The funniest thing Vince Dooley ever said wasn’t funny at the time. It was as serious as a coronary. Because that’s what Dooley thought he was having.
Oct. 17, 1987: Georgia had contrived to fall two touchdowns behind in Nashville, and the head coach began having chest pains. And Dooley said to himself: “I’m having a heart attack, and we’re losing to Vanderbilt.”
The next day he was at Emory, where he would undergo angioplasty. He was back on the sideline the next Saturday, when the Bulldogs — who had rallied to beat the Commodores one week after losing narrowly to Tommy Hodson and LSU — would need a late touchdown to subdue Kentucky. Some life, huh?
“We won one for the ticker,” a merry Loran Smith said afterward, but it must be noted that Vincent Joseph Dooley coached his last game not 15 months later. At age 56. And he’s still alive today.
The best coach in the country is stepping aside not to coach somewhere else but simply not to coach. Urban Meyer is 45. He’s a high-energy guy. Big-name college coaches have to be. A big-name college coach gets home late and leaves early. He recruits and he coaches and he schmoozes with alums and he briefs the media and he answers the 2 a.m. calls that inform him one of his players has done something silly.
Yeah, the big-name coaches make a ton of money, but they live a life of stress beyond measure. As skilled as Urban Meyer is, would we view him quite the same today if his Gators hadn’t blocked that South Carolina field goal back in 2006? (He’d have been 0-2 against Spurrier and the 2006 Gators wouldn’t have won the BCS title and if they don’t win the first one maybe there’s not a second one.)
The point being: Big-name coaches are all control freaks, and yet they exist in a realm where so much cannot be controlled. The wonder isn’t that one of them has been suffering health problems. The wonder is that they all don’t.
Being human, Georgia fans will view Meyer’s leaving as the sound of a window opening. And it well may be. But before we get excited about what might (or might not) happen on the field, we need to pause to consider these sobering circumstances: Here’s a man at the peak of his profession, a man with two BCS titles, a man not yet 50 … and he’s walking away because he felt to keep coaching was to die young.
It was reported that Meyer had checked into a Gainesville hospital the day after Florida lost the SEC title game to Alabama for what was called “dehydration.” We now know that he’d been having chest pains. We now know those chest pains were dire enough to drive him away from the best job in the country, and that’s about as dire as it gets.
All coaches are strivers — striving for the next big win, the next big job, the next big trophy. Urban Meyer had won everything there was to win, but when the doctor shows you the cardiogram, all that striving and winning becomes a secondary concern. Job 1 is to stay alive.
Because this is a sports column, we need pay some attention to sports. Who’ll be next as the head Gator? Well, Charlie Strong just left for Louisville and Dan Mullen is coming off his first year in Starkville. Would they be interested in turning around so soon? Would Bob Stoops’ interest be piqued this time? Would Chris Petersen leave Boise for Gainesville? Is Gary Patterson of TCU an option?
I don’t know the answers. Ninety minutes ago, I didn’t know Florida would be looking for a coach. And to be honest, I’m not really thinking about the next coach just yet. I’m thinking about Urban Meyer.
We’ve had some fun with him in this space over time, but there was never a doubt he was a talent and a force. (His game-planning for Ohio State in the desert in January 2007 was coaching at its finest.) And now he’s leaving the job of jobs at age 45. If that doesn’t make you think, you don’t have a heart.