December 26, 2009
The day after his team's loss in the SEC Championship game, Florida coach Urban Meyer checked himself into Gainesville hospital due to "dehydration." He was quickly released, and the story passed without much attention at the time. But as of tonight, it may go down as the moment that Meyer's burgeoning Gator dynasty came to an end:
Urban Meyer is stepping down as coach of the Florida football team, athletics director Jeremy Foley announced Saturday afternoon in a release.
"I have given my heart and soul to coaching college football and mentoring young men for the last 24-plus years and I have dedicated most of my waking moments the last five years to the Gator football program," Meyer said in statement. "I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family."
Meyer plans an official press conference on Sunday; he will coach against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, then hang it up for the foreseeable future. He has suffered in the past from extreme pain as a result of a brain cyst, but isn't in the hospital and isn't facing any immediate health issues. There's no indication he's planning to return to the sideline anywhere else anytime soon. He's just had enough of the grind for now.
So, presumably, has the rest of the SEC. After turning obscure outfits Bowling Green and Utah into small-conference powers behind his prolific spread offense, Meyer resurrected Florida into a national juggernaut by his second year, in 2006, when he brought home the Gators' first national championship in a decade. Three years later, Meyer goes out with a 56-10 record over five years, a second national title to his name and a secure place alongside USC's Pete Carroll, Alabama's Nick Saban, Texas' Mack Brown and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops as the contemporary gold standard for building and sustaining a first-rate national power capable of contending for at least a major bowl game year after year, and Carroll is the only one of those coaches who has (or likely ever will) won two national titles in a three-year span. In practically no time at all, he's achieved virtual "legend" status.
Meyer's a relatively young man at 45 years old; odds are his name is going to be in the mix for every major job opening every offseason until he gets the itch and decides to return. But however this story ends, his run in Gainesville will go down as one of the great supernovas in the history of the sport.
[UPDATE, 8:21 p.m. ET] Some locals are suggesting Meyer has been in the hospital multiple times since the end of the regular season for "chest pains, nausea and sickness," which obviously suggests ongoing stress issues that go much deeper than "dehydration." As details emerge, we may learn that the decision was less of a choice than a necessity, even if he doesn't face any immediate, pressing danger.
[UPDATE, 8:55 p.m. ET] The Gainesville Sun suggests that the hospital visit following the SEC Championship game left Meyer "scared" about his health and forced him to consider and reconsider stepping down for more than a week before the final decision. Meyer's father reportedly told the New York Times that doctors told his son he was making himself a high risk for heart problems because of his stress level during games -- especially after losses -- and that "He doesn't want to die because he wants to raise his family."