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April 23, 2012
New Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has brought his cutthroat SEC mentality to the Big Ten while also achieving a better work-life balance—for now
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April 23, 2012

Another Urban Renewal

New Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has brought his cutthroat SEC mentality to the Big Ten while also achieving a better work-life balance—for now

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Working a full slate of games for ESPN may not sound like an ideal way to decompress, but it worked for Meyer, who laughs at a suggestion that his job in television was remotely as demanding as coaching. "I mean, Monday and Tuesday are four- or five-hour sessions, Wednesday not as much," he says. "Thursday's for travel. Friday's a couple hours of production meetings. Saturday's the game, then you fold your book up and you go watch your daughters play volleyball."

Nicki is a defensive specialist for the Yellow Jackets; Gigi is a setter at Florida Gulf Coast who'll be entering her sophomore season. Little brother Nate, 13, is a seventh-grader and fireballing righthanded pitcher. Their dad could always make it from his ESPN gig to a Sunday game; sometimes he finished early enough to make it to a Saturday-night match. And there was the memorable occasion last September, when—on the eve of calling the Auburn-Clemson game—he walked into Clemson's Jervey Gym, where Nicki was playing in her team's ACC opener.

Nicki reports that her old man has done a "great" job abiding by the contract. "If we call him and he's in a meeting, he'll pick up, even if it's just to tell us he'll call us right back. When he was at Florida, he just wouldn't pick up."

But is this new Urban permanent? "We will see," says Shelley, his wife of 23 years. "We haven't played any games yet."

That's Nate on the mound in the glossy photo in his dad's office, throwing gas in some Little League game. He and Shelley moved from Florida to Ohio in mid-March, even though Nate still had two months of school. Why not wait until June?

For one thing, says Urban, Nate's new travel baseball team starts practice before then. For another, the coach admits, "I can't go much longer without them." He had been commuting between Gainesville and Columbus for three months. "I want 'em here."

The old Meyer—the supremely driven young coach—would not have allowed himself such a tender, unspartan sentiment. Or if he did, he wouldn't have vocalized it. But this is the new Urban. At the first meeting of his newly assembled staff, recalls Vrabel, Meyer said, "'I want you guys to be great husbands, fathers and football coaches.' He wants the players to be around our families, to know our wives and our kids. It's an important part of the program."

Such friendships knit closer coach-player bonds. Meyer also hopes that they give his players pause before they make off-the-field decisions that might affect the livelihoods of those assistants. This strategy met with only mixed success during his years in Gainesville, during which the program was embarrassed by at least 31 arrests involving 25 players, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Many were garden-variety offenses, from alcohol possession to disorderly conduct. But more than a dozen involved initial charges of felonies or violent misdemeanors. Those arrests, and Meyer's perceived lenience with the lawbreakers, opened him to criticism repeated, most recently, in SN. But he has always defended his willingness to give his charges second "and even third" chances.

The sins of the Buckeyes during the brief reign of Urban have been venial, so far as we know. In February five players were late for a meeting. This tardiness, paired with what Meyer called "a couple of incorrect decisions" made by players over the following weekend, resulted in a harsh consequence: The entire team was subjected to a week of 5 a.m. outdoor conditioning drills in 10° weather. "You only get so many chances in life to make a first impression," says Meyer, "and we wanted to make this one stick."

It stuck. "Those workouts were a big step for us," says junior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort, who describes the grueling winter workouts as "a cleansing period. I think [Meyer] was disappointed with what had gone on here, and he wanted to work it out of us."

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