With a stunning record of success over the course of a decade, Urban Meyer in the 1990s and 2000s established himself as nothing short of one of the premier coaches in college football history--an innovative thinker, inspiring leader, and perhaps above all, a relentless winner.
With his successes at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida behind him, though, Meyer in 2011 accepted perhaps the greatest challenge of his career--reviving the program at Ohio State, still reeling from the fallout of the Tattoo Five scandal, while maintaining the life-work balance that he found so difficult to achieve earlier in his career.
It was a career that began, quite fittingly, in his home state of Ohio. After one season spent working as an assistant at the high-profile Cincinnati high school program at Saint Xavier, Meyer was hired as a graduate assistant at Ohio State, working under former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce. From there, Meyer began to live the typically unsettled life of a football coach, making stops at Illinois State, Colorado and Notre Dame before landing his first head coaching job at Bowling Green back home in Ohio. His impact was immediate. Meyer went 8-3 in his first year, winning the Mid-American Coach of the Year award in the process, and then guiding his squad to a 9-3 mark in his second season. After two years and an impressive 17-6 record--Bowling Green had been floundering before his arrival--he was hired away to Utah, where he took over as the Utes head coach in 2003.
It was with the Utes that Meyer first began to make his name on the national college football stage. As he did at Bowling Green, Meyer won immediately at Utah, leading the Utes to a 10-2 record in his debut season. He was named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year and the Sporting News National Coach of the Year that season, and pundits from coast to coast began to take notice of Meyer's innovative offensive philosophy, in which spread formations were employed and huge numbers were posted on the scoreboard. Meyer's legend only grew larger the next season, as the Utes went a perfect 12-0, earned a bid to the Fiesta Bowl -- they were the first non-BCS conference team to earn a BCS bowl bid -- and knocked off Pittsburgh, 35-7.
By that point, Meyer was a coaching superstar, and some of the nation's top schools took notice. Though he was pursued by Notre Dame -- Meyer has reportedly said that he considers Notre Dame one of his "dream jobs" -- he ultimately decided against a move to South Bend. Instead, he accepted the job at Florida, which had struggled under the leadership of Steve Spurrier's successor, Ron Zook.
Meyer went 9-3 in his first season in Gainesville, leading this team to a 9-3 mark, including a 5-3 record in the brutal SEC. The season was capped with 31-24 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl--a win that, in some ways, offered a hint of what was to come.
Though big things were expected of Meyer at Florida, perhaps nobody could have foreseen what happened in 2006, his second season. That year, Meyer's Gators stormed to a 13-1 record, including an 8-1 mark in the SEC, won the SEC Championship and, stunningly, earned a bid to the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. The Gators were huge underdogs to the Buckeyes and their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Troy Smith, but it didn't take them long to show the world just how good they were. They blitzed past the overwhelmed Buckeyes to score a 41-14 win that not only established Meyer as one of the best coaches in the country, but also signaled the rise of the SEC as the nation's pre-eminent power conference.
After a somewhat disappointment 9-3 record in 2007--a season that, at the very least, was highlighted by quarterback Tim Tebow's remarkable Heisman Trophy run--Meyer once again led his Gators to a national title in 2008. With Tebow again leading the way, the Gators finished the season with a 13-1 record that was capped by a 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game.
With Tebow returning yet again, the Gators were the hands-down favorites to win the national title in 2009. In fact, they opened the season ranked No. 1 by the widest voting margin in the history of the Associated Press Top 25. The Gators charged to a 12-0 record that season and entered the SEC Championship game as favorites over the upstart Alabama Crimson Tide of coach Nick Saban. Everyone expected Meyer (and Tebow) to punch their ticket to the national title game yet again, but in the end, it was Saban and the Tide who came out on top. They beat the Gators 32-13 that day. And in a sense, the loss signaled the end of the Meyer era in Gainesville.
In the wake of that defeat, Meyer was admitted to the hospital with chest pains. A few weeks later, he announced he would retire from coaching. A day later, he changed his mind, stating he would only be taking a leave of absence. He returned to his duties full-time in March, but he was never the same, and nor were the Gators. They limped to a 7-5 mark, the worst of Meyer's coaching career, and the coach announced his retirement yet again on December 8, 2010. Meyer knocked off Penn State 37-24 in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, then stepped away from coaching.
His retirement, during which he served as an analyst for ESPN, lasted less than a year. On Nov. 28, 2011, he was introduced as head coach of Ohio State.