Meyer expects to coach in 2010


Urban Meyer speaks during a press conference in New Orleans as quarterback Tim Tebow listens on Sunday.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Florida coach Urban Meyer's football players did what his family and closest friends could not. They changed his heart; they changed his mind.

They did not do so with words. They did it with their actions during a spirited Sunday morning practice in The Swamp, only a few short hours after Meyer had left some of them in tears with his decision to resign after Friday's Sugar Bowl due to health issues.

“It was our players,” Meyer said, when asked what changed his mind. “The way they go about their business. To see them come out this morning with a great attitude and great work ethic and just go to work. I admire that.

“I know I'm dealing with some stuff, and that my family comes first. That's never been an issue. That's non-negotiable. I make sure to do right by my family. My second family is my players and staff. That was the moment. I went to (UF Athletic Director) Jeremy (Foley) and had a discussion after that.”

Shortly after the morning practice, Meyer met with Foley and then made the decision to accept a leave of absence offer rather than resign.

Although there is no timetable for his return, Meyer said he expects to be back before the start of the 2010 season.

“I knew that question was coming,” he said. “I do believe with my gut that will happen.”

Meyer will coach the No. 5 Gators (12-1) through Friday's game against No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0).

“It's full speed ahead (for the Sugar Bowl),” he said. “We have a great group of seniors who have accomplished so much. We recruited each one. It's full speed ahead. We'll do everything possible to win this game.”

On Jan. 2, Meyer will begin to slow down, while offensive coordinator Steve Addazio becomes the interim head coach until Meyer returns.

Meyer will begin an indefinite leave of absence that he hopes will help resolve some health concerns that date back to four years ago, mainly chest pains brought on by stress that have become more severe over the past two seasons. Only hours after the loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Meyer was hospitalized with chest pains. Those pains returned at times over the past two weeks, leading Meyer to decide with his family on Christmas night that he was going to resign.

On Sunday, he reversed his decision, accepting the leave of absence that UF president Bernie Machen suggested as a possibility about 10 days ago, Meyer said.

Watching his players practice, and looking up at the National Championship signs on the stadium wall, Meyer said he began rethinking his earlier decision to walk away from the program he has built.

That's when he called Foley.

“He called me from the practice field this morning,” Foley said. “We didn't talk about this. I could sense the pride he had. I don't think people understand, it's not just a bunch of kids who came out there and practiced so well and so hard. Here is a program that had its life turned upside down. Instead of people (players and coaches) being worried about themselves, which is normal, they went out there and they practiced because they're professionals and they care about the University of Florida.

“That's what Urban told me from the practice field today. When I first heard that from him, I heard a spark I hadn't heard for a while. We spent some time together, and here we are.”

After Friday's game, the challenge will be for Meyer to regain his full health. That will mean spending time with his family, relaxing and evaluating how he does things in his job. Meyer is a coach known for his tireless work ethic and relentless drive to succeed. That drive pushed Meyer to the brink of physical collapse a few weeks ago.

“The chest pains have really become a serious issue the past two weeks,” he said.

Meyer said that he did not suffer a heart attack and that he's not sure if he will need any medical procedures done while he's away.

Foley said Meyer probably will make recruiting calls, but he is banned from coming to his office during his leave of absence.

When Foley was asked how you can get a guy who is always going full speed to slow down, he said, “We'll find that out. He's going to have a lot of help. There are people in the process who care. There are a lot of things in his mind he has to resolve. You can't coach when your chest hurts. You can't live your life when your chest hurts.”

Being around Meyer for the past five years, Foley said he's not surprised Meyer reached the point he would consider resigning.

“A guy can't keep that pace,” Foley said. “Urban is a dear friend. Taking care of himself hasn't always been highest on his list. I've seen lunches on his desk go uneaten, where in the middle of the season he's dropped a bunch of weight. You get concerned about those things.

“Urban Meyer is very successful because of how he has done things. So part of this process is he's going to have to evaluate how he's been doing things. What does that mean? I don't know. We are all here to help him. The challenge here for him and (his wife) Shelley and all of us who care about him is to help him evaluate how he does things, but not take away the edge that makes him successful. It's a challenge.”

Foley said at this point there is no guarantee Meyer will return.

But Meyer sounds like a man who plans to coach again — coach at Florida and nowhere else.

That's why he's choosing to take a break instead of resigning.

“This is something I've got to fix,” Meyer said. “If I'm able to coach, I want to coach at one place. That's the University of Florida. It would be a travesty to all of a sudden come back and get my health back and feel good again and go throw some other colors on my shirt. I don't want to do that. I have too much love for this university, for these players and what we've built.”

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