COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer is returning to coaching — and to his roots.
The former Florida coach and Ohio native will take over at Ohio State, a program with a glittering past that has suffered through a difficult year of NCAA violations, suspensions and a 6-6 record.
The university scheduled a 5:15 p.m. news conference to introduce its new coach. But it did not mention Meyer, even though there are numerous reports that Meyer has already agreed on a multiyear contract that could pay him almost $6 million a year.
After wild speculation for weeks about Meyer and Ohio State, ESPN reported on Monday morning that the two sides had reached an agreement. Meyer has been a game analyst for the network for the past year.
Meyer won two national championships in six years as the coach at Florida. He left the Gators a year ago, citing health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family. Now, the 47-year-old will return to the place where his college coaching career began in 1986.
Earle Bruce, who was the head coach at Ohio State when Meyer was a graduate assistant, has remained a close friend and confidant of Meyer through the years. He said he had no concerns about Meyer's health issues.
"Well, if he'd had a heart attack and his heart was bad, I'd be worried about that," the 70-year-old Bruce said on Monday. "I'm not worried that he was stressed out over the game of football because he was thinking too much and not doing some things (exercising) that would have kept him straight. I think he got everything back under control by sitting out a year. I think he missed football. And he's good at it."
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and other university officials did not respond to requests for comment. There are reports a team meeting set for Sunday night was moved to Monday afternoon before the news conference.
Meyer takes over a program that has been hit by several suspensions and the forced resignation of coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes completed a 6-6 season under interim Luke Fickell with a 40-34 loss to rival Michigan on Saturday.
In 10 seasons as a head coach — two at Bowling Green, two at Utah and six at Florida — Meyer has a 104-23 record, winning three national coach of the year awards. His teams are 7-1 in bowl games, including the Gators' 41-14 victory over unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State in the 2007 Bowl Championship Series title game. They are also 4-0 in BCS bowl games.
Meyer had persistently denied all the talk surrounding him and Ohio State. Soon after Tressel was pressured to resign, Meyer said he wasn't interested in leaving ESPN, where he was a college football analyst.
"I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall," he said in a statement released the day after Tressel lost his job. Just last week he said no job had been offered to him nor was he pursuing one.
His comments came amid weeks of speculation he was Ohio State's first choice to take over at Ohio State.
He inherits a program still facing NCAA sanctions. But he also inherits a young team led by a freshman quarterback, Braxton Miller, who would seem to be a perfect fit for his spread offense.
A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer becomes the 24th head coach at Ohio State. He succeeds Fickell, who took over last spring when Tressel's 10-year reign came crashing down. Tressel was forced out for knowing but not telling his superiors that Buckeyes players had most likely broken NCAA rules by taking cash and free or discounted tattoos from the subject of a federal drug-trafficking investigation.
Tressel was forced to resign on May 30. Missing several top players because of NCAA suspensions stemming from the tattoo mess, the Buckeyes were hit with more suspensions when three players accepted $200 in cash for attending a charity event and others were forced to sit out or had their existing suspensions extended for being overpaid for summer jobs.
Ohio State's .500 record marked the most losses at Ohio State since John Cooper's 1999 team also went 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes had already lost their string of six Big Ten titles when the school was forced to vacate the 2010 season for the NCAA violations. The school has also self-imposed two years of NCAA probation, offered to return $339,000 in bowl revenue from 2010 and to give up five scholarships over the next three seasons.
Ohio State is awaiting final word from the NCAA's committee on infractions. The committee tagged Ohio State with a "failure to monitor" label — second only to a lack of institutional control on the list of most egregious charges against a university. The school could still be hit with a bowl ban, a loss of more scholarships, or other penalties.
At the time of his retirement — after being taken to a hospital, dehydrated and complaining of chest pains — Meyer said, "After spending more than two decades motivating and celebrating the young men I've been so proud to coach, I relish the opportunity to cheer for my three terrific kids as they compete in their own respective sports. I know how fortunate I am to be in a position to make this choice."
He and his family — wife Shelley, college-age daughters Nicki and Gigi and younger son Nate — celebrated Thanksgiving at their Florida home.