Meyer chose family over grind of football, but will resignation stick?
Urban Meyer announced he would be leaving Florida after the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl
After 10 years as a head coach, Meyer cited a need to spend time with his family
Meyer leaves Florida with two national titles and two SEC crowns to his credit
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Hopefully, he means it this time.
When Urban Meyer resigned as Florida's coach on Dec. 26, 2009, a health scare had convinced him he should spend time with his family because he didn't know exactly how much he had left. He would later call that resignation a "knee-jerk reaction."
But maybe the knee-jerk reaction was Meyer's decision on Dec. 27, 2009 to return to the Gators. Maybe he made the correct decision the first time.
When Meyer resigned as Florida's coach on Dec. 8, 2010, he said he needed to spend time with his family. He has a wife, Shelley, two daughters, Nicki and Gigi, and a son, Nate. Nicki is a sophomore volleyball player at Georgia Tech. Gigi is a high school senior about to leave for Florida Gulf Coast University, where she also will play volleyball. Meyer said he never saw them play in high school. "I can't get that time back," he said Wednesday.
"Sometimes, we make it too complex," Meyer said. "At the end of the day, I'm very convinced that you're going to be judged by how you are as a husband and as a father and not by how many bowl games you've won."
The cynical will assume Meyer quit because his team went 7-5 this season and he can't handle losing. Listening to the man Wednesday, he didn't seem nearly as worried about the games he'd lost as much as the moments he had lost. Meyer has spent the past 10 years building programs, first at Bowling Green and then at Utah and then at Florida. All the while, Shelley raised their children.
A year ago, I didn't quite understand Meyer's original decision to resign. My own son was only a few months old, and my job hadn't required me to be away very much.
I understand this time. According to the Marriott Web site, by the end of this calendar year, I will have spent an average of three nights a week in a hotel room. When my son's first tooth broke through, I learned of it from a picture sent to my cell phone while interviewing players at the Senior Bowl. The first time he made a noise that sounded an awful lot like the word "Daddy," I was in a hotel room in Los Angeles.
The difference between Meyer's job and mine is that I get the other four days. I saw my son stand for the first time. I saw him take his first steps -- and I got to be the one to send the cell-phone video. Meyer never got those other days. Coaching Florida -- or any top-shelf college football program -- is a 24/7/365 grind. Not one moment passes when that person isn't the Head Coach of the Florida Gators.
He missed a lot. Time flew as he won two national titles, two SEC titles and coached a Heisman Trophy winner. Wednesday, Meyer recalled that six years and one day had passed since he had stood in the same spot and promised to return Florida's football program to national prominence. As Meyer noted the time, daughter Gigi mouthed the word, "Wow."
It is amazing so much time has passed so quickly. Six years ago this month, I sat in the food court of a Salt Lake City mall with Shelley, Nicki and Gigi Meyer while working on a story on the family of Florida's new coach for The Tampa Tribune. Meyer's daughters were just kids. Today, they're women. And he missed most of the transition. That has to break a father's heart.
Maybe that's part of the reason why Florida lost five games this season. Meyer the fire-breather never really came back after the first resignation. Doctors had discovered the esophageal spasms that caused his constant chest pain and prescribed him medication to control it, but maybe he also got dosed with perspective. At some point, he must have realized that football wasn't as important to him as it was before. Otherwise, he wouldn't have decided this week to leave the Gators for good.
Meyer attributed the program's slide to a churn of assistant coaches that left the Gators with a raw staff this season, and he's probably correct that the new mix of personalities and responsibilities played a role. So, too, did the departure of quarterback Tim Tebow and a group that seemed born to win.
"It has to be fixed," Meyer said of Florida's program. "It's a little bit broke right now."
The man who fixes it must be willing to accept that 24/7/365 responsibility. At times this season, Meyer didn't seem willing to accept that responsibility. One example is when Meyer elected to allow junior Chris Rainey back on the team after Rainey had text-messaged a death threat to a woman. When Meyer made that controversial choice, who was the first representative of the Florida football program to answer reporters' questions? Not the guy who makes more than $4 million a year. It was offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who had enough questions to answer about an offense that couldn't move the ball to worry about responding to queries that should have been directed at the head coach.
"Florida deserves the best," Meyer said Wednesday. "I'm not sure we gave them our best."
Hopefully, Meyer means what he said Wednesday. Hopefully, he will spend time with his family. Hopefully, he will take in college volleyball games next fall in Atlanta and in Fort Myers. Hopefully, the only coaching he does for a while will be for Nate Meyer's youth-league teams. Hopefully, he'll keep his pledge to help Florida locate a suitable replacement.
If Meyer winds up on a sideline again in a year or two, shame on us for believing he had his priorities in order. If he does some light television or consulting work and then spends the rest of his time with his wife and children for a few years before he throws himself back into the meat grinder, good for him. He has worked hard to provide financial security for his family. Now he needs to enjoy being a husband and a dad.
Meyer made the correct choice when he resigned last year. It only took him 347 days to realize it.