December 08, 2010
When Florida coach Urban Meyer decided to walk away from one of the most coveted jobs in sports at this time last year, it seemed like the reluctant decision of an obsessed man who had no other choice. He'd experienced chest pains for years and had just had to be rushed to the hospital after collapsing into unconsciousness following the Gators' loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. True to form, he'd reversed course within 48 hours, pledged to remain with the team and was eventually medically cleared to keep grinding away.
This time, on the heels of the worst season of his decade-long head-coaching career, he sounds like he means it. From GatorZone.com:
"I have been a Division I football coach for the last 25 years and, during that time, my primary focus has been helping my teams win titles," Meyer said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and I am a fierce competitor to my core. At this time in my life, however, 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 decision to step down was a difficult one.
"But after spending more than two decades motivating and celebrating the young men I've been so proud to coach, I relish the opportunity to cheer for my three terrific kids as they compete in their own respective sports. I know how fortunate I am to be in a position to make this choice and to have a family that is as loving and supportive as my amazing wife and children have always been."
A press conference is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET. Meyer will coach the Gators against Penn State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, giving the Gators plenty of time to round up a replacement. What were the odds that Joe Paterno would be wishing the other guy a happy retirement as the calendar turns to 2011?
When he was set to walk away last year, it was as a guru ascending from the mountaintop, on the heels of a dominant 48-7 run that produced three SEC East titles, two BCS championships and a Heisman Trophy winner in a four-year span. This time, it's on the heels of a 7-5 disappointment – including blowout losses to Alabama, Florida State and South Carolina with the division on the line. That cost him a chunk of goodwill among Gator fans, especially for his loyalty to offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, a longtime hand who oversaw the descent of one of the most fearsome attacks in America to the bottom of the SEC.
Still, no one in the SEC will be sorry to see him gone. 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. Four years later, he goes out with a 56-10 record over six seasons and a secure place alongside peers Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, Mack Brown, Bob Stoops and Jim Tressel as the contemporary gold standard for building and sustaining a first-rate power capable of contending for at least a major bowl game year after year. Carroll is the only one of those coaches who managed (or likely ever will again) to win two national titles in a three-year span. In practically no time at all, Meyer achieved virtual "legend" status.
He's still a relatively young man at 45 years old; odds are his name is going to be in the mix for every major job opening – college or pro – in 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.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.