Former Buckeye and NFL linebacker Joshua Perry started at Ohio State in 2012, the same year Urban Meyer took over as head coach. Jim Tressel and Luke Fickell recruited Perry, and Meyer made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want the young linebacker.
“When I got to Ohio State, coach told me, ‘I don’t want you here. I didn’t recruit you when I was at Florida for a reason.’ And it was because he didn’t see that same relentlessness in me he saw in other recruits.”
According to Perry and fellow former Buckeye Chris Worley, relentlessness isn’t just a nice attribute of Meyer and his players; it’s a requirement.
“He is a guy who would be in the building at 5 in the morning and then at 10 at night,” Perry said.
“He is going to hold everyone to a level, not just great, but exceptional,” Worley added. “That is what makes a great leader. He holds everyone to the same standard. He even holds himself to that same standard.”
On Tuesday, Ohio State announced that Meyer would be stepping down as head coach of the Buckeyes after the Rose Bowl. Almost as automatic as the O-H-I-O chant at Ohio Stadium, fans and media members began to tally his wins and discuss his resume. His relentlessness helped lead the Buckeyes to a national title, three Big Ten titles and seven wins against Michigan in seven seasons. But according to both Perry, who considered transferring early on in his tenure at Ohio State, and Worley, Meyer’s legacy extends beyond the games he's won or the trophies he's acquired.
“I think the biggest thing is he gave each player and me a ‘why,’ a why we are going through all the tough things we are going through with the workouts, things like that, because it is a tough program up there,” Worley said. “There is a ‘why’ and if you can get through that ‘why,’ it will make you play even harder.”
For Worley, Meyer helped him realized that his “why” is his family.
“I had a bunch of family and friends that were passing away and I just felt like I was in a funk,” Worley said. “He just spoke to me and let me know that as long I continued to fight forward I will be the shining light for my family.”
On the cusp of becoming a starter his sophomore year, Perry discovered his “why” after a one-on-one conversation with Meyer.
“He said, 'You have an opportunity here to not only become a starter at Ohio State, to potentially have a pro career, to be able to call your own shots during the future as a person within the community,’ and he was like ‘So do you want to take the step?’” Perry said. “I realized my ‘why’ was the platform that Ohio State has, to be one of the guys recognized in history.”
At the start of the 2018 season, Meyer received a three-game suspension for mishandling accusations of domestic violence by an assistant coach, Zach Smith. While some may argue that the incident taints his legacy, Perry believes Meyer’s body of work and influence on players paints a more accurate picture of both his career and impact.
“I think…small-minded people who don't tend to recognize some of the great things he’s done in the community and has done for his players will say that is a black eye on his coaching career, but for everyone who has been around him, for people who have been close to the program, for people who know Urban Meyer personally, they will be able to look back and say that it is a blip and [recognize] all the great things that he has done,” said Perry.
Worley insists that Meyer is a top three coach in history.
“He is a great coach and no one can ever take that away from him,” Worley said of Meyer’s legacy. “No matter what anyone ever says about him, you can never take away the greatness he had on people and the greatness he had on college football.”
But for both Perry and Worley, what Meyer will be remembered for by others is not nearly as important as the imprint he's left on their lives.
Worley didn’t quit after mourning the death of loved ones. Instead, he found his way to an NFL team. He is currently on the practice squad for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Everyone is going to have something happen that is not what they expect or not what they want,” Worley said. “Whether that is tough situations growing up, whether that is getting fired from a job, whatever it is you can’t control that, but what you can control is how you respond to that. I think that is the best advice he has given me."
Perry became a team co-captain, an Honorable Mention All-American, a national champion, a fourth-round NFL draft pick and played two seasons in the NFL. The relentless attitude that Meyer once told him he lacked is a characteristic that the legendary coach motivated him to establish. As Meyer turned him into a great football player, he simultaneously helped him develop his character, which lasts far longer than any football career.
“It seems like every time I get together with him we bring it up one way or another. It is just the evolution of a player and my body changed, but more so my mind changed from being around his program," Perry said. Everybody is trying to figure out who the hell they want to be and how they want to do it, and he is the guy who can bring that out in you.”