Urban Meyer, who led Florida to two national titles and Ohio State to one championship, insists he has retired from coaching. Of course, he has said that before, stepping away and taking a TV analyst job until he was lured back to the sidelines.
“I did, but I was younger and I knew rather quickly I was going to go back,” said Meyer, now 55. “I really believe I’m done coaching.”
But out of habit, he adopted a coach’s perspective to describe how he and his castmates on Fox’s new Saturday morning college football show “Big Noon Kickoff” will showcase their knowledge and establish an identity without becoming a clone of ESPN’s respected “College GameDay.”
Meyer will work with former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and former USC standouts Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, with Rob Stone as host. The show will debut on Saturday from the Fox studios in Los Angeles.
“That’s no different than taking over a program where maybe there was another dominant team in the conference and you have to go beat them,” Meyer said. “How do you do that? First of all, you respect them. You learn from them. And that’s why we have producers and directors and we all try to work together and try to do the best we can.
“I think they’ve done a great job putting extremely relevant people on the show. We’re talking about two Heisman Trophy winners, a Notre Dame star, and a coach, and I think that’s really intriguing how they put that together.”
The group is a dream team for executive producer Brad Zager. “We want to be a college football show for everybody,” he said, “and with Urban’s background in the SEC and the Big Ten, Brady at Notre Dame, Matt and Reggie in the Pac-12 and Reggie’s experience in New Orleans [with the Saints], we’ve got it covered.”
They knew each other before they were brought together, which should accelerate their familiarity and, ideally, leave viewers feeling they’re eavesdropping on a bunch of friends and being educated without being lectured.
“Me, I’m probably the one that links with every single person,” Quinn said. “Coach Meyer was at Bowling Green when I was in high school, so he tried to recruit me a little bit then and I tried to recruit him to come to Notre Dame when he was at Utah and we had a coaching vacancy. We’ve kept in touch. Matt, Reggie and I played against one another, and Matt and I have been transitioning here to Fox, so we’ve continued to keep in touch.”
Working in a studio environment was an adjustment for Meyer, who said an early critique reminded him to maintain his energy. “It’s not hard to keep energy up in a 100,000-seat stadium. The studio is much different. There’s zero energy there,” he said. “So we have to create our own.”
Quickly creating a distinct and likable identity is crucial to drawing and keeping viewers. This group can rely on its exceptional resumes, even subtracting the Heisman Trophy that Bush gave back after the NCAA imposed heavy sanctions against USC because of improper benefits received by Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo. The challenge is to be entertaining while they share their knowledge. It’s not easy.
“For us it’s just about being genuine. Be you. Don’t try to be somebody else, something different,” Bush said. “I learned that a long time ago. When you decide to be you, you bring something else into this world that nobody else can replicate because you bring a different personality, a different experience, all those things that make you unique.
“I’m not going to try to be anybody else or try to use this show as competition vs. ESPN. I love what GameDay does. I’ve been a huge fan for a long time. So I just think now we have something special here and we have our opportunity to make a mark and I love that Fox is behind it.”
Bush predicted Meyer will be “the serious guy, but I think Brady is going to be the talker. He’s a guy that talks a lot.” Otherwise, they said they expect to slide into roles without being shoved into a mold.
“The more we’re together you just naturally find your niche on a show, whatever that is,” Leinart said. “I think we all have different stories to tell and different backgrounds. And that’s our goal, to bring that across for the audience.”
Although Bush told The Times earlier this year he would recruit Meyer to coach USC if Clay Helton stumbles, Bush said last week he had been joking and he hopes the Trojans succeed.
“USC still has a special place in my heart because it was a special stop during my life and my career,” said Bush, who remains banned from the campus. “I’m rooting for Clay Helton. I think that he has an opportunity to leave a mark, get this team over the hump, get USC back to restoring some of that greatness. I think USC has to get mentally tougher and I’d like to see them play off of their chemistry.”
But to satisfy his curiosity about Meyer’s coaching intentions, Bush approached him one-on-one. “I said, ‘Are you actually done? What if somebody comes and offers you a $100-million contract?’ ” Bush said. “He’s like, ‘I’m done coaching.’ I have no reason to not believe his words. He seemed very serious about it.”
Leinart got the same sense. “I know that coach is 100% all-in on here at Fox for us to build the best show and put out the best show that we possibly can,” Leinart said. “Coach is a huge part of that, because he is as credible as they come. He’s one of the best top two, three to ever do it in the college game.”
Meyer intends to stay current on USC but as an observer, not a potential successor to Helton. “I work for Fox and I’m going to do the best I can for Fox,” said Meyer, who is an assistant athletic director at Ohio State and teaches a class there. “And we’ve studied the Pac-12 because the last two years we played USC in the Cotton Bowl and we played Washington in the Rose Bowl, so this is a big year for the Pac-12 and obviously USC is a big part of that.”
If USC calls and Meyer feels the urge to coach again, at least he won’t have far to go. In the meantime, he can’t lose while putting his coaching skills to work every Saturday morning.