The haunting, enduring image of college football this weekend was the tortured state of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer on the sideline on Saturday afternoon. In Ohio State’s back-and-forth overtime victory at Maryland, Meyer expressed a litany of pained contortions – palms pressed against his head, bent over at the waist while staring at the ground and hands on his knees away from a team huddle during a timeout. Urban Meyer, simply put, didn’t look right.
Ohio State survived the game, 52-51, but Meyer’s pained expressions underscored potentially bigger issues about his future on the sideline for Ohio State. Can he continue to keep coaching while appearing in agony that’s becoming increasingly difficult to watch?
Ohio State will face Michigan next week for a shot at winning the Big Ten East and a spot in the league’s title game. But hanging over that top-10 matchup will be the bigger story of Meyer’s health and future. A source at Ohio State said after the game that Meyer appeared fine in the locker room and that the feeling on the staff is that he’d endured worse pain during games this season.
The fragility Meyer showed on the sideline reflected the Buckeyes on the field on Saturday. As Maryland shredded the Buckeyes for 535 yards, Meyer looked increasingly worse. Ohio State only held on to win in overtime after Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome missed a wide-open Jeshaun Jones on a two-point conversion that could have – and really should have – won the game for Maryland.
The pained images of Meyer on the sideline throughout the game brings his health back into focus, as he looked so tortured for most of the game that ESPN cameras zoomed in on him as much as the game action. Meyer appeared dazed, weak and needing to pause his movements at points to gather his strength to keep coaching the next play.
Saturday’s game continued a drama-filled year for the Buckeyes, who are 10-1 but showing few signs of being an elite team. Meyer’s comments at Big Ten media day about former assistant coach Zach Smith led to a flurry of stories that exposed the extent of Smith’s illicit behavior while an assistant coach at Ohio State. A lengthy university investigation and suspension led to Meyer missing the entirety of summer camp and the first three games of the regular season. (Athletic director Gene Smith was also suspended.)
When Meyer returned to the sideline, he hasn’t appeared to be himself for stretches.
That included him dropping to a knee during a game against Indiana on Oct. 6 and a general sense of anguish that’s accompanied him on the sideline that seemed to increase on Saturday. In late October, Meyer revealed to Yahoo Sports his history of his health issues as a way to help explain the pain he’s had on the sideline and answer questions about his future. Meyer told Yahoo that the pain he’s expressed is the result of a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain that he had surgery on in the spring of 2014. Meyer told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview in late October that this is a case where he’s “learned to manage it and monitor it with medication.”
In late October, Meyer’s personal physician, Dr. Andrew Thomas, told Yahoo Sports in a statement: “The past four years, we’ve been working closely with coach Meyer to monitor and manage the symptoms that have risen from his enlarged congenital arachnoid cyst. This includes aggressive headaches, which have particularly flared up the past two years.”
There had actually been some optimism in the Ohio State program this week that Meyer was feeling better and that he’d figured better ways to manage his pain. He’d looked and sounded a lot more like himself, but it’d be hard to imagine that optimism carrying over to this week.
On Saturday, the pain appeared difficult for Meyer to manage. And that will lead to the questions about his future intensifying.
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