertainty to Ohio State’s path at a time when Michigan looks as if it’s found its footing under Jim Harbaugh. Yes, the Buckeyes exploited the Wolverines’ elite defense in The Game, but that doesn’t take away from the strides Michigan has made. Plus, Penn State is still lurking, even after a disappointing 2018, even as Trace McSorley moves to the NFL. Michigan may be the more immediate concern, but the Nittany Lions are going to keep dogging the Buckeyes for supremacy, too.