Former Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer returns to Buckeye State

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Urban Meyer didn’t even try to downplay his homecoming.

Jacksonville’s head coach is returning to his home state for the first time since making the jump to the NFL, and it won’t be just any road trip for Meyer when the winless Jaguars (0-3) visit Cincinnati (2-1) on Thursday night.

“I could say it’s not important,” Meyer deadpanned. Then he added: “I love Cincinnati.”

The 57-year-old Meyer was born in Toledo, grew up in Ashtabula rooting for the Bengals, went to college at Cincinnati, played safety for the Bearcats, got his first coaching job at nearby Saint Xavier High School in 1985, and has two sisters who still live there.

He was a proud member of the Buckeye State long before he became the Buckeyes’ coach.

“I love the great state of Ohio. I always will,” said Meyer, who returned to coach Ohio State in 2012 and led the team to the 2014 national championship.

Now, he’s about to face a Cincinnati team filled with former Buckeyes — players Meyer recruited during his seven-year tenure (2012-18) at Ohio State.

It starts with quarterback Joe Burrow, who ended up transferring to LSU and winning the 2019 Heisman Trophy. Cornerback Eli Apple, safety Vonn Bell, defensive end Sam Hubbard and offensive tackle Isaiah Prince also played for Meyer.

“There’s a bunch of Buckeyes on that team that we’re getting ready to play,” Meyer said. “I was a Bengals fan growing up, so I could act like I’m not (excited), but it’s going to be great to go home. But all that matters is a win.”

Meyer is returning home in uncharted waters. He lost a season opener for the first time in his head coaching career and is 0-3 for the first time since serving as Colorado State’s receivers coach in 1992.

He’s trying to change everything about a franchise that has lost 18 in row, lacks talent and is one of the youngest in the league. He drafted quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick, but he’s without fellow first-rounder Travis Etienne (foot) and is getting little, if anything, out of second-rounder Walker Little, third-rounder Jay Tufele, third-rounder Andre Cisco, fourth-rounder Jordan Smith or fifth-rounder Luke Farrell.

Jacksonville also spent frugally in free agency despite having more salary-cap space than anyone in the league. It’s clearly far from the kind of overnight rebuild that raised Meyer’s profile dramatically during stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and then Ohio State.

“I don’t ever want to fall into that trap of saying this is a four-year plan, a three-year plan,” Meyer said. “That’s not fair to players. This is a one-game plan and then we’ll worry about the next game.”

Next up is Cincinnati, the franchise Meyer once cheered for and whose orange and black stripes he proudly wore.

“Isaac Curtis and Bob Trumpy,” Meyer said, reeling off his favorite Bengals. “You guys don’t remember those names. Essex Johnson. There’s not one human being that remembers Essex Johnson. Chip Myers, Bill Bergey, Ron Carpenter, and then my favorite who I idolized growing up — Tommy Casanova because I was a safety. No one’s writing that down, I can see.”

Meyer will surely have a big contingent on hand for the game, some probably wearing Bengals jerseys. As for how many tickets he needed?

“Mrs. Meyer worries about that,” he quipped. “I don’t.”

Even less surprising, Meyer hasn’t mentioned his homecoming inside the building this week. Not to his assistants and certainly not to his players.

“I didn’t even think about it, no,” Lawrence said. “He hasn’t said anything. He seems like he’s locked in and he’s not thinking about that. So even more so, we’ll want to get this win then for him.”

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