Rick Pugliese attended his fourth Big Ten Championship Game over the weekend in Indianapolis — each time The Ohio State Buckeyes have played in contest to determine the conference football winner.
But the Saybrook resident could sense a different feel watching and interacting with Buckeyes coach and St. John graduate Urban Meyer from the previous three outings.
“We stayed at the team hotel,” Pugliese said. “I kind of watched his body language. I felt beating Michigan sealed the deal. Going 7-0 and retiring is pretty good.”
Speculation and rumor about Meyer’s future at OSU was put to rest on Tuesday as the seventh-year Buckeyes coach announced his retirement. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day will take over head coaching duties on Jan. 2.
It’s been a tumultuous 2018 season for Meyer, who was suspended the first three games of the season for mishandling a domestic abuse case against former assistant Zach Smith. During that three-game suspension, Day went 3-0 as acting head coach.
OSU finished the regular season at 12-1, won the East Division with a 62-39 decision over Michigan on Nov. 24 and defeated Northwestern 45-24 on Saturday in Indianapolis for a second-straight Big Ten championship.
There were close games along the way, including a 52-51 overtime win over Maryland on Nov. 17. The Buckeyes also lost to Purdue 49-20 on Oct. 17, which likely kept them out of the College Football Playoff top four.
OSU settled for a Rose Bowl appearance in Pasadena on Jan. 1.
There’s been concern about Meyer’s health. He has battled the effects of a cyst on his brain, which has grown in recent years and causes severe headaches, especially when under stress. He dropped to a knee against Indiana in October and has been seen rubbing his head and wincing during games.
“He doesn’t have anything else to prove,” Ashtabula resident Roy Elliott said. “He has a family to think about.”
Meyer and his wife, Shelly, have three children — Nikki, Gigi and Nate — and one grandchild with another on the way.
St. John graduate Tom Penna agreed health played a big part in his decision to retire.
“There was the toll at the beginning of the year,” he said.
At the time of the suspension, most Ashtabula County fans sided with Meyer and opposed any punishment for the coach.
“He took care of everything as it came up, I feel that way,” Barbara Piekarski, of North Kingsville, said in August. “I don’t think he should be held accountable for anything. He’s a good guy. … I really think he’s a good coach and I’m really mad at how they’re handling it.”
R.J. Detore, a St. John graduate, said Tuesday he didn’t think Meyer would retire.
“I don’t think he was happy with the situation at the beginning of the season,” Detore said.
St. John graduate Dale Milano could sense Meyer was finished coaching at OSU after seeing him hug his family after the Michigan win.
“Family and health is the most important thing in life, so hopefully he will kick back, relax and enjoy the grandkids and watch his son Nate play baseball at Cincinnati,” Milano said. “Urban sure had a great run and made Ashtabula and St. John alumni very proud of him. He did Ashtabula proud.”
County residents said they were appreciative of Meyer’s efforts to put Ashtabula County in a positive light.
“It’s been great to have someone from your hometown represent us on the national stage,” said Jason Gloekler, who started at St. John and graduated from Edgewood. “It proves that no matter where you come from, you can have success through hard work and discipline. He takes a lot of pride in his hometown.”
Meyer returned to the area to conduct camps and host fundraisers, especially with Harbor graduate and University of Kentucky special teams coach Dean Hood.
“It’s good to have a local boy do well on the national stage,” said Chuck Gerren, a Conneaut graduate. “He’s had a big impact on the young generation.”
St. John graduate Pete Tulino said Meyer’s efforts to help the area were often behind-the-scenes.
“He’s done everything to help promote the school,” Tulino said. “He’s brought Northeast Ohio some recognition. He’s one of the top five coaches in college football.”
Conneaut graduate Stacey Tessmer said Meyer’s presence is good for the county.
“Seeing him on national TV each weekend is something that makes us all proud,” she said.
Meyer, 54, took over at OSU in 2012 after Jim Tressel resigned on May 30, 2011 amid reports of a memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal. Luke Fickell was the interim coach in the 2011 season as the Buckeyes finished 6-7.
But rumors were already circulating Meyer, who resigned from Florida on Dec. 8, 2010 amid separate health concerns, had been targeted for the OSU position. He spent that season in the television booth.
Meyer was officially hired as the Buckeyes head coach on Nov. 28, 2011 — two days after OSU lost to Michigan 40-34. It was also the last time the Buckeyes lost to the Wolverines.
“That was his dream job,” Penna said.
He is 82-9 as Buckeyes coach and 54-4 in Big Ten play with seven division titles (shared or outright), three conference championships and a national championship after the 2014 season, the first year of the College Football Playoff.
Meyer is 186-32 as a college head coach at OSU, Florida, Utah and Bowling Green with three national championships and seven conference championships.
Meyer will get a chance to coach in his first Rose Bowl, traditionally scheduled as a Big Ten-PAC 10 championship matchup, in his final game.
“As a kid, the Rose Bowl was a big thing,” Penna said. “He was always dedicated. You could tell back then. He had great work ethic.”
Elliott said Meyer will go down as one of the best college coaches in history.
“You look at his record and he never lost to Michigan,” he said.
Local fans were mixed on the possibility of Meyer coaching again.
“He may resurface after a few years if he gets his health straightened out,” Elliott said.
Detore also doesn’t necessarily think Meyer is finished coaching.
“He may get back into it if he gets his health in order,” Detore said.
Pugliese and Penna weren’t so sure.
“Right now, I think he thinks he’s done,” Pugliese said.
Meyer said during Tuesday’s news conference he did not intend to coach again.
“It’s time for him to enjoy his family and relax,” Penna said. “He went 7-0 against Michigan and won a national championship at Ohio State. Is there a chance he comes to coach? Yes; If I were to guess, I’d say no.”
Michael Greco writes for the Ashtabula Star Beacon of Ohio, Urban Meyer’s hometown newspaper