On Sept. 22, when Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made his return to the sidelines after a three-game suspension, an interested observer watched intently from a 50-yard line perch in Ohio Stadium.
He and Meyer had spoken the day before, not just about the nuances of the next afternoon’s game against Tulane, but likely about the many things they have in common.
After all, they have long been peers and friends, Meyer and this other man.
They are separated by only six years in age.
And they are united by the unique accomplishments both have achieved in the sport for which they share a passion and owe their reputations.
Now, in the aftermath of Meyer’s impending retirement announcement at OSU, both he and the other man are facing uncertain futures.
One is peaceful, thankful and resolute in the face of that unknown.
The other is Urban Meyer.
This is how life works sometimes:
The weak, those with the most to lose, surrender control of all that they have left and accept their circumstances without regret or complaint.
The strong, those with great resources and manifold success still to celebrate, cling fitfully to the one fleeting trinket they cannot fathom life without.
It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
You can always find reasons to be miserable.
You can always find reasons to be grateful.
Circumstances don’t define which path you choose.
Only your outlook does.
On Tuesday, after his retirement press conference at Ohio State, Meyer retreated to his office and spoke with Pete Thamel of YahooSports.com.
Thamel is one of the few reporters in whom Meyer has confided over the years. When Ohio State stood on the College Football Playoff bubble in 2014, Meyer anxiously watched the results of the final voting from his home on the seventh fairway at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin.
Thamel watched the unveiling of the playoff field with him...the only reporter in the room.
It is therefore safe to say Meyer trusts Thamel, enough for the coach to let down his guard and reveal more of the inner angst about his future than he did in a crowded press conference.
“There’s a little anxiety involved in what’s next,” Meyer told Thamel. “I’ve thought about that. I’m not a wake-up-late kind of guy. I hope I find a passion.”
For the last seven years, Ohio State football has been that passion.
Though he vowed it wouldn’t become so, it did, and hence it’s currently beyond Meyer’s ability to maintain the proper perspective on OSU football as an entertainment diversion and nothing more.
At age 54, forced from coaching by a brain cyst that causes stress-related headaches, Meyer is searching for new meaning in life.
At age 60, Matt Millen is simply hoping he’ll be alive to celebrate another birthday in March.
Right now, Millen is in a New Jersey hospital, where he’s been since early October, about the time a Meyer went to a knee on the sidelines during OSU’s game against Indiana.
Millen had stepped away from his Big Ten Network broadcasting duties shortly before that, just two weeks after working OSU’s game against Tulane when Meyer returned to the sidelines.
Millen is awaiting a heart transplant he needs, “fairly soon,” or doctors say he will succumb to amyloidosis, a disease first diagnosed last summer.
Millen had been suffering symptoms for six years -- symptoms no one could make sense of until 70 percent of his heart function had been destroyed.
For the past eight months, Millen has undergone chemotherapy treatments every Monday. Amyloidosis isn’t curable, and it isn’t cancer. The chemo hopefully keeps it at bay long enough for Millen to get the heart transplant he needs to survive.
Otherwise, his friends, colleagues and former teammates from a 40-year career in football as a broadcaster, front-office executive and player, including four Super Bowl wins with the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, will be reflecting on a rich life cut far too short.
Millen could be sullen over his uncertain fate and the so-far-72-day wait for a heart transplant others on his floor have already received.
He could be angry over the failure to diagnose his condition, despite repeated visits to clinics, hospitals and specialists in search of an answer, long before it threatened his life.
But instead, Millen told the Allentown Morning Call this week, “While I’m still on this side, I’ll enjoy everything.”
Perhaps Millen is processing his circumstances far better than Meyer, whose headaches figure to diminish once he steps away from his driving coaching style at OSU, because he’s made a mid-life course correction before.
Back when his playing career was winding down, Millen began dabbling in woodworking and cabinetry. He has since become so adept a craftsman that his work is coveted by many homeowners and builders.
It’s tough to envision Urban Meyer bent over a lathe or belt sander in retirement. But just like there was for Millen, there’s certain fulfillment beyond football for Meyer if only he pursues it with purpose.
“I hope I find something to fall in love with,” Meyer told Thamel on Tuesday.
In his press conference, Meyer quickly answered an inquiry about what he would miss most by saying, “The players.”
Well, then, great news: there are thousands of players out there, waiting to be coached, thirsting for the mentorship Meyer could provide while directing, say, junior high or high school football.
Meyer could do that on terms that would fit into his health parameters, free from game-day pressure he could turn over to younger coaches embarking on their careers, if he so chooses.
That’s an option for Meyer if it’s really the relationships he’ll miss most, not the fame, money, pressure or additional trappings that come with a job like Ohio State.
Maybe it’s too soon now for the soon-to-be-ex-OSU coach to see that or to realize the other blessings right in front of him...a loyal wife, a healthy and thriving family, one grandchild and another on the way, untold wealth and an adoring Ohio State fan base more than willing to cleanse his August suspension in the healing waters of an 82-9 record in Columbus.
Perhaps, in time, Meyer will realize the vistas lying unexplored before him, waiting to be shaped by the energy, money and support he could marshal to pursue any passion or address whatever social cause captures his interest.
One that comes quickly to mind is the difference Meyer could make toward funding research to cure ALS, the debilitating disease that struck former OSU player William White, the father of sophomore defensive back Brendon White, this past summer.
It might also benefit Meyer to pay a visit to Millen’s bed side, where he celebrated this week when others on his transplant floor got the heart he needs, but hasn’t yet received.
“I look over my life, and it’s been a storybook,” Millen said the day before Meyer’s retirement. “I have an awesome family, a phenomenal wife, and you can’t ask for more.”
And if the transplant never comes?
“So you’re not supposed to take the good with the bad?,” Millen asked. “When a bump comes up in the road, you deal with it. It’s ridiculous to feel sorry for yourself. I’m thankful for what I have, and I’ll take what I get.”
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