Greg Stoda: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says it’s ‘a compliment’ when fans cheer his losses

A show of hands, please. And not just from the citizens of Gator Nation.

If you have no allegiance to either team, are you going to pull for Clemson or Ohio State in the upcoming Orange Bowl?

Are you, in other words, going to cheer for the Tigers or for Urban Meyer?

That’s how it is for Meyer, now, as one of the two most polarizing coaches — Alabama’s Nick Saban is the other — in college football.

Meyer, who spent six years at the University of Florida before leaving in what turned out looking like an orchestrated escape, is nearing the end of his second season as head coach at The Ohio State University.

He has a 24-1 record there.

But the solitary loss — absorbed last weekend in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State — means more than all two dozen of his victories with the Buckeyes combined.

Meyer lost the biggest game of his Ohio State tenure so far.

The defeat cost the Buckeyes a spot in the national championship contest, and made their Orange Bowl date a consolation gift.

“The mood switched pretty quickly when we got this invitation,” Meyer insisted at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

OK, that was the commercial, but Meyer couldn’t have wanted to be on the Hard Rock casino’s pool deck promoting this game when his Buckeyes had come so close to qualifying for a place in the end-of-season headliner. He was stoic. His face was a mask, but couldn’t completely hide the still-fresh disappointment of defeat that cost so much. He made the obligatory statements about Clemson’s excellence and the quality of the Orange Bowl, but seemed most enthusiastic about the off-field opportunity the game presents.

In a word: recruiting.

“We’re hittin’ it real hard down here … as we speak,” said Meyer, who’ll remain on the bountiful South Florida scent today.

He’ll likely haul in another top-flight class, and set up Ohio State as a national title challenger again next season.

Meyer was a rising star at Bowling Green and Utah before working at Florida from 2005 through 2010 and leading the Gators to two national crowns. He resigned twice — citing medical issues and family obligations (read: burnout) — but only the second one stuck. He took a television gig for a year. When the Buckeyes called an Ohio boy back home, Meyer couldn’t get there quickly enough.

And now he’s on, in his own words, a “magical two-year run.”

He doesn’t often lose, but a majority of fans who wouldn’t otherwise care certainly seem to enjoy it when he does.

“There’s probably some truth to that,” Meyer said. “Everybody wanted to knock off the Buckeyes.”

The same way it was when he was a Gator.

“I’d like to think of it as a compliment,” Meyer said.

It is one, of sorts, but it doesn’t seem rooted in appreciation of his coaching skills.

Meyer appeared opportunistic in making the Florida-to-Ohio State move after leaving the Gators cupboard all but bare. He said he’d grown weary of, and physically ill from, the pressure to always win at Florida.


It was going to ease up at Ohio State?

He had to know what he was signing up for. It was an out-of-the-frying-pan, into-the-fire deal.

Meyer took over an Ohio State program paying penalties for previous infractions, and was ineligible for a bowl last season.

But the Buckeyes salved that disappointment with an undefeated record, and primed themselves for a run at the highest stakes of all this time around. And there they were on the cusp of a title showdown with Florida State before the Spartans ruined their party.

The result sparked particular glee from Gatorland, where Meyer is thought a manipulative traitor by some UF loyalists whose disdain for him is exaggerated as they cope with difficult times under his increasingly unloved successor, Will Muschamp.

“They had a lot of injuries,” Meyer said to a radio host before going on air.

For the record, he sounded genuinely sad about the Gators’ demise.

Who ya’ rootin’ for?