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Why it's hard to fully celebrate Urban Meyer's final win

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Meyer passes symbolic torch to Day (1:42)

During his final postgame speech as head coach, Urban Meyer hands his whistle to Ryan Day, who will become the 25th head coach of the Buckeyes. (1:42)

PASADENA, Calif. -- With 40 seconds left in the 105th Rose Bowl, Urban Meyer emphatically pumped his fists in the air one last time as Ohio State's head coach with a victorious 28-23 score beaming on the north end zone scoreboard.

As the clock ticked down to zero and Washington's late comeback officially ended, senior receivers Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin walked Meyer arm-and-arm toward midfield before a Gatorade bath greeted the smiling Meyer for one last frozen feeling.

From there, it was a victory lap that didn't quite feel long enough for a coach who announced in early December that he was retiring from coaching after 33 years.

Meyer, an Ohio native who coached in his first Rose Bowl on Tuesday, nonchalantly accepted the Rose Bowl trophy, and without enough time to truly savor the moment, quickly passed it to his players standing behind him.

Meyer would eventually thank Buckeye Nation and praise his players and their season before walking to Ohio State's band, along with his wife, Shelley, whose arm was wrapped around his waist with every step, for one last "O-H" and a salute from the top of the drum major's ladder.

There were no tears from Meyer during his last stroll with Shelley down the field and into the locker room.

As others have struggled to process Meyer's retirement over the past month, it appears the 54-year-old Meyer hasn't. Others aren't sure what to think of Meyer as he steps away, but he does.

He's totally at peace.

"I've been blessed," Meyer said Tuesday night. "I know this is relatively young, but I started young -- 17 years as a head coach, 33 years doing this. And just very fortunate, and I do believe I'm done."

The man so obsessed with perfection says he believes he has found his ideal replacement in offensive coordinator Ryan Day. And without Day taking over, Meyer said he couldn't have stepped away -- health issues and all.

"You're handing off to a guy that can make it stronger," Meyer said of Day. "And so I'm very much at peace about that."

But still, speculation about Meyer's ability to permanently retire started almost immediately after his announcement on Dec. 4. He did it to Florida (twice), and he seems too competitive and obsessively wired to stay out of the game forever.

His players joined the speculation this week, with many agreeing he'll be back on a sideline at some point, especially with him staying at OSU as an assistant athletic director.

"I don't know if he is going to get all the way away," senior receiver Johnnie Dixon said. "He is going to have an office right across the street. I think he will still be in the special-team meetings at least. I think it is going to be very hard for him to eventually walk away from the game because it is something he has been doing for so long. Wake up, brush your teeth, go to football. It's going to be different for him."

Added sophomore defensive end Chase Young: "Honestly, I think he'll get back into coaching. He just loves the game of football so much -- it's just what he does. I don't think he can just sit home."

Meyer is stepping away because he has stressed himself out so much during the season that his health is suffering. But on Tuesday, there were no scenes of Meyer clutching his head because of stress-related headaches. He yelled, screamed and ripped his headset off in disgust during Washington's first scoring drive, but for the most part, he was animated only when good things were happening, as the Buckeyes built a big early lead and held on to win.

According to those closest to Meyer, this is more relaxed than he has been in a long time.

"He's been fun again," Shelley said. "He's back to the Urban I knew when he wasn't so stressed out and anxious and having headaches."

Meyer didn't lose all of his intensity over the past four weeks. He did his usual helicopter coaching act of hovering around as many position groups as he could during various drills. He was still very hands-on with players and made sure to continue his tradition of weaving through every row during stretching at the beginning of practice. But he seemed to be having more fun. He even rode a roller coaster at Disney's California Adventure.

"I've seen Coach Meyer smile more in the past four weeks than I have in the past four years," Campbell said.

Meyer called the Rose Bowl a "bucket list" game for him, and before this week, the closest he came to the stadium was when he got run off by a security guard when he tried to sneak in as a Colorado State assistant during a recruiting trip in the 1990s. And to lead the team he grew up rooting for in Ashtabula, Ohio, out of the Rose Bowl tunnel would be a fitting conclusion.

It should be a storybook ending.

But Meyer's departure is more complicated than that.

On paper, he will go down as one of college football's greatest coaches. In 17 years as a head coach, Meyer went 187-32 with three national championships (two at Florida and one at Ohio State).

He has been to six straight New Year's Six bowls, going 4-2 in those and capturing that national title with the Buckeyes in 2014.

But away from the field, Meyer has a handful of unmistakable scars on his résumé.

There are the 30-plus player arrests at Florida and the fact that he admittedly left the program "broken" after stepping away for the second time in a year after the 2010 season.

At Ohio State, his players stayed out of trouble, but Meyer's last season has a permanent black mark because of his mismanagement of disgraced former assistant Zach Smith.

Meyer was put on paid administrative leave in August while the school investigated Courtney Smith's claims that several people close to Meyer knew of a 2015 allegation of domestic violence against her ex-husband, Zach, whom Meyer had fired in July.

Ohio State's investigation found that Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith "failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith's misconduct" and suspended him for three games.

So as scarlet-and-gray confetti covered Meyer while thousands of Buckeyes fans chanted his name Tuesday night, the moment felt somewhat tainted. It was a celebration for players and fans to enjoy. There were so many extraordinary coaching accomplishments to celebrate, but Meyer's questionable decisions away from the field are an undeniable part of his legacy.

Meyer wasn't interested in talking legacy this week. And as he left the Rose Bowl to the cheers of adoring fans, it's clear what his legacy will be to the Buckeyes faithful.

But outside of Columbus, his legacy remains complicated, a reminder that winning doesn't -- or shouldn't -- solve everything.