Originally published 09.13.2016.
A million thanks, all over again, to Urban and Shelley for opening up.
Chasing Ambien with beer to sleep. Forty-pound weight loss. Chest pains. To stay in football, Urban Meyer had to address his mental health. Now, to help America tackle the issue, Ohio State’s head coach opens up in a B/R Mag exclusive.
It’s 11:30 the morning of August 4. Urban Meyer just got out of a two-hour meeting with his staff. He’s wearing white running shoes, red Ohio State athletic shorts and a white long-sleeved OSU Dri-FIT shirt.
In two days, the team arrives and fall camp begins. He’s had the busiest month of his life getting ready for the season; his football team is talented but young. There’s a lot to figure out. And he has to get a workout in at some point today.
Yet he’s sitting on a leather couch in his office, talking about things he didn’t think he wanted to talk about, more than an hour into an interview he planned to have last only 30 minutes. He’s talking about how, from 2005-2010, his Florida teams won two national championships and he was as successful in every American way a man could imagine. But he was miserable.
It made no sense. The Gators won their first championship under Meyer in 2006, then another in 2008. But they didn’t win every game, and even the games they did win barely seemed to register. Meyer would come home and sit in his recliner and brood. He wasn’t taking care of himself. He forgot to eat. He stopped working out. By 2009, he had lost 40 pounds, his pants baggy on his 170-pound frame. And he couldn’t sleep.
His wife, Shelley, a psychiatric nurse, tried to tell him, “You’ve got to have an outlet. You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to stay healthy.”
“I don’t have time,” he would say. Over and over, like a mantra. I don’t have time.
“What’s 30 minutes less of film?” Shelley said. “You can’t take 30 minutes and go run on the treadmill?”
No. I don’t have time.
Shelley says now, “It was just a big mountain of pressure, stress, lack of control and not accepting what he couldn’t control. He was not accepting that he couldn’t control everything. He’s a perfectionist. He wants to win every game. He wants to win every championship. And that’s just not even clear thinking. You can’t. You just can’t.
“When he was in the middle of it, that’s where you can’t think. In a black hole, you don’t see things the right way.”
Shelley tried to talk to him about it, to use her expertise. She had her diagnoses. But he wouldn’t listen. “He never quite bought into my profession,” Shelley says.