0

Meyer returns home to coach Ohio State

Urban Meyer addressies members of the media during a news conference Monday, Nov 28, 2011, at the Fawcett Center, on the Ohio State campus, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

Urban Meyer addressies members of the media during a news conference Monday, Nov 28, 2011, at the Fawcett Center, on the Ohio State campus, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If Ohio State did not come calling, Urban Meyer says he was planning to stay away from coaching for at least another year.

Meyer, the former Florida coach and native Buckeye, was officially hired Monday by Ohio State, a program with a glittering past that has suffered through a difficult year of NCAA violations.

"If not for the coaching position at Ohio State, I would not have coached this year," he said.

Meyer resigned as Gators coach after last season, citing health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family.

"A year ago in my mind I was convinced I was done coaching," he said.

He added that he is feeling great.

"I've been checked out and I'm ready to go," he said. "I've been to a place and I don't want to go back."

Meyer will become one of the highest paid coaches in college football, along with Alabama's Nick Saban, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Texas' Mack Brown. The school says he will receive a six-year contract that pays $4 million annually, plus another $2.4 million total in "retention payments." He also can qualify for supplemental bonuses.

Interim coach Luke Fickell, who took over when Jim Tressel was forced out for breaking NCAA rules, will coach the Buckeyes (6-6) in their bowl game and be retained by Meyer as an assistant, although Meyer declined to say in what capacity.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said his first conversation with Meyer about becoming coach was on Nov. 20 by phone. Smith said the two met face-to-face Nov. 23.

Meyer won two national championships in six years as the coach at Florida. Now, the 47-year-old will return to the place where his college coaching career began in 1986 after spending a year as an ESPN game analyst.

Smith said he was won over by Meyer.

"There's a right time for certain leaders," he said. "This is the right time for Urban Meyer to lead this football team. ... He gets it."

Earle Bruce, the head coach at Ohio State when Meyer was a graduate assistant, has remained a close friend and confidant of Meyer through the years. He said he had no concerns about Meyer's health.

"Well, if he'd had a heart attack and his heart was bad, I'd be worried about that," the 80-year-old Bruce said on Monday. "I'm not worried that he was stressed out over the game of football because he was thinking too much and not doing some things (exercising) that would have kept him straight. I think he got everything back under control by sitting out a year. I think he missed football. And he's good at it."

Meyer's news conference had to be stopped momentarily when a woman operating a camera for the Big Ten Network kneeled over during the middle of Meyer's remarks. She was helped out of the meeting room.

Meyer met with the team on Monday before his news conference. He said he was impressed with the players' enthusiasm and acceptance.

Saban, who played at Kent State and coached at Toledo in the Buckeye state, said he was happy for Meyer.

"I'm sure he's excited about it, and I'm excited for him that he has an opportunity to go back to his home state and be the head coach here," Saban said. "I think it's a wonderful opportunity and I think he'll do a great job."

Meyer takes over a program that is likely facing NCAA sanctions and was crippled by the forced resignation of Tressel. The Buckeyes completed their only season under Fickell with a 40-34 loss to Michigan on Saturday that snapped a seven-game winning streak over their rivals.