Urban Meyer’s Endless Pursuit Of Nick Saban
Urban Meyer is almost second to none when it comes to the greatest coaches of today. The key word is almost. He’s still chasing that ghost of Nick Saban at Alabama.
The Chase. That was Urban Meyer’s self-proclaimed motto for the 2014 Ohio State season. But to truly peel that back and understand what was underneath, one needs to remember where Meyer came from.
Yeah, he may be an Ohio product, but once he got a shot to coach at Florida, he was SEC through and through. In his time gobbling up grits and drinking sweet tea, he got to see college football at its highest level. The Gators led the charge at times, and at other moments it was Auburn, LSU, or … Alabama.
And that’s where we pick up this little story. Nick Saban air-lifted from the NFL to Tuscaloosa in January of 2007, right about the same time Meyer’s Gators demoralized and demonized all of Buckeye nation in the desert for his first national championship.
The Gators would walk away with another national championship in 2008. That year Meyer and Florida beat Nick Saban and Alabama in the SEC title game before sealing the deal against Oklahoma. It would mark two national titles in three years for the rockin’ program. But then things began to change.
The building of a dynasty
Saban was slowly building a monster of a program at Alabama by hauling in some of the best recruiting classes year after year. The Tide overtook the Gators as the best team in the SEC by taming the Gators in the 2009 SEC Championship. ‘Bama would beat Florida again during the regular season in 2010. Neither game was close. The 2009 game ended up with Meyer taking a trip to the hospital and contemplating his future. The 2010 contest ended up being his last in Gainesville.
It looked for all the world that Saban would be the catalyst towards a career in the broadcast booth for Urban Meyer. But you can’t keep a guy with the competitive juices like Meyer away long. After a one-year hiatus, he decided to take advantage of the wacky circus atmosphere surrounding the dismissal of Jim Tressel. He became the 24th head coach in Ohio State history on November 28, 2011.
The honest truth
When Meyer got to Columbus, he was less than shy about the gap that existed between the Big Ten and the SEC. Truth be known, that gap had a mostly Crimson hue. It was about speed and depth on both lines, and an explosive, yet physical athlete at the skill positions.
So began The Chase.
But let’s not hide behind the surface of Ohio State catching up to Alabama. It’s more than that no matter what anyone in the Meyer camp says. For the Buckeyes to catch the Crimson Tide is for Urban Frank Meyer to gain a little on Nick Lou Saban.
It was Meyer’s SEC until Saban came and crashed the party, stepped on the cake, and popped all the balloons.
A little redemption
That’s why it must have felt so good on January 1, 2015 in the first ever College Football Playoff. Ohio State beat back the No. 1 Tide as the No. 4 seed, and evened the score head-to-head between Meyer and Saban at two a piece. OSU would go on to win the national title.
And if you don’t think the ultra-competitive Meyer let his hair down a little after that one, just ask his wife Shelley. According to her, Urban proclaimed “ding, dong, the witch is dead” once all the hoopla ended and the two were in the car together.
The plot continues
But it’s still happening today. Largely because Ohio State has had some close misses since then, while Alabama continues to be an annual visitor to the College Football Playoff. Just look at the numbers.
Alabama, ah-hem — and Nick Saban, have been a part of all three College Football Playoffs. Ohio State has been twice. Saban has advanced the Crimson Tide past the semi-finals and on into the title game twice, winning one. Meyer has led Ohio State past the semi-final game just once, also winning one title.
And it’s deeper than that too. If we look at the career of both, Saban has won five national championships, Meyer has won three. Saban has eight conference championships (1 Mid-American, 7 SEC), Meyer has five (2 Mountain West, 2 SEC, 1 Big Ten). Meyer’s Buckeyes have enjoyed what most would consider the second best recruiting haul over the last five years. Guess what team is numero uno? Yep, the fighting Sabans.
And that’s just it. Urban Meyer is soooo close to being Nick Saban, but he’s not quite there. Just when he’s on the doorstep of being considered the best coach in college football today, Saban does something to one-up his frenemy. As an ultra-competitive personality, it has to be nagging at him, just eating away at his psyche and manhood.
For all the accolades, conference championships, NFL draft picks and wins (61-6 at Ohio State), there is always that little bit more to go to truly get to the finish line where Meyer can waive the flag as the best in the business.
What the future holds
Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are the two best coaches in the game today. But the conversation always starts with Saban, and not Meyer. And in a bit of poetic justice, Alabama is ranked No. 1 in almost all pre-season polls and publications. Coming just behind at No. 2 is Ohio State, led by the man named Urban.
You get the feeling the two will meet on the field at least a couple more times with where these two programs are. Meyer will continue to get his chances to whittle away at the Saban mystique.
As he does, Meyer would love nothing more than to have The Chase, turn into The Catch And Release.