Is Meyer the Buckeyes’ best coach?

Analyzing Urban Meyer’s legacy as stacked up against other Ohio State coaching legends

In seven seasons as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2012-2018, Urban Meyer won an incredible 90 percent of his games (82-9), three Big Ten championships, and the 2014 national championship. At most schools, that would immediately chisel in stone his place as the greatest coach in the program’s history. But Ohio State is not most schools, and the honor of best Buckeye coach is not so easily bestowed.

Dating back to 1951 when Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes arrived on the scene, the Buckeyes have been blessed with a string of head coaches as successful as any in college football history. Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel and certainly Meyer all reached heights many other schools and coaches can only dream of, and they certainly envy.

So who’s the best? Again, it’s hard to say, and it might very well depend on the point of view of whoever is answering the question. What follows in chronological order are the career accomplishments of each of the coaches previously mentioned, who are generally considered the Mount Rushmore plus one of the Buckeyes’ best. Read them. Digest them. Crunch the numbers and come up with your own choice.

As the popular saying goes, “we report, you decide.”

WOODY HAYES (1951-1978)

The irascible Hayes won five national championships (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, and 1970) and 13 Big Ten titles in 28 seasons. He compiled an overall record of 205-61-10 (.761 winning percentage) and a 152-37-7 (.793) in Big Ten play. He was named National Coach of the Year in 1957, 1968, and 1975. He recorded four unbeaten seasons (1954, 1961,1968, and 1973) and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. In an interesting side note, Hayes only coached in 12 bowl games in 30 years as a head coach (including two seasons at Miami (Ohio) in 1949 and 1950), and his record was 6-6. His bowl record at OSU was 5-6.

EARLE BRUCE (1979-1987)

Bruce started things with a bang, receiving the National Coach of the Year award after going 11-1 and winning the Big Ten title in his first season in Columbus. It would prove to be his high-water mark, but he went on to compile an overall record of 81-26-1 (.755) and a Big Ten record of 57-17 (.770) with four conference championships. He took the Buckeyes to eight bowls in nine years and won five, but two of this loses came in his team’s only two appearances in the Rose Bowl during his tenure. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

JOHN COOPER (1988-2000)

Things didn’t start quite as well for Cooper in his inaugural season as he went 4-6-1, one of only three losing seasons the Buckeyes have recorded since Hayes’ arrival in 1951. He rebounded to post a 111-43-4 (.715) overall mark and 70-30-4 (.692) Big Ten mark. His 111 wins are second-most in OSU history behind Hayes, and he won three Big Ten championships. He took the Buckeyes to 11 bowl games, where his record was 3-8, and he was 2-10-1 against arch rival Michigan. One of his bowl wins, in the 1997 Rose Bowl over his old school, Arizona State, was OSU’s first in the “Granddaddy of Them All” since 1974.

JIM TRESSEL (2001-2010)

Most importantly Tressel broke a 32-year drought when his team won the 2002 national championship. He also earned National Coach of the Year honors for that 14-0 season and 31-24 double overtime win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. In 10 seasons, he compiled a 106-22 overall record (.828) and 66-14 (.826) Big Ten record. In that span, Tressel’s teams put up eight double-digit win seasons and won six Big Ten titles. As important as anything to OSU fans, he went 9-1 against Michigan, including seven straight. He was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer hoists the trophy following their 42-20 win over Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Jan. 12, 2015. (Adam Cairns / The Columbus Dispatch) – Courtesy Ohio State Athletics

URBAN MEYER (2012-2018)

Meyer steps aside after an amazing seven-year run in Columbus that saw him win 93 percent (54-4) in Big Ten play. He takes with him the memories of winning the very first installment of the College Football Playoff in 2014, a 42-20 victory over Oregon that gave him his third national championship as a head coach. He also won three Big Ten championships, and if the No. 6-ranked Buckeyes can defeat No. 9 Washington in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2019, Meyer will have recorded double digit win totals in each of his seven seasons at the helm.

So now the torch has been passed from Meyer to Ryan Day, and it remains to be seen if he will add his name to this list. Still, it is a time filled with promise, just as it was in 2012 when OSU Athletics Director Gene Smith offered Meyer the job in an Atlanta hotel room.

We knew we were getting an elite coach,” Smith said at the December 4 press conference announcing the change. “When he went 12-0 in the first season we realized Urban was really going to be a game-changer. What Urban has brought to Buckeye Nation by far exceeded expectations.”

The same could probably be said in some way about all the coaches on this list, which is what has made OSU what it is — one of the premier college football programs in the country. H&A


Photos courtesy Ohio State Athletics 


Jimmy Creed

Jimmy Creed

Jimmy Creed is the former award-winning sports editor of The Anniston (Alabama) Star and editor of Saints Digest, the official team publication of the New Orleans Saints. He is a two-time winner of the Alabama Sports Writers Association Herby Kirby Award for the best sports story in the state of Alabama and has received numerous writing awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, the National Motorsports Press Association. and the Alabama Press Association. He is also the author of NASCAR legend Donnie Allison's biography "Donnie Allison: As I Recall."
Jimmy Creed

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