(UPDATED: 6:53 p.m.)
For the second time in as many Decembers, Urban Meyer is retiring.
The hope is that this one lasts more than 24 hours.
He says it’s not about health but rather family. He says it’s not about suddenly losing but rather spending time with his wife and trying to catch up with children, after missing too many of their birthdays and sports events.
“At the end of the day, I feel we’re judged by how you are as a husband and a father,” the outgoing Florida coach said.
Nobody would dispute that. But he had similar words a year ago, as well as a health scare, and pulled a U-turn the next day. That was a mistake.
He says now that his previous retirement was “a knee-jerk reaction” and it came because there was “a lot of emotion in the family.”
Chest pains will do that.
Last December, word leaked out that he had to be hospitalized with chest pains and severe dehydration. On the day after Christmas, he announced he was retiring. Then came 24 hours of “reflection” that cause him to change his mind. Just a thought: Maybe the second decision was the knee-jerk reaction, not the first.
Meyer downplayed his health issues last year, attributing his symptoms to “esophageal spasms.” Collective eyebrows were raised. It appeared the perspective that had led him to step down had quickly left him.
He wasn’t the same person thereafter, and he might not have been the same coach. He took time off following Florida’s bowl game. He vacationed in Hawaii and Rome and Israel. He went to the Masters. That all may sound just and deserved and normal to you. But just and deserved and normal aren’t words often associated with SEC coaches.
He spent significantly less time meeting with recruits during recruiting. Some believe he lacked the same edge that enabled him to win two BCS and SEC titles. Nobody can go through a health scare like that and not be affected by it, particularly somebody so driven and in such a high-pressure field as major college football coaching.
In short: An SEC coach can’t be partially committed.
We may never know to what extent that contributed to the Gators’ significant drop-off this season, but the drop-off was undeniable. It was a difficult year. After national championships in 2006 and 2008 and a loss to eventual BCS champion Alabama in the SEC title game in 2009, Florida finished 7-5. It got drilled at Alabama (31-6), and then lost home games to LSU, Mississippi State (coached by potential successor Dan Mullen) and South Carolina (coached by predecessor Steve Spurrier).
Hoping to end the regular season on a high note, the Gators traveled to Florida State, a team they had beaten six straight years. Instead, they were smacked 31-7.
Meyer’s vaunted spread offense, which had allowed him to climb through the coaching ranks from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida, was shockingly anemic this season. It finished 79th in the nation, behind the likes of Rice, Tulane, Middle Tennessee State and Toledo. It all was a remarkable drop for a coach who had so much success in Gainesville: two BCS titles, two SEC titles and a 64-15 record in six seasons.
Florida football, Meyer said “has to be fixed. It’s broken a little bit right now.”
He wasn’t ready to make that commitment. He admitted the health scare last year was “a wake-up call,” but denied that’s what this decision was about.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and I am a fierce competitor to my core,” he said. “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.”
Perfect words. Maybe this time they’ll stick.
– By Jeff Schultz