Urban Meyer's Legacy Through My Eyes
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in December of 2018 by Robyn Clarke, a journalism student at the University of Florida. A native of Georgia, Robyn has always claimed loyalty to the Florida Gators. Graduating in 2022, Robyn continues to blaze a path of her own as she works towards her degree with an emphasis on sports and human interest stories. Visit Robyn's personal blog here.
BY ROBYN CLARKE
Absentmindedly, I opened Twitter the morning of December 4th, 2018 and began scrolling.
One piece of news caught my eye: “Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is retiring from coaching following their Rose Bowl matchup against Washington January 1st.”
I was shocked. I’d read reports which speculated that would happen, but after Ohio State finished sixth in the final College Football Playoff Rankings, I thought for sure he would give it one more go, coaching one final season with the Buckeyes in 2019 in an attempt to win it all, one more time.
Urban Meyer has been a part of college football ever since I’ve been watching it. He was the first coach I watched lead my beloved Florida Gators, and the teams he put on the field helped create my dream of coming to school here. Year in and year out, we were successful, winning countless games and consistently performing at the highest level. Our players were constantly winning awards and achieving other prestigious accolades. Even as an eight year old, I knew I wanted to be that way, too.
“Well, how do you think he does it?” my dad asked. “He’s successful because he works hard and he pushes the team to be the best they can be, every day.”
Knowing I looked up to him, my dad began using Coach Meyer as a source of motivation as I went through physical therapy and the other daily challenges cerebral palsy brings.
“Robyn, if one of Florida’s players put in that kind of effort, do you think Coach Meyer would put him on the field?” he would ask. If the answer was no, then I knew I needed to work harder.
The first season without him as our head coach was just… weird to me.
Urban Meyer as head coach of the Florida Gators was all I’d ever known, and it took me a while to grasp the idea of someone else being in charge. Growing up, I thought winning national championships every other year was just a thing teams did. I soon learned that was not the case, and I realized that what he had done in Gainesville was special.
When I met him a couple years later, I found out that Urban Meyer himself is beyond special. He’s one of those people you meet and never forget about, no matter how many others’ paths you cross.
For my fifteenth birthday, one of my friends surprised me with tickets to the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Celebrity Golf Classic. Held annually, it’s a fundraiser where Tim and his friends take on the course of TPC Sawgrass, and all of the funds raised go towards supporting the foundation’s outreach initiatives.
Most of the celebrities I met that day took a picture and kept going, but not Coach Meyer.
No, he walked up and wrapped me in a bear hug, going on to compliment the Gator stickers I wore on my leg braces and taking time out of his day to talk with us. It was evident to me within moments that he is a father before anything else, and I believe his success can in part be attributed to that.
In believing in his players and treating them like they’re his own, Coach Meyer enables them to believe in themselves, which in turn allows them to reach heights they never thought they could.
I’ve gone to the golf tournament every year since, and one of the highlights every year is seeing Coach Meyer. He’s so much more than a lot of people think he is. He’s funny, for one thing. “Haven’t you ever heard of sunscreen?” he asked one year, when I was burnt to a crisp.
And I learned the hard way not to say the name of Ohio State’s rival. After hearing me say it twice, he had had enough. “You say that word again, you’re doing push ups,” he said, serious as could be. “They are the Team Up North.”
To this day, I call the team that shall not be named The Team Up North, and correct anyone who does otherwise.
He’s also extremely kind and caring. I had surgery in November of 2017 and spent three weeks in the hospital. When Coach Meyer found out where I was, he picked up the phone and called me, just to find out what was going on and make sure I was alright. I was so excited that my heart rate sky rocketed, topping off at 167 and making the nurses think something was wrong.
On the contrary, that phone call gave me more joy than I’d had since my hospital stay began six days earlier. It was classic Coach Meyer. He cracked a few jokes– according to him, my dad is nuts and my mom is the “more normal” of the two of my parents– but most of all, he showed me love.
When I answered his call, the first thing I noticed was how concerned he sounded– like a worried father checking on his child. But what stuck with me the most was what he said at the very end: “Send me a text every couple of days and keep me updated. I love you. I’ll be thinking about you.”
So I did. Once a week, I’d send him a quick text and let him know how I was feeling and what was happening in my world. And he texted me back, every single time.
Always, he encouraged me. “You’re awesome! Keep swinging and you will prove her wrong!” he said, when I told him a therapist had said I would be confined to a wheelchair for a few months. And sometimes, he teased me. “Send me your address- need to get you some Buckeye gear! See the Gator stuff!” he responded, after I was wearing a Florida shirt in a video I sent him.
I texted him my address, and sure enough, a package showed up on my porch not long after that. It was filled with Ohio State gear and a copy of his book, Above the Line, written about the principles behind how he motivates his players.
What is Urban Meyer’s legacy? A lot will be made of that question in the coming months, but to me, the answer is simple: love. His legacy is one of love. Love of college football, love of his players, love of his family, and love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Through that love, he made a difference and cemented himself in the history books, as a man who pushed himself to the limit and changed the lives of thousands in the process.