Players Were Key in Changing Meyer’s Mind
NEW ORLEANS - University of Florida's senior class has the most wins in Southeastern Conference history. But that group may have led the Gators to their greatest victory in years without playing in an actual game on Sunday.
Gators coach Urban Meyer announced Saturday he was stepping down as the coach, with health concerns the major issue. Then Sunday he went out to watch his team practice and realized he couldn't give up a group that he calls "my second family."
"He called me from the practice field," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said on Sunday afternoon at a news conference for Friday's Sugar Bowl. "And he didn't come to that decision right then but he was just, I guess, a little stunned may be the right word. ... The program he has built and his coaches have built, to come out today and they practiced so well and so hard. He picked up the phone and called me."
Earlier when it became obvious Meyer was about to walk away from the program, it was UF president Dr. Bernie Machen who stepped in with a suggestion: take a leave of absence to work on his health and let someone else run things for a while. At first Meyer said no.
But as he watched his players working on Sunday, he gave it more thought. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will handle the day-to-day operations indefinitely while Meyer works on his health - which has worried him for years. He said Sunday that he's had chest pains over the past four years, getting worse the last two.
It got so bad he went to the hospital after UF's 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. Meyer declined on Sunday to discuss specifics, only that he needed to get better for the sake of his wife and three kids.
"Not to give it a shot wouldn't be fair to the university, wouldn't be fair to Coach Meyer, his family, to out players, to the program that we've built here and 'we' means everybody I just named," Foley said. "Obviously our primary concern here is Coach Meyer and his health and getting himself fixed. He's going to have an opportunity to do that and certainly we hope that when it's all said and done, we're full speed ahead."
Meyer made it clear he wouldn't put his wife, Shelley, and three kids in jeopardy of losing him for good.
"That's the most important people, the most important aspect of my life," he said.
So now what? It's a good question that no one is certain of the answer. There's a chance Meyer's last game as the Gators coach will still be on Friday. Foley and Meyer's wife made it clear the 45-year-old UF coach must convince them he has learned how to relax and not push himself to the point he is at now ever again.
"I'm not a person to go lay around so no, that's not the answer," Meyer said. "I'm going to go - I don't know (how to handle things differently). If I did, I'd tell you."
But he vowed to figure things out, to keep the "train going in the right direction."
Asked if there's a chance he will have some medical procedures - amid rumors he might have some heart issues - he only said, "That's something that we'll find out, as well."
Gator seniors Tim Tebow and Ryan Stamper both expressed more concern about Meyer's health than his return.
"That last 24 hours have definitely been a whirlwind in dealing with everything and just knowing that Coach Meyer was going through hard times with his health and just trying to deal with that was obviously hard on me and a lot of players," Tebow said. "Talking to him before practice (on Saturday) was really tough because I didn't know what was going to happen.
"But I knew just talking to him that everything wasn't right just because we're so close."
Added Stamper of Meyer: "He's like a great friend to me and I take my hat off to him. He comes first. ... He's got to pretty much worry about himself right now. Just as close as we are, that's what was first on my mind when he told us about his decision."
There is no time table for Meyer's return although he did indicate he thinks he could coach again in 2010. On Saturday night, Foley said he took two sleeping pills but still couldn't rest.
Perhaps the most telling answer of the day came to the question of whether Meyer's problems were because of who he is or what he does.
"Yes," was Meyer's only reply.
The real answers he needs are somewhere in the middle of the smile he managed to offer. But for now, the coach and the school agreed to continue to search for them together.