Meyer’s ultimate test will come Oct. 2 at Alabama

 Destin—Before Tuesday, the last time I spoke to Urban Meyer in person was on the Friday before the SEC championship game in December. Tim Brando and I had a chance to visit with the Florida head coach on the floor of the Georgia Dome prior to No. 1 Florida meeting No. 2 Alabama for a spot in the BCS title game. I remember that he looked tired and way too thin.

As we walked away I remember saying to Brando: “He does not look good.”

A lot has happened to Urban Meyer since that Friday in Atlanta and yesterday, when he stood before a podium and actually laughed while he addressed the media at the SEC Spring Meetings began. Some of us who cover Florida wondered if we would ever see him laugh again. He took some good-natured ribbing from the press and was able to give it back with a smile. We sure didn’t think we’d see that again.

Here is the short version of Meyer’s unusual journey: In 2009 the strain of trying to repeat as national champions and stay No. 1 took their toll on Meyer, who won’t turn 46 years old until July 10. He had been secretly battling chest pains with no known cause. On Dec. 26, 2009 Meyer shocked the college football world by announcing that he was going to retire for health reasons. Then he shocked it again a day later in a bizarre press conference in New Orleans by saying that he was going to simply take a leave of absence.

The flip-flop opened Meyer up to waves of criticism and speculation. A lot of it was deserved. Some of it was not. It came on top of a season that saw him fined $30,000 by the SEC office for complaining about officiating. It came on top of a poorly-made decision to suspend linebacker Brandon Spikes for only a half-game for sticking his hand in the facemask of a Georgia running back. It came on top of the suspension of defensive end Carlos Dunlap for being arrested on the Monday before the SEC championship game. It ultimately came on top of a total meltdown against Alabama at the Georgia Dome. Alabama was the better team. Florida looked dazed and confused and tired. So did its head coach.

“Last year we kind of brought some of that stuff on ourselves. It was a crazy year,” Meyer said. “Every time you turned on the TV it was ‘Gators This” and “Gators This.”

Meyer’s diagnosis was uncertain as was his future as Florida’s football coach. And in the absence of good information, which Meyer did not provide, speculation filled the void. That is the reality of the 24-hour news cycle.

 Was he in or was he out? Was he telling the truth about any of this? Was he really going to return as coach and if he did, could he take a bunch of time off and keep the edge that enabled him to win two national championships in three years (2006, 2008)? Could Urban Meyer even BE Urban Meyer is he wasn’t obsessive about the details of his football program?

On Tuesday Urban Meyer looked like a man who had been shaken up over the past year and in the process had learned an important life lesson. He hopes to take that lesson, move forward and be just as good at his job as before.

“I have to be smarter in the future and I’m going to be,” said Meyer, set to begin his sixth season as Florida’s head coach. “ (People said) Just take care of yourself and I didn’t do that. The last year and a half was really a bizarre deal.”

The good news, Meyer said Tuesday, is that he finally got a diagnosis for his ailment: esophageal spasms. They create chest pains, which Meyer said he had been having for years, and can be treated with medication. Meyer said the medication works and that he has not an an episode since January.

Meyer said that not knowing the cause of his ailment only added to the stress of his job.

“When they finally say ‘this is it. Take this,’ then you feel a lot better about things,” he said. “Okay, good. Let’s go.”

Losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game cost Florida a shot at another BCS national title. But it may ultimately serve as the motivational spring board for the Gators to begin life after Tim Tebow.

“I hope that it will,” said Meyer. “I’ve had some discussions with our coaches about it. Some people overlook that but when you’re talking about a group of 18-to-20 year olds you need to talk about what the rallying cry will be.

“Last year it was hard to come up with one. This year it will be a little easier.”

After losing Tebow, one of the most decorated players in college football history, and five drafted players from the Florida defense, the Gators are supposed to take a step back in 2010. Those expectations—or the lack of them—may also be a good thing, said Meyer.

“I don’t want to say that our guys have a chip on their shoulder but we expect to compete for Atlanta (the SEC championship game) every year,” he said. “They’ve heard what people have said. I’m not doing all the talking. I’ve been doing some listening to our players. I like the look in their eye. We’ve still got some really, really good players.”

Finally, Meyer said that he is learning to trust the people who work for him and not try to micromanage every detail of the football program. That, if he can actually pull it off, represents a big change for Meyer, who wants to micromanage everything.

“I have a better appreciation for the guys around me,” said Meyer. “You can just bolt for five days. I’ve never done that in my life. But you know what? The stadium is still standing. Guys are working out and getting faster. And guys are graduating.”

So will Urban Meyer’s new outlook on life and coaching last? Or, will he return to his old habits under the weekly pressure of game preparation this fall? Coaching at the top of his profession and be excessively demanding and unforgiving.

Florida goes to Alabama on Oct. 2. If the two teams are undefeated and ranked in the top five, That week Meyer’s new life will be put to the ultimate test.

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259 comments Add your comment

OaktownGator

June 3rd, 2010
3:29 pm

And that email from Tebow is killer. You want me to forward it to you?

Tim Tebow

June 3rd, 2010
3:31 pm

Thanks Oaktown. I felt you would like it.

im4bama

June 3rd, 2010
3:56 pm

You Gator guys really think you can beat Bama? Seriously? No way that’s going to happen.

1. No Tebow
2. New guys on the O-line
3 Still no decent running game and again you don’t have Tebow to carry the load.
4. Key losses on Defense
5. No more Charley Strong- New coordinator takes time to adjust
6. Bama’s offense is probably going to be the best one we’ve ever had. Richardson and Ingram are going to run all over the Gators and then we are going over the top to Julio and company for some bombs this year.
7. Game is in newly expaned Bryant-Denny, enclosing the stadium and will seat 101,000 yelling fans.
8. True, Bama’s D is going to be young, but extremely talented and we have Coach Saban and Smart coaching them up. We are going to be just fine on that side of the ball. Our one weakness is special teams. Breaking in new kickers.

In a nutshell, Florida will be good, but not nearly good enough to take down Bama this year. You’ll still win the East, but that’s not really hard is it? Rematch in the Dome.. Same outcome, Bama will win.

OaktownGator

June 3rd, 2010
4:14 pm

im4bama – no doubt you should have a very strong offense and home field advantage.

But you lose a ton on defense – much more than we do, and while our offense may have more trouble converting tough 3rd downs without Tebow, I expect it will be more explosive this year, with Rainey and Debose in the slot, plus probably more down field passing with Brantley..

The game Oct 2, will be about whose defense is most ready, and whether or not we can execute our offense with the noise and atmosphere at Bryant Denny. We’ll have a LOT more game experience on defense than the Tide defense will. We’ll have to wait and see how ready our offense is to execute in that environment.

I expect the rematch to look different because both teams will be more mature on defense, and know more about each other. Also, there won’t be the same home field advantage, and injuries could play a factor at that point. I won’t even try to call that one, now, but if you think it’s a given that Bama will win, you haven’t been paying attention to the talent and depth the Gators have built over the past few years.

For that matter, if you don’t win the first one, you may not even make it to Atlanta. The Tide does not have an easy road this season, and everybody will be gunning for you.

im4bama

June 4th, 2010
8:28 am

OaktownGator

I’m not overlooking anything, not even Florida’s revenge factor for payback and I know how much talent both teams have. I stand by what I’m saying. We will see on Oct. 2

I don’t mean to trash talk but when I see several Gator guys spouting off how there going to crush the Tide, I gotta bring a reality check.
The best team will win and that’s the bottom line and I’m sure of which one that is.

OaktownGator

June 4th, 2010
9:55 am

Fair enough. I only saw one Gator fan who said anything about crushing Bama, and he was probably just trying to stir the pot, But I haven’t looked that closely because most of the posts have just been trash – not people actually talking football. It’s good to get some banter on the real deal.

FWIW, I don’t think your confidence level is in line with how these teams will match up. I’m hardly counting a win for the Gators – especially not in Bryant Denny. But the Gators will match up just fine to the Tide this season. We’ll see Oct 2nd. And maybe again in Atlanta.

im4bama

June 4th, 2010
10:24 am

Agree to respectfully disagree on the matter, but appreciate you and real conversation. Some of the people on here are just wasting space.

I can’t wish you good luck, but here’s to wishing for another great game between two excellent football teams and a rematch for when it really counts in the SECCG.

As far as my expectations go, I always keep it real. I’m caustionsly optimistic for our season but I do have questions on special teams and I am worried that it will cost us at least one or maybe two games this season. In order to repeat, it will take a little bit of luck like with any team, but our new kickers will be the x-factor to whether we can or not. Hopefully our offense will put lot’s of TD’s up so we don’t have to put a True freshman kicker in to win one. I honestly think we’ll be fine on Defense but I’ll really know when we play Arkansas.

Gator great

June 4th, 2010
11:05 am

I can’t believe the gator haters (all really in disguise gator wanna-be’s).

Just because you can’t claim to be from the greatest university on the planet doesn’t mean you have to bad-mouth it.

Gator great

June 4th, 2010
12:53 pm

BTW… the greatest university on the planet is filled with male homosexuals in a predominitely gay town governed by a out of the closet homosexual spermburping mayor.

And I like to bad-mouth a great big penis.