Meyer: 'I have to focus on my health'


Published: Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 8:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 8:14 a.m.

On Christmas night, Urban Meyer sat in his Gainesville home and asked his family a stunning question.

"What if I walk away?"

It had all caught up to him -- the chest pains, the anxiety, the deterioration. After a lot of soul-searching that had been going on for years, Meyer was ready to leave a $4 million a year job. But he needed to know one thing.

"I talked to my family and asked everyone what they thought," Meyer told The Sun Sunday morning. "They were real emotional. I don't think people understand how close I am to my family. I love my family. They had seen the deterioration. I didn't want to be the guy who let it all pass me by, not seeing my kids grow up."

On Christmas night, the decision was made. Meyer, 45 years old, would resign as Florida's head football coach after Friday's Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati. It was the ultimate "sudden change" Meyer talks about with his defensive players. But while the news was a stunner to the Gator Nation, it wasn't a snap decision.

Meyer told The Sun he had been wrestling with the issue for four years when chest pains began to surface.

"I had health issues at Notre Dame that were a warning light," he said, referring to an arachnoid cyst on his brain that he said caused blackouts. "I'd try to back off a little bit but I can't do that. When I came to Florida, the chest pains were controlling my life. I'd see a guy every year and ask him, 'Why do I keep having these? Why does this keep happening?'

"I told Shelley after the 2006 championship that if we can get this program to the top and walk out of it with my health that's what I needed to do."

In the summer of 2007, reality hit when Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser died of a heart attack.

"After he went down, it really hit me," he said. "It got worse. I kept going in for tests and they said my heart was fine. But the pains kept coming.

"It got bad, real bad. I was on a lot of medication."

Meyer was admitted to Shands Hospital hours after the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5 with chest pains. He kept going, but began to really think about leaving the coaching profession. He had discussions for the last 10 days with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley. Meyer was offered a leave of absence. Instead, he decided to put his health and his family first and resign as Florida's coach.

On Saturday evening, he told his assistant coaches and then his players.

"That was hard, real hard," he said. "There were a lot of emotions in that room. A couple of players stood up and said some things.

"I'm going through a lot of soul-searching today. I feel like I have let a lot of people down."

Meyer said he called many recruits Saturday night to deliver the news and encouraged them to stick with their commitments to Florida.

"I told them that Florida is still the best place to be," he said. "It' the best school in the country. I want to help keep this program on top. I love Gainesville. I want to help the University of Florida in any way I can."

Meyer will remain in Gainesville and will have a role with the football program that has yet to be defined.

"There is going to be a lot of speculation but I have no idea what I'm going to do," he said. "This has been an ongoing thing for four years. It's time for me to concentrate on my health. That's the main thing I'm going to do -- focus on my health."

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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