Buckeyes lure Ohio native Meyer back as football coach

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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.

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.”

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.

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.

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 issues.

“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.”

A team meeting set for Sunday night was moved to Monday afternoon before the news conference to allow Meyer to meet his players.

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

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