By Bruce Hooley
Ohio State first contacted Urban Meyer about becoming its next football coach this summer and has since conducted its pursuit of him via three members of the school’s board of trustees, multiple sources confirmed on Tuesday.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith has had a minimal role in the courtship of Meyer. Sources said Smith’s job security going forward is tenuous, despite the previous support and recent glowing job evaluation of OSU president E. Gordon Gee.
It is not clear whether that’s because Meyer has a poor opinion of Smith, or because OSU’s trustees are insisting upon a change in leadership of the athletic department because of the school’s impending NCAA sanctions that developed during Smith’s tenure.
Two sources, who donate heavily to the OSU athletic department, said Smith will not be fired, but is likely to relinquish his position within the next six-to-nine months.
Paul Krebs, the vice president for athletics at the University of New Mexico, is a leading candidate to succeed Smith. Krebs, an Ohio native, spent 14 years in athletic administration at Ohio State from 1985-99, rising from ticket director to senior associate athletic director.
Krebs left OSU to become the athletic director at Bowling Green in 1999, where he hired Meyer as the Falcons’ head coach in 2001. Krebs spent seven years at BGSU before taking the athletic director’s job at New Mexico in 2006.
Meyer has not signed a contract with OSU, sources said, because he wants to be respectful of interim coach Luke Fickell and delay any formal announcement until after the Buckeyes’ game at Michigan on Saturday.
Sources said that announcement could come Tuesday on the Ohio State campus, provided Meyer and OSU smooth over several remaining issues regarding salaries of the staff he hopes to hire.
The sources with knowledge of OSU’s negotiations with Meyer said he will not be required to retain Fickell as an assistant.
Ohio State stepped up its pursuit of Meyer after he confirmed his interest in the job to an intermediary enlisted by the trustees to make initial contact, after which they directed the process.
Les Wexner, the chairman of OSU’s Board of Trustees, and fellow trustees Robert Schottenstein and Alex Shumate led the pursuit of Meyer, according to three sources close to the university.
Wexner, the chairman and CEO of Limited Brands, has a net worth of $3.8 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. It was upon Wexner’s insistence that OSU retained a New York public relations firm, Kekst and Co., to help manage the fallout from an NCAA scandal that forced the resignation of then-coach Jim Tressel in May. OSU has since paid that firm $345,000.
Schottenstein, chairman and CEO of M/I Homes, and Shumate, managing partner of the international law firm, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey are long-time Columbus power-brokers who have close ties to other influential donors, whose support would be crucial to Meyer’s hiring and his desire to hire a staff that will cost OSU much more than it has paid in the past.
Meyer will not work with the crew to which he has been assigned this season when ESPN broadcasts the Ohio State-Michigan game on Saturday from Ann Arbor.
ESPN spokesman Mike Humes said Monday that ESPN made that decision to gain Meyer’s input in studio on games of interest around the country.
Meyer, an Ashtabula native and graduate of the University of Cincinnati, started his college coaching career as a graduate assistant at OSU in 1986.
He has a 104-23 record in 10 years as a collegiate head coach at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04) and Florida (2005-10). He is 7-1 in post-season bowls, including 4-0 in Bowl Championship Series games.
Meyer won the first of two national championships at Florida following the 2006 season, upsetting heavily-favored Ohio State, 41-14, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Two years later, he won another BCS title with an Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
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