What the future holds for Meyer and Florida, plus more mail
Many are ridiculing Meyer's "flip-flop," but the man is clearly deeply conflicted
The Colts just gave the BCS a huge boost -- but the BCS doesn't realize it
Plus: All-Decade feedback, defending a poor bowl-pick record and more
I'll remember this past weekend for the rest of my life. It marked a wonderful milestone in my life, and it served as a testimonial to the ever-eventful sport I cover.
With a long, holiday weekend in store and only a handful of second-tier bowl games on the calendar, I seized the opportunity to do something I'd been awaiting for months: I got engaged. The proposal took place on Thursday night. On Saturday night, my now-fiancée and I were in a cab headed to a celebration dinner when my phone started buzzing.
Urban Meyer had just stepped down.
That night, poor Emily got a sneak preview of the rest of her life: Sitting across a table during what was supposed to be a romantic dinner while I fielded calls and texts coordinating our coverage. (Thankfully, Andy Staples took care of business until I could enter the fray the next morning.) But the craziest thing of all is that I'd originally planned to propose that night. If not for a bad case of jitters that caused me to pull an audible two nights earlier, the ring might still be hiding in my file cabinet.
All because of a coach who, as it turned out, didn't resign after all.
When coach Meyer announced his resignation, I was struck with the idea that here was a coach putting his priorities (his family and his own health) in order. But now it seems like he just said: "No, wait, my team is more important," (which is part of the reason that he has the health problems he does). As long as he's still the coach -- even on hiatus -- he'll still have the pressure to perform. Will he really step away to get better?
I know as a journalist I'm supposed to remain detached from the story, but after watching Meyer's press conference Sunday, I'll admit: I'm deeply concerned for the guy. I've spent quite a bit of time around Meyer, whether one-on-one in his office or covering his games and press conferences. He's usually upbeat, cocksure and commanding. But the guy who sat on the dais Sunday looked nervous, confused, beaten down and every bit the 20 pounds lighter (if not more) that's been reported.
The immediate reaction by most fans and media was to ridicule Meyer for "flip flopping," for seemingly turning on his family and for putting Florida's program in limbo. I can't bring myself to do it. The man is obviously sick and in need of help. His abrupt reversal Sunday morning (purportedly based on one "spirited practice") was undeniably bizarre, but it was also the product of a mind that seems truly and deeply conflicted.
He's torn because he doesn't want to let down either of his "families" -- the one at home, or the one in the locker room. He wants to get healthy for the sake of his wife and children. He's apparently contemplated stepping down for months, if not years. But he's also carrying the burden of the consequences that would come from that decision: A new coach would possibly tear down everything he's built; those on his staff might lose their jobs; his players might get lost in the shuffle. For him, the "leave of absence" may be about peace of mind. He can step away knowing his own hand-picked replacement (Steve Addazio) is in charge, that the program won't get overhauled and that the door remains ajar for him to return.
Medical professionals would tell you he made the right choice. Someone who's plagued by poor stress management is going to have that problem no matter what job he holds, and leaving or changing jobs is often an even greater source of stress. But the question becomes, what is Meyer going to do with this time off (beyond whatever medical procedures he may be facing)? While it's admirable to want to spend more time with one's children, watching a few volleyball or little league games isn't going to "fix" him. And if he winds up calling the office every morning to check up on recruiting, then he might as well not take the break at all.
Meyer is dealing with some deep-rooted issues (the sources of which were abundantly clear in S.L. Price's magnificent and now eerie Sports Illustrated profile). He needs professional help if he ever hopes to truly get better. But those very issues are also behind a machismo persona that may make it difficult for him to accept that help -- the same way it's difficult for him to walk away from his team. Is it possible to be a good football coach and a good father? Absolutely. Many coaches do it. But the primary source of Meyer's stress isn't his job; it's his disposition. He's been very candid about his "self-destructive" ways. We can only hope he uses this time to properly address them.
Could you ever imagine Nick Saban or Pete Carroll giving the press conference the Colts' head coach did on Sunday? He said a "perfect season was never our goal." Institute playoffs for FBS schools and this is what you'd get.
Ding, ding, ding. While the BCS' p.r. machine was wasting its time Monday nit-picking the details of Dan Wetzel's proposed 16-team playoff, the most compelling argument it could possibly make -- the very antithesis, in fact, of the BCS' new "Every Game Counts" slogan -- had just been uttered in Indianapolis. How insulting was that? Imagine being a Colts season-ticket holder, paying thousands of dollars a year for your seats, just to show up and watch your team not try to win.
Now -- imagine Alabama not trying to beat Auburn.
I've been making this case for years, but playoff zealots don't want to hear it. That's because playoff zealots refuse to acknowledge that the regular season as we know it would change irreparably in the face of a playoff. Just like the NFL, everything would become secondary to that playoff -- even rivalries. Alabama was playing for a national championship in this year's Iron Bowl, but even if the Tide had been 7-4, the game would have been every bit as important, if not more so, because it would essentially be their Super Bowl. In a 16-team playoff, however, that game becomes almost a nuisance if the Tide have already locked up their division. As much as Alabama fans hate Auburn, in a playoff world, beating the Tigers would become far less important than being in peak form for the SEC title game and playoffs. If you're Saban, and you know you're in the playoffs anyway, why not rest Greg McElroy in the second half?
The BCS is putting a lot of energy right now into fighting back against playoff proponents, but it seems to me it's picking the wrong battles. How the teams are selected, where the games are played -- these are issues, sure, but they're no less manageable than the BCS' current headaches. For all its pontificating, the BCS has yet to demonstrate to the masses just how radically a playoff would change the sport.
For instance, my colleague Andy Staples and others recently extolled this admittedly creative video-game simulation, which demonstrated how a 16-team playoff and a scaled-down bowl lineup could simultaneously coexist. In it, Florida, Alabama and LSU all made the playoff while 8-4 Ole Miss got elevated to the Sugar Bowl. "How badly would the folks in New Orleans love the Rebels, who haven't played in the Sugar since 1970?" wrote Andy. "Rue Bourbon would turn into The Greauxve." But he's assuming Ole Miss fans would still give a flying hoot about the Sugar Bowl. Once there's a playoff, it becomes the only goal of every major program in the country. Once a team is eliminated from contention, its fans' only interest would be next year's recruiting class. The bowls would go kaput.
Having said that, considering all the empty seats we've seen in most bowl broadcasts thus far, considering Brian Kelly didn't deem the Sugar Bowl an important enough event to stick around for and considering schools lost a staggering $15.5 million in unsold bowl tickets last year according to this excellent San Diego Union Tribune expose, the bowl system isn't doing itself any favors these days, either. (Though it's personally doing me a favor by getting me out of 20-degree New York for 65-degree L.A. this week.)
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