CLEVELAND, Ohio – A dollar for a home run. Fifty cents for an RBI.
That was the lowly pay scale offered by Frank Urban Meyer III’s late father, “Bud” whose nickname was not coined for his companionable ways with his children.
Although the younger Meyer would become one of college football’s greatest coaches, the lasting lessons were not in his successes. They were in the defeats and disappointments which, weaponized by his father’s sharp tongue, preceded them.
Three strikes and you’re out of a ride
When Meyer was a senior at Ashtabula St. John High School he took a called third strike in a critical game, and a furious Bud refused to drive him home. Urban ran the eight miles instead.
As a middle infielder in the low minors with the Atlanta Braves, Meyer made error upon error because an arm injury hampered his throwing. He hit only .182. He wanted to quit.
“If you do, don’t come home,” Bud said. “Be sure to call your mother at Christmas.”
The pain in his brain
No pain, no gain. No trauma, no drama.
Urban didn’t quit then.
The last chapter in his storied career presumably comes on New Year’s night in the Rose Bowl when Ohio State plays Washington.
It will be Meyer’s second retirement after leaving Florida following the 2010 season.
It is something he is forced to do, not because of the repercussions of the Zach Smith spousal abuse scandal or Meyer’s lies about it, but by pain from a brain cyst that flares in his head like a jagged streak of lightning under the stress of games.
Hard taskmasters, hard lessons
Meyer clearly failed two of his most important tests off the field in neither disciplining nor telling the truth about his rogue assistant.
On the field, however, he is Bud’s son, applying his boyhood lessons to his players as strenuously as did his father to him.
Players vomited into trash cans in conditioning drills at Bowling Green.
They crawled on hands and knees down the ice-crusted mud of a practice field at 5 in the morning as Meyer sought to “change the culture” at Ohio State.
They were pitted against each other in now outlawed “Bloody Tuesday” practices after sloppy games.
But Meyer is hardly alone in sports in coping with a Darwinian upbringing.
Meyer’s great rival, Alabama coach Nick Saban, had a father who was demonstrative enough to take his son into the bowels of the earth, down in the dark to the mine tunnel where he worked. Nick’s choice was between coal or college. Depths or heights.
George Steinbrenner turned to buying a basketball team, the Cleveland Pipers, in a renegade league and later to purchasing the New York Yankees because he could never be the success his domineering father was in track and field or in the storm-tossed world of Great Lakes shipping.
Even championships didn’t bring unconditional love for the sons of alpha males.
After the first of his four victories in the Indianapolis 500, A.J. Foyt, a Texas longhorn bull of a figure, said to his father, “I did good, didn’t I, Daddy?”
Said his father, grudgingly, “Well, I guess you done. . . OK.”
Meyer built underdog Florida to a peak of readiness and routed Ohio State to win the 2006 national championship. Afterward, he found Bud in the stands.
“It’s about time you did that,” his father said.
Meyer did it twice more, at Florida again and at Ohio State.
Before Meyer goes home presumably for good, his last game will be a reminder of what he was taught. His players will go out there, at the edge of the country and the end of his career, and, just as he is bold in big games, they will follow his lead and swing hard.