When looking back at Urban Meyer’s Ohio State tenure, there’s a tendency to focus just as much on what could have been as what actually was.
In 2012, the Buckeyes went undefeated but were banned from the postseason. The following year brought another unbeaten regular season, but a loss to Michigan State in the conference championship kept Ohio State out of the final BCS Championship Game. Those circumstanced combined to produce a glitch of a result in which Meyer won his first 24 games at Ohio State and didn’t have so much as a conference championship to show for it.
The 2014 campaign was kind of the opposite, a lightning in a bottle moment with Cardale Jones that propelled the Buckeyes from very good to clearly best and brought the program’s first national championship since 2002. But 2015 returned to the theme of the untimely loss, in which a lone last-second defeat against Michigan State kept the nation’s most talented team from repeating as College Football Playoff champions. The following year Ohio State returned to the playoff, but again one close loss kept the Buckeyes from a big accomplishment (in this case, a conference championship).
The following two years have been a slight variant on that theme, with the defeat being unsightly instead of untimely. A 31-point loss at Iowa in 2017 and a 29-point defeat at Purdue in 2018 kept the Buckeyes on the wrong margin of the playoff field. Despite losing just nine games over the last seven years, Ohio State won just three conference titles. The Buckeyes also made the playoff twice in five years with just six losses in that span.
Weird things happen sometimes. For a team that was constantly this good, Ohio State caught a ton of awful breaks. Virtually every year, it seemed like one loss in 12 games somehow conspired to undermine the season. And let’s not forget that the one undefeated season was undone by a comically awful administrative decision to not self-impose a bowl ban during the 6-7 season in 2011. But don’t miss the forest for the trees. Under Urban Meyer, Ohio State was so outrageously good that the program may never see a run like this again.
That’s not to say there won’t be more championships. There will be. Historically, Ohio State is arguably the most recession-proof college football program in the country. In the last two decades, Alabama alone has employed Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula — all three presumably hired on purpose and not at gunpoint. Every blue blood has had a stretch like that. But in Columbus, the dark years that mustn’t be spoken of were a slew of one-loss seasons in the 90s (OK, who the loss came against might have been important… but still).
It’s because Ohio State has always been so good that I think sometimes (not always, or even mostly, but sometimes) Buckeye fans take for granted what the last seven years have brought. So, as someone whose childhood was ruined by LSU teams coached by Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo, I’d just like to offer one quick sentiment in the wake of Meyer’s retirement: I hope y’all take time to truly appreciate how great it was that for the last seven years one of the best to ever do it coached the team you love.
I’m quite fond of saying that Alabama’s current run has made everyone insane, but it really is true. You’ll never be happy if success is measured by a program doing something that’s never been done before and seems unlikely to be done again. Since Nick Saban took over in 2007, Alabama has won more national championships without winning its division that season (two) than any other school has won period (six schools with one apiece). One coach aside from Saban has multiple titles during that 2007-present span… Meyer, who won one at Florida in 2008 (and in 2006, but that was before Saban’s arrival to Alabama).
So look at the following accomplishments and try to remember that Meyer is for sure a top-5 coach in the history of the sport and Ohio State got more time — and more good seasons — with him than any other program did.
- Over the last seven years, Ohio State lost nine games. Nine. In a resurgent Big Ten conference. The absolute worst-case scenario under Meyer was a 10-2 regular season. It happened *once.* One time in seven years. The rest were 11-1 or 12-0.
- Urban Meyer is the only Ohio State coach to finish his career undefeated against Michigan. He was 7-0, and many of them weren’t close. Given the rate at which Jim Harbaugh has won at other stops, it’s fair to at least theorize that Meyer’s domination in the rivalry ruined Michigan’s best chance at returning to status as a national power.
- Almost nobody won more frequently. Ever. Meyer’s final career winning percentage is .855, which is the third-best in the history of the sport for coaches with 10 or more seasons. Saban isn’t close to that. At Ohio State, the number was .903. He won more than NINETY PERCENT OF HIS GAMES at Ohio State.
- Every single year they were eligible under Meyer, the Buckeyes reached a BCS or New Year’s Six Bowl. For those keeping track: Orange, Sugar, CFP Championship, Fiesta, Fiesta, Cotton, Rose. That’s an outrageous run.
- He won big games, including the Sugar, CFP Championship, Fiesta, Cotton and Rose. There was also the aforementioned spotless record against Michigan and he won three of the four Big Ten title games he coached in.
- Even as Saban racked up titles at an unprecedented pace, he’s still lost eight games in the span Meyer lost nine (and he could still lose another on Monday). When there are this many teams, there’s some luck and randomness when it comes to when 11-1 is good enough and when it isn’t.
The last year didn’t seem to be an especially pleasant one for Ohio State fans, and it seems a bit unjust that the program only won one national championship during these last seven years. But don’t let that obscure any appreciation for Meyer’s time in Columbus. The historic numbers make clear that even at a program that wins as frequently and consistently as Ohio State has done, there won’t be another one like him.