Tuesday’s news that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is set to retire after the Rose Bowl (following previous reports that he planned to leave this year or next thanks to health concerns from a cyst on his brain) is significant from a media dimension as well, as it seems likely that Meyer could return to TV work if he wanted to. After leaving Florida following the 2010 season (a move where he also cited health concerns), Meyer worked as an ESPN analyst (including on the 2011 BCS title game, seen above) before taking the Ohio State job in November, and his time on TV received some praise. But even beyond that background, he’s a big name, and one that might be appealing to ESPN and/or Fox, even if his hire would come with baggage and backlash.
Yes, if a network hires Meyer, they’re going to take some flak. Meyer has been under fire for much of this year over his handling of repeated accusations of domestic violence against former assistant coach Zach Smith, from claims he didn’t know of the accusations against Smith to deleted texts to Smith’s claims he told Meyer about a police investigation to discussion of how much Meyer’s wife passed on to him from the texts she received from Smith’s then-wife. There were even reports that Meyer might be ousted by the school earlier this year, but they instead decided to suspend him for three games. Meyer himself hasn’t improved the situation, with tone-deaf press conferences and statements and lectures to the media on how to cover his suspension. And any network that hires him is going to take a fair bit of criticism. But that’s probably not going to stop them.
It should be noted that there are a whole lot of people who support Meyer, including the Ohio State fans’ rally this August that was full of signs bashing ESPN and Brett McMurphy (who broke the original story here on Facebook and now works at Stadium). Networks have also been pretty high on praising Meyer ever since his return to the sidelines. During the Ohio State-Michigan game two weeks ago, Fox’s Gus Johnson went all-in on boosting Meyer, saying “Give credit to Urban Meyer. What a challenging season it’s been for Coach Meyer.” And Big Ten Network (where Fox is the majority owner) kept the focus on his winning record in a Facebook post Tuesday:
ESPN’s coverage of Meyer stepping down has included more mentions of the Smith saga, both in their straight news piece from Adam Rittenberg and in a piece evaluating his “complicated legacy” from Andrea Adelson, but there have also been glowing recommendations like “one of the greatest coaches ever” from Stephen A. Smith. And it’s not like the coverage particularly affects their hiring decisions, either; if Meyer wanted to get back into TV, he’s a big name who’s already worked as an analyst, and ESPN would likely be very interested. And they could be a fit; they certainly have plenty of studio shows they could use him on, from SportsCenter to College Football Live to the various Saturday halftime/pre-game/post-game shows to maybe even College GameDay.
But Fox might prove to be an even better fit, given their focus on the Big Ten and Ohio State in particular; they already employ three prominent Ohio State alums in Robert Smith, Chris Spielman, and Cris Carter, and Carter has already been promoting Meyer:
"He wants to coach, but physically he can’t. He can’t do this anymore. Urban Meyer is a good man, and he’s had a tremendous impact on young people."@criscarter80 on his former WR coach & friend to step down at Ohio State pic.twitter.com/hlqO0eVU9j
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) December 4, 2018
While Fox has an established team of studio analysts (Smith, Dave Wannstedt, and Matt Leinart), it’s not hard to see Meyer maybe sliding in there too. And if this is a move for the long-term, Wannstedt could even perhaps slide over to the NFL on Fox at some point, perhaps replacing Jimmy Johnson (who’s 75; Wannstedt is 66 and Meyer is 54). Fox’s overlap with BTN might also be useful, perhaps letting Meyer appear there as well. But if Meyer does decide to head to the TV booth, networks might be wise to wait a bit before making major personnel changes after bringing him in; after all, he stayed in TV less than a year last time around before heading back to coaching, and even with his baggage, there will still be a lot of schools that would likely want him. (Whether he ever wants to be a head coach again given his health concerns is perhaps the bigger question, but a lot can change with time.)
Of course, this is all founded on the idea that Meyer might want to do TV again, and that’s not necessarily the case. As per ESPN’s piece, the cyst he’s battling causes worse headaches under stress, and while TV analyst is a lower-stress position than head coach, it’s far from stress-free. And with either ESPN or Fox, Meyer would likely have to do a decent amount of travel. He’s also made a ton of money in his career so far, and he might want to just kick back and relax for a while before deciding to pursue TV or anything else. And maybe he’ll just slide off quietly into the sunset. But it seems highly probable that if he does want to do TV, he’d have numerous takers despite the likely backlash. We’ll see if he opts to go down that road.