This past week, Urban Meyer, legendary football coach of The Ohio State University, announced his retirement. Meyer had won more than 90 percent of his games as the Buckeyes’ head coach, including all seven of his games against rival Michigan. He had won three Big Ten championships and the 2014 national championship. In addition to his success at Ohio State, Meyer had won two other national championships while coaching at Florida, and his 186-game win total over 17 years is higher than any other FBS coach over the same period of time.
So, why resign now? There were several reasons—the most dominant being that of Coach Meyer’s health. Meyer revealed in October that in 2014 he had surgery on a cyst in his brain that causes stress-related headaches. The symptoms of those headaches were visible this past fall during some of Ohio State’s games when Meyer frequently wore pained expressions on his face and at one point collapsed on the sideline.
Though Meyer did not draw a straight line between his stress-related headaches and his suspension that occurred earlier this year, he did say that the suspension also contributed to his decision to retire. Ohio State put Meyer on leave in early August while investigating reports that he had mishandled allegations of domestic violence and other inappropriate behavior made against former assistant Zach Smith in past years. The school suspended Urban Meyer for the first three games of the season after finding he failed to live up to the standards of the university and did not tell the truth when asked about those allegations at a Big Ten media event in July. Meyer said that he believes the suspension will have some lasting impact on his legacy.
Urban Meyer leaves the Ohio State program strong, and the future of football at OSU is bright, though Meyer himself leaves, at least to some degree, bruised and blemished. Several points are worthy of consideration for those of us who are involved in ministry.
Remember the Sabbath
When Meyer left Florida to take a year off before going to Ohio State, he said that it was a time of reflection when he had to ascertain his priorities. He determined to make family more important than football, something he had not previously done.
There is no denying that the constituents we serve never fully understand the pressures that leaders are under—the pressure to succeed, the pressure to always be there, the pressure to always be professional when reviled by inside and outside sources.
And to deal with these pressures, leaders have to take time away and off. Whatever is most therapeutic for you—whether it is yard work, sitting in a cabin with a book, hunting, fishing, preaching out—do it! You will be criticized for it. You will be called lazy for doing it. And you will always feel like there is no convenient time for it. But go see a ball game with your son, get away with your wife, take your daughter shopping. Do it!
I have heard preachers say, “The devil never takes a vacation.” True, but you are not trying to be like the devil. You are trying to be like the Lord. And He took a Sabbath.
Remember the Source
I have a pastor friend who is an avid fan of Michigan, and understandably, he hates Ohio State. If Urban Meyer would have duplicated the feeding of the five thousand, my friend would tweet, “Urban Meyer takes little boy’s lunch.” There is no denying that we have enemies, and these enemies will never be able to be pleased by anything that we do.
Urban Meyer was strongly criticized for the way he handled Zach Smith, but my hope is that no leader would be handed such an unwinnable situation. Are there things that Coach Meyer could have done better? Of course, there are! But I hope that we never become proficient at handling disciplinary situations, for that would necessitate we have an abundant amount of them. Of course their hopeful rarity is not an excuse to mishandle them—there may be times when we need to seek counsel on how to handle them.
All too often stress is caused in our lives by the armchair quarterbacks who have never taken the field, but are absolutely certain they know the best way for us to lead the team. This is not to say that we cannot learn a germ of truth in even the most destructive criticism. It is to say that we cannot allow the destructive critic to get into our minds and eat us alive. Always consider the source of the criticism.
Remember the Scripture
The Bible tells us that, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.” God’s Word is filled with multiple promises for every emotional struggle of life. God gives peace! And we must allow ourselves to be filled with God’s peace even when the media critics are field dressing our leadership style. At times, all of us need to go back to the Bible and encourage ourselves again in the Lord.
In the ultimate analysis, the Lord is the final judge of our ministries. Other coaches, irate fans, and wealthy boosters are not primarily where our ear is bent. It is bent to the One whose, “Well done,” means the most—the Lord Himself. The fear of man brings a snare, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
As an Ohio State fan, I am very appreciative of Urban Meyer’s contributions. I trust that his retirement will give him the sabbatical time, the stress release, and the spiritual reflection that he needs. And may I, in turn, learn from the strengths and weaknesses of our legendary coach.