The "Urban myth" line has been worn to a nub with Urban Meyer, but it's never been more fitting than now.
Here's the mythology Meyer has tried to sell us: that a certifiable coaching freak could make a clean break from football for a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle and more time with the kids.
He tried it in 2009 with a sudden and stunning retirement announcement. Florida released a statement that included this sentence from Meyer: "I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family."
The re-evaluation took one day. His urgent health issues disappeared so fast, the joke was that his messianic quarterback, Tim Tebow, cured him. It was one of the shortest retirements in sports history.
Then he tried it in 2010, abruptly retiring again, with this as part of his statement: "At this time in my life … I appreciate the sacrifices my 24/7 profession has demanded of me, and I know it is time to put my focus on my family and life away from the field."
The focus on family and life away from the field began to blur after less than a year. Because he's coming back – again. Expect the official announcement at Ohio State to happen anytime.
This isn't the least bit surprising, though it might have jolted those who most want to believe him.
Two Florida sources told me they expected him to stay out of coaching for a long time – "three or four years" one said – in a sincere effort to regain some balance in his life. And as the mess that cost Jim Tressel his job got worse last spring and speculation about Meyer intensified, one of his daughters sent out a strident Tweet saying, "HE IS NOT repeat NOT, GOING TO OHIO STATE."
Except now he is, not even waiting long enough to hear what the NCAA sanctions will be on the program he's inheriting. The guy who wanted to slow his life down has gone full-speed ahead back into the job.
Buckeyes fans are in a justifiable tizzy over landing a superstar coach with two national titles. But Meyer's phony retirements have damaged his credibility along the way to his new multimillion-dollar gig.
When Meyer stepped down last December, I caught a lot of heat from Florida fans for writing the following:
"So you're Urban Meyer. … And maybe you really are filled with middle-aged regret about living an unbalanced life that leaves too little time for your wife and kids. So you do this. You listen to the family this time around. You walk away from one of the two best jobs in your profession (Texas is the other) at somewhere near the peak of your career. … You're Dick Vermeil of the college game, and the pursuit of glory no longer justifies the grind of getting there.
"If those things are true, and Meyer is ready to enter a rewarding new phase of life as a paternal bleacher creature, watching his three kids play sports, so be it. Wish him godspeed and good health. …
"But if Meyer suddenly shows up in Denver to coach Tebow, he's a con man of the highest order. If he changes his mind and comes back to Florida before it hires someone else, he's a diva even [Brett] Favre would disdain. If he takes another job a year from now, his family will know once and for all where it ranks in his personal hierarchy of needs.
"Guess we'll wait and see who the real Urban Meyer is."
We didn't have to wait long. And I suspect that some of the Florida fans who were mad at me last year for not buying the company line are mad at their former hero now.
The real Urban Meyer is a guy who forfeited believability a few conflicting stories ago. He was sick, then he was healthy, then he was sick again … and now apparently he's fine just in time to take a Cadillac job in his home state at a school he grew up revering.
What wonderful timing.
What really made Meyer sick at Florida? I have some guesses.
Watching his top-ranked, undefeated team get crushed by Alabama in the 2009 SEC title game made him sick. Losing five games the next year and enduring the first disappointing season of his career made him sick. Looking at recruiting classes that didn't stack up on the field the way they stacked up on paper, especially five-star quarterbacks and receivers, made him sick.
Like many other great coaches, losing kills Urban Meyer. The defeats are far more painful than the victories are enjoyable – which proves to be a powerful motivator to do everything possible to avoid defeat. When the bottom fell out at Florida after Tebow and coordinators Charlie Strong and Dan Mullen left, the thought of selling a spoiled fan base on a protracted rebuilding process might have been enough to make a man ill.
So he bailed on Gator Nation at the first sign of professional struggle.
From there he went to ESPN, where TV work also is not ideal for family life. At Florida, there were six or seven home games every fall; in TV, there are none. I was on a flight with Meyer one Saturday this autumn, and he was schlepping his carry-on luggage (complete with Gators logo) through the Atlanta airport just like the rest of us.
Being king of a college town is better, right?
There is every reason to believe Meyer will be king in Columbus. It's harder to win a national title there than at Florida, but easier to win your league. And the one thing Ohio State must do to compete with the SEC kingpins – sign some Southern speed and athleticism – should be easier now that they're coached by a guy whose name still resonates with recruits in Florida.
Urban Meyer will win big, all right. But his credibility is only an Urban myth.
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