When he’s not wincing in agony and doubling over in pain, Urban Meyer still looks pretty good. He’s only 54, not totally gray yet, and the way he jogs out onto the field he looks like he could still give you some problems on the YMCA basketball court.
He looks like a guy who could take about nine days off, take some Advil, and convince himself he was fine, and the announced plan is for him to stick around at Ohio State in some yet-to-be determined role.
But that is not what he needs.
My perspective, as a guy who knows nothing, is that what Urban Meyer needs is to spend a year with Ricky Williams in India or wherever Ricky decides is best, and he needs to stretch out, breathe deep, introspect, observe, eat some weird food and get so high he never stops laughing about Jim Harbaugh’s hats. Get a tattoo and come back with a braid in his hair. Just go full Eat, Pray, Love.
You think I’m kidding.
Look what that did for Ricky Williams. After failing a series of drug tests, Williams retired at 27 from the Dolphins right before the 2004 season and started traveling the globe — Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Fiji, Europe, the Carribbean — and learning the healing arts.
At this point, Williams already had more than 1,500 carries in the NFL. He was coming off a third season in a row with more than 300, and that third year, his production had dropped from 4.8 yards per run in 2002 to 3.5 in 2003, his fifth season as a No. 1 back.
He says now his body was starting to break down.
Most running backs are close to finished at age 30. But at 32, in 2009, Williams ran for 1,121 yards with a 4.7 average and at 34 had 444 yards on 108 carries (4.1) for the Baltimore Ravens.
Williams was a special talent, but it’s obvious that year of physical and mental recovery helped him personally, and extended his NFL career.
Meyer’s health issues are different from Williams’, but we are talking about a guy who is manifesting stress in dangerous ways. He could use a breather — a real one, this time — and a subtle shift in perspective.
How, exactly, that is achieved isn’t important, but if anybody could do it for Urban Meyer, it would be Ricky Williams.
At first blush, you think that would be a bad personality combination. But you know the football people who love Ricky Williams the most?
In the Ricky Williams episode of A Football Life, all three of those guys love on him like family. Parcells was the Dolphins coach who took Williams back after his marijuana suspension, and he was also the guy who told Williams not to chase football too long because he could make a difference in other ways.
“People have this idea of what success is,” Williams said. “In football, it’s based on stats, championships. But my personal idea of success is different. To me, success is a new adventure, acquiring new knowledge.
“To a certain extent, I allowed the first half of my football career to stunt that part of my growth as a human being.”
When Williams applied for a coaching internship program, Saban wrote him a letter or recommendation.
“Some may find this relationship perplexing because of our blatantly different personalities. However, from day one we connected. Contrary to what the masses may think, Ricky Williams “gets it,” always did.”
And Ditka says he’d still trade his whole draft for Williams.
So if Mike Ditka, Nick Saban and Bill Parcells like him, there’s no reason Urban Meyer couldn’t. Besides, who would be better equipped than Ricky Williams to help Meyer release the stress of Football Man thinking without releasing the ability to excel at football? There may not be anyone in the world more qualified to do that specific job.
Meyer is a football coach on a level I would consider “pathological.” It’s difficult to believe he’s really walking away for good and when he was asked Tuesday if he was finished, he said it was a “complicated question.”
But if he’s going to have what he seems so desperately to want, which is a job coaching football, he’s going to have to find a new way of looking at it, for his own good.