Urban Meyer Resigns, Citing Health

Urban Meyer, the tremendously successful head football coach at the University of Florida, has resigned, citing health reasons.   He’s only 45.

urban-meyer-recordFlorida coach Urban Meyer, who was admitted to a hospital because of chest pains following the Southeastern Conference championship game, is stepping down because of health concerns.

Meyer resigned Saturday, calling it quits after five seasons in Gainesville and two national titles. He goes into the bowl game with a 56-10 record at Florida that includes a 32-8 mark in league play and a school-record 22-game winning streak ended early this month against Alabama.

Meyer, 45, says he consulted with his family, his doctors, school president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley before deciding it is in his best interest to focus on his health and family.

Meyer will hold a news conference in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon and will coach his final game in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati on New Year’s Day.

“I have given my heart and soul to coaching college football and mentoring young men for the last 24-plus years and I have dedicated most of my waking moments the last five years to the Gator football program,” Meyer said in a statement. “I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to reevaluate my priorities of faith and family. After consulting with my family, Dr. Machen, Jeremy Foley and my doctors, I believe it is in my best interest to step aside and focus on my health and family.”

[…]

Meyer helped the Gators win two national titles in five years at Florida. He is the only coach to win two BCS titles.

A three-time national coach of the year, Meyer is 95-18 in nine seasons.

Meyer came to Florida from Utah, where he closed out his stint with 16 consecutive wins. He began his head coaching career at Bowling Green in 2001, where he engineered the top turnaround in NCAA Division I-A football, showing a six-win improvement from the previous season. The Falcons rebounded from a 2-9 record with their first winning season (8-3) since 1994.

Truly stunning news. Meyer is on the very short list of the best coaches in the game. One hopes that he regains his health and is able to return to coaching.

It is, however, a ridiculously stressful way to make a living.   Joe Gibbs made news when he was the head coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins because he occasionally slept in his office.  Nowadays, 14- and 16-hour days are common in the NFL.   While college isn’t quite that bad, it’s bad.   At the big time schools — and Florida is most certainly one of those — the pressure to win is enormous.  And coaches basically spend every waking moment they’re not studying film and game planning on the phone or on the road recruiting high school kids for next year’s team.

At the very highest levels, the fame and financial rewards are staggering.  But it comes at a very, very high price in terms of stress and sacrifice of family.

UPDATE: Alabama coach Nick Saban, who defeated Meyer’s #1 ranked and undefeated team in the SEC Championship game — returning the favor from the previous year — issued this statement:

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Urban and his family at this time,” Saban said. “He is a first class coach and the success he’s had is unmatched in our profession, especially over the last five years at Florida.

“We hope he is able to regain his health and have the opportunity to coach again in the future. Urban Meyer is a great person as well as a great coach, and the game of college football is better with him as a part of it.”

UPDATE: A bizarre story has gotten more bizarre:

Florida coach Urban Meyer, who announced Saturday night that he would step down after coaching the Gators in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, is now having second thoughts about retirement and will instead take an indefinite leave of absence following the bowl game, a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN on Sunday.

A source told ESPN that Meyer will coach in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati, as previously announced, but that offensive coordinator Steve Adazzio will take over the Gators and will coach until Meyer is ready to return. Adazzio confirmed his pending interim-coach duties in a telephone interview with The New York Times.

A person familiar with Meyer’s decision told The Associated Press the coach woke up Sunday morning, got around his players at a short practice on campus and realized he wasn’t quite ready to call it quits. “There’s no guarantees here,” the person told the AP. “He could still walk away. He’s got some significant concerns about his health and his tank and his family. But instead of cutting the cord, he’s going to take a step back and see how he feels.”

While one hesitates to judge a 45-year-old man harshly for waffling in making what has to be a gut-wrenching decision, he owes it to the university to make it one way or the other soon.  Resigning at this late stage already put them behind the curve in finding a replacement coach but, presumably, the job is attractive enough that they can poach a top coach from another school.   But they need to lock down their recruiting class for next year soon.   (And I say this as an Alabama alumnus and fan who benefits from turmoil at Florida.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. kth says:

    Kinda stunning, though probably not the last we’ll hear from him (and definitely not counting the broadcast booth, which is probably where he is immediately headed).

    Supposedly Joe Paterno is fearful of retiring because Bear Bryant died a couple of months after his last game coached, so I guess that’s the other extreme.

  2. Brett says:

    Apparently the heart issues aren’t the only problem. The ESPN article on it also mentions that he’s had a cyst that gave him bad headaches when stressed and the like, so maybe the combination of the two finally forced him out.

    It really is a pity, though. He’s an excellent coach – I remember when he turned around the Utes in the wake of Ron McBride’s termination.

  3. Benedict says:

    Call me a product of the uber-cynical world in which we live, but when was the last time an alleged health-related retirement turned out to be simply that? Bill Parcells left the Giants citing a heart condition, and has basically never stopped working since then. The real reason was that its harder to keep an NFL program at the top than to get it to the top, and so he left. And then there was Michael Jordan’s mid-career “retirement” from the NBA to go play baseball, which most believe was a suspension for gambling on NBA games. With the exception of Barry Sanders (and Jim Brown in the generation before that), sports figures just don’t walk away at the top of their games.

    The explanation could be anything from knowing that without Tebow Florida has no shot at defeating Saban for the foreseeable future to a major recruiting violation coming down the pike, but the health reasons deal is likely a sham.

  4. Trumwill says:

    Benedict, I might be more skeptical myself if there weren’t already some health problems. The notion that he’s retiring because he’s afraid of playing Alabama now is patently absurd (Saban and Alabama are not invincible). Recruiting violations? That’s more possible. We’ll see.

    Regarding Parcells (and Jordan), I think the guy never really knew if he wanted to retire and kept changing his mind. It’s not the walking away at the top of one’s game that seems so impossible, but the staying away. And, of course, Urban Meyer hasn’t done that yet.

  5. Franklin says:

    By the way, I just noticed he only goes out on top *if* he wins his bowl game. If he loses, his winning percentage among active coaches drops below Pete Carroll. (But then again Meyers becomes inactive when the game ends … head asplodes!)