'I'm taking leave but still writing'
Don't listen to other writers, Andy Staples is still working
Urban Meyer still must address the stress-related ailments
The timing of Meyer’s most recent announcement was wise
I've come to you to announce that I'm taking a leave of absence, effective at the end of this column. In my gut, I know I'll be ready to write on a regular basis again by conference media days, but I can't give you a definitive answer as to when I'll be back full-time.
This isn't one of those leaves like my colleague Stewart Mandel took last year, when he did crazy stuff like "not writing" and "staying away from the office." My leave will be more like the one taken recently by Florida football coach Urban Meyer. During the next few months, you may see my byline four or five times a week. Don't worry. I'll still be convalescing. You may see datelines from such exotic locales as the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week or from some far-flung NCAA basketball tournament site in March or from the practice fields of the "it" college football teams of the year as they answer questions during spring practice. Fear not. I'll be writing all these stories as calmly as possible so as not to incur any additional stress.
To the new readers I woo with these stories, take solace in this. I'll be back with columns, features, power rankings, blog posts and even the occasional podcast at some point. Don't listen to rival writers such as Dan Wetzel from Yahoo! Sports or Dennis Dodd from CBSSports.com when they tell you that I'm only working these next few weeks to secure your readership for SI.com before I announce my permanent retirement. I'm definitely coming back. I just can't tell you when.
All I know is that if my indefinite leave of absence is as successful as Meyer's, I might win the Pulitzer in the next month.
Meyer announced Saturday night that he plans to be back coaching the Gators full-time at spring practice. It's been less than a month since he resigned -- citing health concerns -- and then turned around the next day and said he'd return after an indefinite leave. Until Saturday night, the length of said leave was the subject of considerable debate. During that span, Meyer helped manage some serious turnover on his coaching staff and helped reel in a 2010 signing class the recruiting cognoscenti consider the nation's best.
"I keep hearing about this time off," Meyer told reporters Saturday during halftime of Florida's basketball game against South Carolina. "The people I'm closest to are going to demand I take some time off, but I tried that already. I tried it a day and a half, and it doesn't work."
That became pretty obvious a few weeks ago when top recruits kept committing to the Gators in spite of the varying rumors about the length of Meyer's leave. While it was clear Meyer wasn't on the road recruiting, most of the high-school stars said they spoke to Meyer on a regular basis. They all seemed confident he would return.
They probably heard differently from the other coaches trying to recruit them. At the American Football Coaches Association convention last week, assistants from other SEC schools, almost to a man, posited that Meyer would hang around long enough to sign this class and then retire shortly after signing day. Presumably, those coaches had sold that line to enough recruits that they'd begun to believe it themselves. Meanwhile, coaches at schools that don't recruit regularly against Florida seemed to think Meyer would return sooner rather than later.
The timing of Meyer's most recent announcement was as wise as the timing of the previous one was poor. During the next week, rival recruiters would have hammered players committed to Florida about Meyer's return date. Now, rival coaches can question Meyer's waffling, but they'll have a tough time convincing recruits that Meyer won't be there in August to coach them.
Meyer still must address his biggest problem -- the stress-related ailments that caused him to drop more than 20 pounds during the season and landed him in the hospital with chest pains on the morning of Dec. 6. If he doesn't, he could find himself in a similar position after next season. Or worse. He could coach himself to death.
It's not my place to praise or condemn Meyer for his choice. It's his life, and the only opinions that should matter to him are those of his wife, children and his employers. But he might be wise to heed the advice of Villanova coach Andy Talley, who survived a heart attack in 2002. Talley, who led his team to an FCS national title in 2009, said earlier this month that he became a better coach when he let go of the stress and became a better delegator.
Meyer knows he'll have to alter his style to avoid another breakdown of his body. Meyer said Saturday that he plans to address that issue after national signing day. "We're trying to get to Feb. 3, and then we're going to sit down and have a very in-depth meeting about it," Meyer said. "I've been instructed I have to leave for a week or two -- I don't know -- and [offensive coordinator] Steve [Addazio] is the interim and will handle the day-to-day operations for a little while."
After that, Meyer will be back. When the Gators take the field for spring practice, he'll be there.
Meanwhile, I'll be on my leave of absence. So don't expect more than five or six stories from me about Meyer after his return.
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