Sun Jan 24 07:16am EST
We're still less than a month out from Urban Meyer's abrupt retirement as Florida coach for ongoing stress/health reasons, and his equally abrupt reversal the very next day, when he announced he would only take an indefinite leave of absence instead after feeling the itch during a particularly crisp Sugar Bowl practice. A few days later, he coached the Gators to a merciless blowout over Cincinnati in his last game ... and kept going, eschewing the planned leave to hire a new defensive coordinator and help nail down the key members of what's shaping up as the best incoming class in the nation down the home stretch of recruiting season. Maybe, the locals speculated as Meyer scrupulously avoided the press, he'd step away after national signing day on Feb. 3.
Or maybe, as Meyer suggested to reporters Saturday night during Florida's basketball game against South Carolina, he can do the whole "indefinite leave of absence" thing when he's dead:
Meyer, speaking publicly for the first time since Florida beat Cincinnati 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl, said Saturday night that his workload has been about the same as it has been during other recruiting seasons. The biggest difference is he is traveling less.
He also plans to coach the Gators during spring practice.
"I keep hearing about this time out," Meyer said. "People I'm closest to are going to demand I take some time off, but I tried that already. I tried a day and a half, and it didn’t work." (Emphasis added.)
So much for the rumor he was only biding his time to keep the recruiting class intact. This is the difference between you and Urban Meyer: If given the opportunity, you would walk away from your job, flip off your boss and set fire to the building; odds are you probably take a few "leaves of absence" on company time every day. Urban Meyer, still drawing a $4 million salary and being pushed by everyone around him -- including his boss, athletic director Jeremy Foley -- to take a sabbatical, can't even go so much as a weekend without throwing himself back into the grind. This is why he makes $4 million and has two national championships to his name.
It's also why he's experienced regular chest pains since arriving at Florida, and occasionally suffers debilitating pain due to a brain cyst triggered by excessive stress. This is a man who literally collapsed from exhaustion following his team's loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game in December, forcing his wife to call 911 to have him carted out of the house by paramedics in the middle of the night, whose grateful daughter allegedly exclaimed "I got my daddy back" when news broke of his short-lived "retirement," and he can barely give up the job long enough for a day trip to the aquarium. He can't live without it.
If reports of his persistent health issues are any indication, Meyer may not be able to live long with it, either, which even he conceded Saturday night when he told reporters, "I have to change some things I think, that’s obvious." Among those immediate changes: The school doesn't want him to travel to visit recruits (though most Florida targets come from in-state), and he probably won't visit Tim Tebow during his star quarterback's NFL audition at next month's Senior Bowl.
Long-term, though, those are petty, cosmetic changes compared to the internal fire that consumes almost all coaches' lives and bodies during the season, and which has obviously taken such a toll on Meyer, at just 45 years old, than his boss and family are almost begging him to stop. He says physical tests "are coming back pretty positive" so far, but unless he can find it in him to convert his intense, hands-on approach into the more restrained style of a more detached, delegating CEO, he's setting himself to coach till he literally drops. Either that, or opponents are right, and Meyer's heart really is made of stone.