Urban Meyer vowed to remake himself.
Vowed to maintain balance in his life.
In the days before he took over as Ohio State football coach last November, Meyer signed a contract with his family. According to an excellent story in ESPN The Magazine, the 10 stipulations of the contract were designed to help him stay on track healthwise.
The first two:
1. My family will always come first.
2. I will take care of myself and maintain good health.
When 21st-ranked Nebraska plays No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, the game will pit head coaches who, over the course of their careers, have approached their profession much differently.
Meyer's contract with his family essentially (and unintentionally) would alter his lifestyle to one that in some ways mirrored Bo Pelini's.
To be sure, the fifth-year Nebraska coach likely would never feel a need to sign a contract ensuring balance in his life. Pelini says part of the reason he wanted to be a head coach was "so I can do it the way I believe it needs to be done." In other words, family first. And don't let the job consume you.
"I have tremendous balance in my life," Pelini says. "I'm not a real stressed-out person. I mean, I'm just not. Probably the biggest stress I have is getting from here (Memorial Stadium) to my kids' games, and making sure I'm handling the time here along with the duties of what you want to be as a father."
Meyer and Pelini have similar backgrounds. Both were raised in extreme northeast Ohio. Meyer's hometown of Ashtabula is on the shores of Lake Erie, 65 miles north of Youngstown, where Bo grew up. A defensive back at Cincinnati from 1983-86, Meyer was a graduate assistant on offense at Ohio State in 1987, when Pelini was a Buckeye freshman defensive back.
They're now in the midst of trying to restore tradition-rich programs to past glory. The 48-year-old Meyer has prodded Ohio State to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten. Pelini, 44, is trying to guide Nebraska (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) to its first conference crown since 1999.
"Building takes passion and energy," Meyer told ESPN The Magazine.
His reclamation project at Florida included two BCS national titles (2006 and 2008).
"Maintenance (of a program) is awful," he says. "It's nothing but fatigue. Once you reach the top, maintaining that beast is awful."
Meyer reached a breaking point in 2009 after losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Early on a Sunday morning, the day after the game, Meyer collapsed to the floor of his mansion. He complained of chest pains. He was spent. Thus began a period of soul-searching.
Long story short, Meyer took the 2011 season off from coaching. He became an ESPN analyst. But he missed the challenges of coaching, the raucous crowds, the energy, the excitement. It's intoxicating, especially at football-oriented schools like Ohio State and Nebraska.
Meyer's foremost challenge with his current team might be figuring out ways to lighten the load on do-everything quarterback Braxton Miller. He had three turnovers in Saturday's 17-16 win at then-No. 20 Michigan State. But Miller threw for 179 yards and rushed for 136. He averages 302 yards of total offense per game and ranks 13th nationally in rushing (115.4), gaining chunks on designed runs and scrambles.
Ohio State, however, has been generally underwhelming, with narrow victories against California (35-28) and Alabama-Birmingham (29-15).
Meyer, before the season, said he felt like he did in the beginning of his coaching career, during those graduate assistant days at Ohio State. Unproven. Energized by the challenge.
You can only hope he's abiding by the contract he signed, promising balance in his life.
Evidence of Pelini's balance: Last Monday, right after his weekly media luncheon, the Nebraska coach jogged downtown and eventually back to Memorial Stadium. His gray T-shirt was drenched in sweat. He obviously has recovered well from the health scare that sent him to a hospital Sept. 15 during the second half of the Arkansas State game. He insisted it was nothing serious, saying doctors gave him a clean bill of health.
He says he takes his health very seriously.
"You have to take a step back and have your priorities in line," says the married father of three.
Easier said than done, especially when you're in charge of programs like Nebraska and Ohio State, where fans don't merely expect consistent success, they demand it.