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Urban Meyer talks Alex Smith, Tim Tebow

Urban Meyer, center, coached San Francisco's Alex Smith, left, and New York's Tim Tebow. AP Photos

Urban Meyer returned to coaching this fall at Ohio State University and promptly led that team to a 12-0 season. Because of NCAA restrictions, his team will be on the sideline this month.

The same also can be said for two of his former quarterbacks -- 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Jets quarterback Tim Tebow.

Smith played for Meyer in 2003 and 2004 at Utah and was placed fourth in the 2004 Heisman Trophy voting. He was drafted No. 1 in the 2005 NFL draft and started all 16 games last season before losing his job to a more mobile Colin Kaepernick midway through this season.

Tebow played for Meyer from 2006 to 2009, won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and won two national titles, in 2006 and 2008. He was drafted No. 25 overall in the 2010 NFL draft and led the Denver Broncos into the second round of the playoffs last season. He was traded to New York and has been sitting on the bench most of the season, as the team hasn't figured the best way to use him.

Playbook had a few minutes to talk with Meyer about the NFL quarterbacks, his time working for ESPN in 2011 and what this past season meant to him.

Have you had much conversation with Smith and Tebow this fall?

"Not as much with Alex, but I talk with Tim once a week. I reached out to him the other day. He is struggling and frustrated. One thing about both of those guys is that 'frustrated' means something different and not just on an individual level. Those guys are used to winning. They come from a family of winners, also. They want to help people win. Tim's biggest frustration now is he wants to help the Jets win any way he can."

Do you think Tebow could be a viable NFL quarterback?

"I don't get to watch much pro football during the season, but my offensive staff at Ohio State put together cutups of all these NFL quarterbacks: Cam Newton, the 49ers quarterback [Kaepernick], Russell Wilson and RG III [Robert Griffin III]. We watched four hours of film. That is the spread offense. It's not just a version of it. Tim is a spread offensive quarterback. He can run the spread as well as anybody in college football history. The only question is whether you can do it on a consistent level in the NFL. No one has been able to do that yet. But there are teams out there now running it. I had no idea until I saw all that film."

So what does the future hold for them?

"Both have said the right things. Just think back to last year, both of them were a few games away from the Super Bowl. They were starting quarterbacks and stars of their teams. Tim took a team to the brink of a championship. Alex, who had been in that organization for a long time, had a new staff and almost reached the Super Bowl. I'm not quite sure what the story is this year. I'm very proud of how they handled the situation."

What would you tell them to do?

"I don't know enough about the entire situation. Speculation is not what I'm about."

OK, back to you at Ohio State. With NCAA sanctions, your team still found a way to be unbeaten. What was it like in your first season?

"This was as rewarding a season as I have ever had. To see a complete transformation from all that stuff, including the lack of leadership, to a group at the end of the season was amazing. It was one of the most selfless groups of people I've ever been around."

You loved your time at ESPN as a broadcaster, but something pulled you back out there to coach, right?

"My time at ESPN was great. I had great on-air teammates in Chris Spielman and Dave Pasch. It was a great learning experience, and it gave me a greater respect for those guys. It also allowed me time to focus more on my family. And it allowed me to get healthy again. It also made me miss coaching."

So have you done a better job of creating a work-life balance?

"I've been able to turn it off, now more than ever. When I go home, I want to focus on my family, especially with the holidays around the corner. It's always in the back of your mind that you have a significant job to do, but you need to shut it off a little bit."

You've just returned from a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl flag football game in California that will be broadcast Jan. 3. The event supported several charities and had some big names such as you, Bobby Bowden and Kurt Warner. What was that like?

"I had high expectations going into it. I don't know if you've seen it. But it was as much fun -- and for the right cause -- as good as anything I've been a part of. It was outstanding."

Talking with Owen Wilson, who played in the game, last week, he said you were a tough coach and you didn't recognize him. True?

"I told the troops that this is all good, but as long as they are keeping score, we're going to try to win this thing. And, no, I recognized Owen's face, but it's true that I didn't know him. I was chewing him out a little bit because he wasn't running really hard."