Meyer to take leave
By Mark Long
NEW ORLEANS ó It took an emotional team meeting, a sleepless night and about an hour of practice for coach Urban Meyer to change his mind about resigning at Florida.
With his health and his family still major concerns, Meyer withdrew his resignation Sunday and decided instead to take an indefinite leave of absence. He will coach the fifth-ranked Gators in the Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Cincinnati on Jan. 1, then take some time off in hopes of alleviating recurring chest pains.
His announcement capped a wild and weird two days for Florida. He stunned college football twice in a 20-hour span, first by saying he planned to walk away from coaching and then by revealing he expects to be back on the sideline next season.
“I do in my gut believe that will happen,” Meyer said.
Flanked by athletic director Jeremy Foley and quarterback Tim Tebow, the 45-year-old Meyer stoically responded to repeated questions about his health, his heart and his head. With his wife and three children seated a few feet in front of him, Meyer declined to reveal much about his condition.He acknowledged the possibility he might need a procedure to alleviate chest pains that started four years ago but would not say if he had a heart condition. He insisted he didn’t have a heart attack and refused to say whether doctors told him he needed to step away.
“I’d rather not get into that,” he said.
This much he made clear: His players prompted the about-face.
First, he witnessed their tearful reaction to his resignation. Then he spent a few hours with them on the practice field Sunday morning.
“It’s very simple,” Meyer said. “The love that I have for these players, I think that’s well-documented. Maybe one of the issues that I deal with is that I care so deeply about each individual. … We’ve had a heck of a run, a run that we’re very proud of. And when I sat back and watched those young guys go at it today and our coaching staff and the program we’ve built, to not try would be not the right thing to do.”
So Meyer called Foley from the practice field and told him he wanted to talk about taking a leave of absence ó something school president Bernie Machen first mentioned earlier in the week.
Foley and several assistant coaches also tried to persuade Meyer to take time off, but the coach thought it would be better for the program, his health and his family for him to get away for good.
He changed his mind in a hurry, even quicker than Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan did when he went through a similar ordeal in 2007. Donovan resigned to coach the NBA’s Orlando Magic only to have a change of heart and return to Gainesville, Fla., a few days later.
Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will run the team during Meyer’s absence.
Meyer never wanted to leave. In fact, if he would have resigned, he was planning to stay in close contact with the program, and getting back on the practice field made him realize he couldn’t walk away for good.
“He was just, I guess, a little stunned may be the right word,” Foley said. “Last night was a tough night. People’s worlds got turned upside down. … We’ve all tried to get him to the point he’s at today, and I think ultimately his players got him to that point. I think that says a lot about his relationship with his players, and it also says a lot about the players on our team.”
Tebow and linebacker Ryan Stamper called the last two days a whirlwind for everyone. They both sensed something was wrong during Saturday’s practice when Meyer said he loved them and gave subtle hints that “everything wasn’t right,” Tebow said.
“We look at our team as like a family, and we just wanted what was best for our dad, and that’s Coach Meyer,” Tebow said. “We want him to do what’s best for him. We want him to get himself right, and when he’s right, then come back to coaching.”
None of Meyer’s players knew the severity of his health issues.
Meyer told Sports Illustrated last month that he suffered from persistent headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst that becomes inflamed by stress, rage and excitement. His chest pains became public after the SEC championship game three weeks ago. Meyer fainted getting out of bed and was rushed to the hospital for several hours of tests.
“It’s something that started about four years ago,” Meyer said. “It was chest pains that became rather significant two years ago. Whether it’s stress related … I started to become very alarmed with that. And then I’m a person of faith, and I just wanted to make sure I had my priorities straight. A lot of times coaches do not have their priorities straight. You put business before God and family, you have a problem.
“So when we had the issue, when I had to go to the hospital, and a couple issues after that was when I came to the conclusion that I had to re-prioritize everything. So that’s exactly what it is. I was advised that I have to get this right or it could lead to damage. That’s what made that decision.”
Meyer acknowledged that part of the problem is his tireless work ethic and his need to put the weight of the program solely on his shoulders.
How will he handle being away from football?
“We’re going to find out,” said his wife, Shelley. “We’ve just got to see how he handles his leisure time. I’ve never seen him handle leisure time. That’s like an oxymoron.”