The Urban Legend: Looking back (and forward) on Coach Meyer's legacy

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As Coach Urban Meyer ceremonially passed the torch, in the form of a coach’s whistle to Ryan Day, the "Urban Tenure" came to a close. Winning the Rose Bowl against a University of Washington squad that was formidable, in a pesky sort of way, "dotted the i" of a remarkable record achieved by Coach Meyer. At the close of his career at The Ohio State University, Meyer achieved a final record of 83 wins and only nine losses, one National Championship and, now, a Rose Bowl victory. A Rose Bowl win, as he indicated, was on his "bucket list". It seems as good a time as any to ruminate on what the future might hold. As the t-shirt in Columbus says, "Urban Legends Never Die".

There is in the American academic fields of folklore, anthropology and ethnology a phenomenon known as "The Urban Legend". University of Utah professor of English and Folklore Jan Brunvand researched and wrote several books on the concept of the Urban Legend. His most famous study is entitled The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and their Meanings in which he chronicles well-known American folk legends including the story of the hitchhiker who is picked up by an unsuspecting family who hears his story and then the hitchhiker disappears.

Brunvand published another study of American legends as folklore with the title, The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story. That title might be more appropriate for the story and record of Coach Urban Meyer. Urban, who announced his retirement from coaching days after winning the Big Ten Championship, assembled one of the most outstanding records in the history of college football.

Compiled during head coaching tenures at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Urban Meyer’s overall record of 178-31 places him third on the "Top All-Time Major College Football Winning Percentages" list. The legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne holds the record for the best win-lost percentage at 88 percent, the indomitable Frank Leahy is second with a winning percentage of 86, and Urban Meyer is third with a winning percentage of slightly over 85 percent.

In a press conference before the 2019 Rose Bowl, Urban expressed his satisfaction with leaving the Head Football Coach position at The Ohio State University because, as he noted, the Ohio State football program was, "from top to bottom", one of the best programs in America. Urban Meyer is only 54 years old. He could coach for another decade, or two, if he so desired. However, as OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith announced, Urban Meyer was named "Assistant Athletic Director", one of many at Ohio State.

How old were coaches Knute Rockne, or Woody Hayes, or the famous Grambling coach Eddie Robinson (with 408 wins) when they decided to finally leave the "football turf"? Of course, as Meyer picks up the mantel of being one of the Assistant Athletic Directors at The Ohio State University, one might ask, is this enough? When Jim Tressel left Ohio State he went to Youngstown State to become the football coach and is now the president of the University. Tom Osborne left coaching at the University of Nebraska and was elected United States Senator from the Great State of Nebraska. Ohio people remember that John Glenn left the space program as a national hero and became the United States Senator from the Great State of Ohio. Can Urban Meyer go quietly into the night as the "Assistant Athletic Director" given the pinnacle he achieved as a national football coaching legend?

They say "old cowboys never die", "old writers never quit writing", and so on. In this case, to use the Brunvand title, "the truth never stands in the way of a good story". Urban goes out in a real blaze of glory with a victory over a depleted Washington team in the 2019 Rose Bowl. But, is it a consolation victory? Of course, for the Big Ten to play the Pac-12 is tradition of sorts but with the "Final Four", the Rose Bowl is not, as Merlin Olson famously said, the "Granddaddy of Them All", meaning the New Year’s Day bowls. Urban’s legend needs one more fresh breath of success. The question might be, can Urban Meyer leave the lure and challenge of coaching at his young age, and if he cannot leave coaching, where would he coach? Perhaps Urban would want not just a "rose" victory over a team from the West, but rather a final championship over a team from the South.

One place from which Urban Meyer might complete his legendary climb is Notre Dame. It has long been thought by fans and sports reporters that Urban Meyer had two great goals: to coach at The Ohio State University, in his home state of Ohio; the other was to coach at Notre Dame. There are many important Catholic universities and colleges in the United States, but there is only one Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has been close to a national championship twice. In the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, the Irish were soundly beaten by the University of Alabama, ranked #2, 42-14.This year, Notre Dame entered the "Final Four" undefeated and was routed by Clemson, 30-3.

Notre Dame fans know that Notre Dame football should be at the very top of the football world, as it had been "in the days of yore." Notre Dame football fans remember the 1993 movie "Rudy", the biographical sports film directed by David Anspaugh and named one of the 25 best sports movies of the previous 25 years in an ESPN poll. But, of course, the most famous football movie of all time might be the 1940 movie, "Knute Rockne All American", the story of a young immigrant, born in Voss, Norway, who became a player and coaching legend at Notre Dame. During the 1928 Army game, Notre Dame was trailing at half time when Knute Rockne (played by actor Pat O’Brien in the movie) invoked the memory of his former player, George Gipp, portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the film, utters the lines that are familiar to all football fans and sports movie fans: "Rock, sometime, when the team is up against it—and the breaks are beating the boys—tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper..." After the Rockne speech at Halftime, Notre Dame went out and posted a 12-6 win over Army on Nov. 10 in Yankee Stadium.

Following OSU’s Rose Bowl victory, the ubiquitous "Ur—Ban" rhythmic chant arose from the crowd. That gives even more strength to the folklore of the "Urban Legend". One thing eludes Urban though: a National Championship at one of the most revered universities in America, a school that once fielded the fabulous "Four Horsemen" onto the field of battle.

"Win one for the Gipper." We know the line. We know the history. The "Four Horsemen of Notre Dame" comprised a group of American football players at the University of Notre Dame under coach Rockne. They were the backbone of Notre Dame's 1924 football team. Their names were remembered in the hallowed halls of football: Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden.

Waiting for the curtain call to return and win one more National Championship, this time not for Florida, the Queen of the SEC; not for Ohio State, the heart of the Big Ten; but rather for the single most important independent of all, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, once the single most significant symbol in all of college football. The team that can fill Yankee Stadium as well as the Los Angeles Olympic Stadium, the team that dominates the military academies as well as schools from "Coast to Coast."

To win the National Championship at Notre Dame, that would be the "Urban Legend", would make Urban the historical toast of College Football, to come back after injury, after being doubled over during the Michigan game, the biggest game of all, and come back to score one last National title. The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story, Brunvand said. In the end, it would not be the urban legend of the "Vanishing Football Coach" as Assistant Athletic Director, but rather, the emergence of another legend.

In the end, that would be an "Urban Legend".

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