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Football not the only outdoors attraction for coaches like Meyer

08/29/2014, 1:15am EDT
Football one of many outdoor attractions

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer with a bonefish he caught July 2013 while fishing in the flats of the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas. Gridiron Outdoors

The mind of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer is programmed to process all football, almost all of the time, now that the Buckeyes are ready to start another season on Saturday in Baltimore against Navy.

But part of the process of preparation for 2014, and downshifting from the previous season, involved some therapeutic time spent outdoors for Meyer. Other high-profile coaches employ or have employed the same kind of outdoors therapy.

This past offseason, Meyer and his high school-aged son Nate fished off Islamorada in the Florida Keys with former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson aboard Johnson’s boat “Three Rings.” Nate caught a huge mahi-mahi on that outing.

The third-year Ohio State coach took a cruise along Florida’s gulf coast aboard the 65-foot boat of a friend, with stops at Captiva Island, Naples, Islamorada for fishing with Johnson, and then on to Key West.

“He loves being on a boat,” said Meyer’s wife Shelley, who accompanied him on the trip. The Meyers also spent time this summer at Put-in-Bay, the favorite Ohio outdoors escape for the coach, who grew up in Ashtabula.

RELATED: The Blade’‍s fishing report — 8/29

Last year, while on a vacation to the island of Nevis in the Caribbean, Meyer and his wife were part of a climbing party that scaled the 3,232-foot volcano Nevis Peak, which dominates the tiny island of just 36 square miles.

“We love hiking,” said Meyer, who turned 50 this summer, “but that wasn’t really a hike. It was a vertical climb through a rain forest for four straight hours to get up there, and it took six hours total to complete. We were drenched in sweat, sopping wet, and covered in mud when we finished it. It was unlike anything that we’d ever done, but Shelley’s game for anything, and she’s part of why it was so much fun.”

Meyer also admitted that wrestling your way up a muddy, rocky crevice through the heavy tropical overgrowth, with nothing but a crude rope with knots tied in it for leverage, while perched on the side of a volcano on a remote island, is a pretty good way to get your mind off of recruiting, game-planning, and play-calling for a few hours.

“And there’s not a lot of cell phone reception in a place like that,” he said.

Meyer escaped to the Keys before his first season with the Buckeyes, fishing for tarpon, shark, and barracuda with former NFL quarterback Mike Pawlawski, who hosts the Gridiron Outdoors show on the Outdoor Channel.

Last summer Meyer returned to the show, only this time he and Nate were fishing the flats around the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas for the elusive and spooky bonefish.

As another “football guy,” Pawlawski said he could tell right away that Meyer enjoyed getting away from the phone, the computer, and the pressures of the job for a while, but the trademark Meyer intensity was still evident.

“Every coach needs a chance to unwind from the previous season, and kind of clear their mind for the next one, so I could tell he really treasured the time on the water with his son, just getting away from all of the other distractions,” Pawlawski said. “But that passion for excellence never goes away. When he fishes, he wants to be successful at that too.”

Former Toledo head coach Tom Amstutz was also a firm believer in the need to escape into the outdoors before tackling a new season of college football.

“I love to hunt and fish, and that was definitely one of the best ways for me to slow down the pace, get out of the office, and just do something different,” said Amstutz, who was head coach of the Rockets for eight seasons.

Amstutz said he would sometimes slip off to the Lake Erie marshes early in the morning, shoot some geese, and then grill them outside the Larimer Center for the staff at the office. He also liked to get a few hours away from the hectic pace by fishing area ponds for bass.

“I think it’s really important, when you are coaching at that level and under that kind of pressure, to get some time outside,” he said. “You have to make yourself do it, since you are usually being pulled in so many other directions, but it sure is refreshing when you take a little time away. You come back stronger, fresher, and ready to go back to work.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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