COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer flipped through the pages of a media guide looking for inspiration as he debated taking a job.
Back in the records section, he found a tradition he wanted to continue.
A couple of months later, the new Bowling Green coach had a preview magazine in his hands as he was looking for some motivation.
Back in the rankings section, he found some doubts he wanted to prove wrong.
Nearly 15 years after his debut season with the Falcons, the Ohio State coach smiled as he reflected on the two publications that helped launch one of the most successful coaching careers modern college football has seen. And with a chance to take on the program that gave him his first shot to lead a team on Saturday at the Horseshoe, the typically straight-faced approach that defines game week for Meyer has been temporarily pushed aside by the warm feelings of nostalgia.
“I love that school,” Meyer said. “In 2001, I took the job at Bowling Green. I wasn’t sure what to do, and I remember taking home the media guide. And one thing that I loved about Bowling Green is that -- and the reason we took it, first of all, I really appreciate the administration there and I had a lot of respect for the previous coach, Gary Blackney -- but they had a winning record against every team in that conference, overall record.
“So that tells you, taking over a place that's never done it is hard. ... But I still remember that to this day, when I think about Bowling Green, it's one of the most tradition-rich programs in the MAC. A lot of great respect for them.”
When Meyer arrived, though, the Falcons weren’t getting much of it nationally. And, of course, there was a reason they were in the market for a wide receivers coach from Notre Dame after coming off a 2-9 season in Blackney’s last season.
So it should come as no surprise that expectations were low for the first-time coach and the rebuilding project he inherited. But the ultra-competitive Meyer was still shocked to see the complete preseason rankings when they pegged Bowling Green as one of the worst teams in the nation, and in a trick that would become a staple of his playbook throughout his career, he posted copies of it around the facility to light a fire under his new team.
“It's one of the really neat experiences: zero expectations,” Meyer said. “Obviously, you don't experience that much anymore. But I remember we got one of those preseason magazines that came out, I think we were No. 129 or 119 or something like that. That was our ranking.
“I thought, 'You have to be blanking me.' I didn't know there were 129 teams or 119 teams, 120 teams. I posted that in the weight room, a 36-year-old coach trying to get a team motivated that was ranked preseason No. 119. The good thing is we did not finish No. 119.”
Instead, the Falcons pulled off a major upset at Missouri to give Meyer his first head-coaching victory, then added seven more by the end of his debut season. That helped live up to the standard in the media guide, silenced some skeptics, and set him on the path that would take him from Utah to Florida and now Ohio State with three national championships on his résumé.
But those two seasons and 17 wins with the Falcons clearly still resonate with Meyer. And while he doesn’t have many chances like this week to talk about them publicly, the battle stories are certainly familiar by now to those close to him.
“We don’t dwell on the old days at Bowling Green much right now because of this game,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “But over the course of five years with [Meyer], Bowling Green stories come up all the time for how they used to do things, how they started traditions they still have going on now that he started 15 years ago.
“I think he really appreciates the opportunity that Bowling Green gave him, and he made the most of it. He helped Bowling Green get that program going again when it had maybe taken a step back a little bit, and I think he’s very proud of that. I think he wants them to be proud of the fact that he has a Bowling Green legacy.”
Meyer was even willing to start his first game-week preparations of the season reflecting on it. By Saturday, though, his Buckeyes will be doing everything they can to make sure Bowling Green doesn’t add another chapter to the media guide.