Urban Meyer Stepping Down
From all early reports this isn’t a serious health thing, like cancer. This is mostly speculation, but it appears that the stress and strain of being a high-powered head coach has worn Urban Meyer down enough to force him to take a break, with his hospitalization after the SEC Championship game appearing to be the main wake-up call.
Again, assuming this isn’t anything really serious (and if I’m wrong, obviously, this is a whole different story), and because I’m programmed to be snarky at any
and all news stories, my reactions were 1) that he was going to drop everything so he could follow the workings and teachings of Tim Tebow; 2) somewhere, right now, Lane Kiffin is walking around holding one finger up in the air like Larry Bird after releasing his final ball in the air to close out the 1988 three-point contest; 3) look at Meyer trying to upstage the Meineke Car Care Bowl (finally, a good bowl game between two strong teams and the final quarter became an afterthought); 4) my life as a college football columnist isn’t charmed enough for this to be another Tiger thing, and 5) he was creating the ultimate focus-factor for his team against a Cincinnati squad without Brian Kelly.
But more than anything else, my thought was that no one had this. There wasn’t even a whisper.
Normally when something like this happens, all the girls in the sewing circle start trading rumors and trying to piece together the puzzle. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own (like the Bob Stoops to Notre Dame rumor), but whenever there’s something this big about to happen someone is going to leak it out. But instead, if came out with a simple e-mail from the Florida athletic department, and now there are far more questions than answers.
Did Charlie Strong, who left to take the head coaching job at Louisville, know about this, and if so, wouldn’t he have been a seamless fit for the job? And if he didn’t know, could he bail on the Cardinals and come back to Gainesville, like now?
Did Notre Dame know about this? The most bizarre part of the search for the Irish head coach was that there was dead radio silence when it came to the idea of Meyer taking over. There wasn’t even a hint of a rumor going around after early talk that he was going to be Target One of Irish AD Jack Swarbrick. Maybe this is why.
Did Mike Holmgren know about this? It would seem to be a bizarre choice after the Butch Davis debacle for the Cleveland Browns to tap a college head coach for the opening, and Meyer would likely want a ton of control if he ends up going to the NFL, but the Cleveland job, considering his roots and where he grew up, would be an even bigger dream-come-true gig than Notre Dame.
But for now, let’s assume that the highly-wound, uber-intense Ball Coach II, just needs a break. The words Urban and Meyer could be synonymous for burning out in college football, with a new world of younger coaches involved 24/7 with the Internet, recruiting, and all the other non-X and O demands, just like the words Dick and Vermiel can be used whenever describing a fried NFL coach.
Obviously, all hope is that the guy is alright and that the health problems are nothing that a few weeks on a beach and a massage can’t cure. If that’s it, assume the 45-year-old head man will resurface somewhere very, very soon. South Carolina will probably be looking for a new head coach in 2012.
Ask any coach at this level, especially in today’s environment, and he’ll tell you that there’s a hefty price for success. Apparently, Urban Meyer was paying even more than anyone might have imagined.
To say that the college football world is floored by Meyer’s announcement is a gross understatement. There’s no precedent for a departure of this magnitude. Yet, maybe we really shouldn’t be that surprised by the news. His intensity and long hours on the recruiting trail, the practice field, and game week were legendary. Often times, he was held up as the standard for what level of commitment is necessary to be a champion. And even on a 45-year old man, that’s going to take a serious toll on his health, his family, and his frame of mind. Apparently, Meyer is doing what few others would seriously contemplate, stepping aside at the top of his game and before it’s too late. Of the myriad calls he’s made in his career, this will go down as the most important—and possibly most courageous—one he’s ever made.
Unlike, say, your profession or mine, it’s possible to scale back and achieve better balance without suffering the career consequences. Meyer and his peers in the industry have no such luxury. It’s either full throttle for 12 months out of the year or a permanent case of mediocrity. Meyer doesn’t do mediocrity and has no cruise-control setting, which undoubtedly factored into his decision.
Does the best free agent in college football ever coach again? Who takes over in Gainesville? Is Charlie Strong kicking himself for taking the Louisville job? All great questions, but better suited for a different day. In a year that’s been rather anti-climatic, we finally have a whopper of story that needs to be digested and fleshed out over the next few days. The Florida family will be fine in time. Urban has taken the first bold step toward making sure the Meyer family is as well.
1) It was reported that when Urban Meyer told his family that he’d resign as the head football coach at the University of Florida, the other members of his household said, “We’re glad we have our dad back.” If that account is true – and there’s little reason to think it isn’t – this bombshell development might allow America’s sports fans, and especially the nation’s college football fans, to gain some much-needed perspective about The Games People Play, which also double as The Games People Coach.
At CFN and every other outlet dedicated to covering college football, there’s no question that a love of this 140-year-old sport is the main reason why we do what we do. In many ways, this sport consumes us... and we happily allow it to do so. It does require a considerable amount of energy to chronicle the sport from a press box or from a computer keyboard that’s situated in front of a bank of TV screens. Time, sweat and talent are invested in preparing stories and shaping content during each and every season. And we want that burden. It beats a real job.
Yet, those of us who cover the sport are not charged with the far more stressful tasks of playing or coaching the game on Saturdays.
It’s enough of a scandal that players – in college football but also in the NFL - are left vulnerable to concussions because safety-enhancing helmets have not yet been made mandatory throughout the sport. What this Urban Meyer story shows, however, is that football is just as much of a health risk for the coaches, too. Naturally, the kinds of issues Meyer is facing are appreciably different in nature, but they’re part of a larger holistic picture in which King Football still manages to demand a steep payment from its elite-level participants.
Yes, football coaches get compensated quite well for the stresses they endure. No one’s denying or downplaying that fact. Moreover, it’s naïve to expect attitudes to change as a result of this event. However, one can always hope that a story like this - just hours after Christmas Day ended - will bring about some sincere soul-searching from everyone connected to the larger football world and America’s sprawling athletic-industrial complex.
A modest proposal, everyone: Maybe, just maybe, coaches should get paid less… and should not be expected to win at all costs… and should not be expected to work 365/24/7… and should not be devoured by fan bases… and should not have to be holed up in film rooms for four straight months while their families must cope in relative isolation. Football ate up John Madden. It ate up Dick Vermeil. It ate up Joe Gibbs. It is eating up Andy Reid, who is a physiological mess, even though he’s still leading the Philadelphia Eagles into the playoffs. Football consumed Mark Mangino in more ways than one, and it’s claimed the psyches and souls (and families) of countless other coaches with much lower national profiles.
And now, football has forced Urban Meyer, owner of two national titles and master of the college football universe, to step down.
College football is a beloved sport and a source of both entertainment and cultural nourishment for millions. Rightly so. Yet, a story like this needs to make the sport’s leaders, power brokers, fans, and journalists realize that all this enjoyment can and – moreover – SHOULD exist on a smaller scale with lower dollar levels and decreased amounts of emotionalism. Urban Meyer’s resignation must force football lifers and football fans to have some very important conversations during this holiday season. Families, whether inside or outside the gridiron beast - should sit down and talk about the level of importance football ought to have in a healthy society, a healthy family, and a balanced, integrated lifestyle.
2) Bobby Bowden and Urban Meyer will close their careers at Florida State and Florida on the same day. And Lane Kiffin won’t beat Urban Meyer next year. Who knew?
Once we get past the incredible surprise of Urban Meyer’s resignation from Florida, we can concentrate on what this means for a program that has clearly become the nation’s premier performer. One can only speculate at this point, but the recent article in Sports Illustrated about him described the problems Meyer has had with serious pain from what were considered benign brain events. If those have developed into something worse, then he must address them. If it’s something different, then we’ll learn about it. But, what’s next?
Whom can the Gators grab that will be able to keep things going? That’s tough to say. The job will certainly be heavily coveted by the top-shelf coaches out there, but whoever gets it will inherit the nation’s toughest set of expectations. Florida has won two of the last three national titles and came within one game of the big game this year. No matter how the search goes, the Gator community has to be worried, because Meyer has proven himself to be a big winner wherever he goes, and he has built the Gators into a juggernaut. There will be no shortage of suitors for the job, but it will be hard to find a mid-major star to take over, as the Gators did when they enlisted Meyer. It may be awfully tough to steal a big name away from another program. The departure will set a quiet coaching carousel into motion, 1,000 miles an hour and will have big repercussions. For now, what appeared to be a long period of prosperity ahead for Florida under Meyer is now in question, and the Gators had better hope AD Jeremy Foley can find someone capable of continuing the program’s winning ways.