Meyer resigns as coach citing health reasons
Published: Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 7:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 7:04 p.m.
It wasn't Notre Dame that did it, like many feared these past few years. It wasn't the NFL, which always seemed a possibility.
Instead, it was Urban Meyer's health that is taking him away from the University of Florida.
In one of the most stunning and shocking announcements in the history of Gator football, Meyer revealed early Saturday night that he is stepping down as UF's head coach following Friday night's Sugar Bowl against undefeated Cincinnati.
This is news that no one saw coming, and it has surely shaken the Gator Nation.
Meyer, 45, cited health reasons in a UF press release sent out around 6:45 p.m.
"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. "I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family.
"After consulting with my family, (school president) Dr. (Bernie) Machen, (athletics director) Jeremy Foley and my doctors, I believe it is in my best interest to step aside and focus on my health and family."
The first sign of a potential major health issue occurred only hours after the Gators' 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game Dec. 5, when Meyer was hospitalized in Gainesville. He underwent tests and was released the same morning, but he later told The Sun that he was experiencing chest pains before going to the hospital. In a UF release, it was stated that Meyer was suffering from dehydration.
Earlier this week, Meyer said he was feeling fine physically and there were no issues with his health. He was busy coaching, recruiting and trying to fill a coaching vacancy on his coaching staff. But then, on the eve of the team's departure for New Orleans, came the bombshell Saturday that this would be his last game.
Foley now has the task of replacing one of the most successful coaches in college football and in the history of the program. Meyer led the Gators to national championships in 2006 (in his second year) and again in 2008. This year's team went 12-0 and won the SEC's Eastern Division before falling to Alabama in the league championship game in Atlanta.
Foley likely will move quickly to name a replacement for Meyer, giving that recruiting is so vital and national signing day is a little more than a month away.
PHOTOS: COACH URBAN MEYER
Coaches who could be on Foley's short list might be Houston's Kevin Sumlin, TCU's Gary Patterson and possibly Charlie Strong, who left Meyer's staff a little more than two weeks ago to become the head coach at Louisville. Strong is a long-time UF assistant with strong recruiting ties in the state. Strong will remain on Meyer's staff through the Sugar Bowl.
Louisville's director of media relations, Rocco Gasparro, indicated on Saturday that the recently hired Strong had yet to sign a formal contract with the University. Strong, who will be on the sidelines for Florida in the Sugar Bowl, has signed a term sheet.
It is unclear whether the term sheet would be a sticking point should the Gators turn to Strong to replace Meyer.
"Coach Meyer and I have talked this through and I realize how hard this was for him to reach this decision," Foley said. "But the bottom line is that Coach Meyer needed to make a choice that is in the best interest of his well being and his family. I certainly appreciate what he has meant to the University of Florida, our football program and the Gator Nation. I have never seen anyone more committed to his players, his family and his program. Above all, I appreciated our friendship."
Meyer also is friends with Machen. The two worked together at Utah before Machen and Foley hired Meyer to become the new UF head coach in December of 2004.
"Urban Meyer's integrity, work ethic and commitment to his players are some of the reasons we asked him to become head football coach at the University of Florida," Machen said. "As a Gator, Urban has done everything we asked of him and more. He leaves a lasting legacy on the field, in the classroom and in the Gainesville community. I am saddened that Urban is stepping down, but I have deep respect for his decision."
Meyer's announcement is the most stunning news since legendary coach Steve Spurrier unexpectedly resigned after the 2002 Orange Bowl game.
Meyer ended up replacing the coach who replaced Spurrier at UF - Ron Zook, who was fired midway through the 2004 season.
In his five seasons at UF, Meyer led the Gators to two national championships, two SEC titles and three division championships. His overall record at UF is 56-10, including a school-record 22-game winning streak that was snapped in the SEC Championship Game earlier this month. Meyer was 15-1 against UF's traditional rivals - Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State and Miami. His .848 winning percentage is the best in UF history.
Meyer and the UF team will arrive in New Orleans today. Meyer will address the media at an afternoon news conference.
In the UF release, Meyer said he will continue to live in Gainesville and be part of the school.
"I'm proud to be a part of the Gainesville community and the Gator Nation and I plan to remain in Gainesville and involved with the University of Florida," Meyer said. "I'm very appreciative for the opportunity I've had to be a part of a tremendous institution - from Dr. Machen to Jeremy Foley and the entire administrative staff at UF.
"I'm also very thankful for the chance to work with some of the best assistants in college football and coach some of the best college football players and watch them grow both on and off the field as people. I will cherish the relationships with them the most."
Meyer informed the players of his decision during a team meeting early Saturday evening. The players were not available to the media.
According to a New York Times report, Florida spokesman Steve McClain said that when Meyer told his daughter, Nicki, a freshman volleyball player at Georgia Tech, she hugged him and said, “I get my daddy back.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban released a statement expressing his feelings on Meyer's resignation.
"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."
Florida State's Bobby Bowden, who is coaching his final game in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, said of Meyer: “It's a surprise to everybody. I hope he's OK physically because he's done as great a job at the University of Florida as has been done there, or anywhere else. I admire the way he handles himself and I really like his family. The college coaching profession will really miss him.”
After the Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5, Meyer checked himself into Shands early that next morning for what Florida officials said were dehydration issues. But Meyer admitted to The Sun he had also experienced chest pains.
"I have to take better care of myself," Meyer told The Sun in a Dec. 7 interview.
"I've lost a lot of weight this season," Meyer said. "I just have to take better care of myself. It's been a tough season. A great season, but a tough season."
With just about his entire team returning this fall, Meyer spent all season coaching under intense pressure and sky-high expectations. He said he welcomed it all as the defending national champions tried to become just the second team in the last 14 years to repeat.
But the season was far from smooth. Florida dealt with distraction after distraction, prompting Meyer to call it “the year of stuff.”
It included preseason talk about perfection; flulike symptoms that ravaged the team; Tim Tebow's concussion; opposing fans hijacking cell phone numbers; facing former assistant Dan Mullen; linebacker Brandon Spikes' eye-gouging incident; Meyer's hefty fine for criticizing officials; defensive end Carlos Dunlap's drunk-driving arrest; a few controversial calls; some close games; and what seemed to be a season-long offensive slump.
Indeed, the Gators went through just about everything in 2009. Still, the loss to Alabama was the most crushing blow — until this.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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