Meyer to attempt different approach


Published: Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 7:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 7:43 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS -- This wild and improbable journey began in the middle of the night after the SEC Championship Game when Urban Meyer sat up in his bed with a jolt. His left arm was numb and his chest felt like someone had hit him with a sledgehammer.

It was that night Meyer realized it might be time to quit being a football coach. After a couple of years telling his wife, Shelley, he wouldn't be doing this for long, maybe the time had come.

"I tried to talk him out of it because he was feeling bad and I wanted him to step away and look at it," Shelley said.

And for the next couple of weeks, they talked it out until Meyer came to the decision to resign as Florida's football coach.

"I didn't know he was in so much pain, anxiety and angst," she said. "He was really hurting. I've never seen him in so much pain before."

That decision led us to here, Meyer taking a leave of absence and a football program setting up camp in limbo.

Nobody knows what is going to happen down the road. Meyer said his gut feeling is he'll be back as Florida's coach next year. But only if he figures it out.

How can you be successful without going as hard as he always goes? Better yet, can he figure it out to allow himself to return as Florida's coach?

On Sunday, he called Jeremy Foley and then Shelley from the practice field.

"He told me, 'I think I'll take a leave of absence,' " she said. "After all he had built in five years, he didn't want it to be handed off without at least trying a leave."

There are no guarantees the Sugar Bowl will be his last game as a coach, no guarantees he'll come back in 2010. This is the beginning of a new adventure for the Meyer family, a journey into the unknown.

Steve Addazio will be the caretaker until a decision is made. And when that decision will be made is anyone's guess.

"I don't know if he can do it," Shelley said. "We can't know until we see what he does with his time off. Since 1986, he's never been away from it. I can tell you I can't imagine him not coaching again because that's all I've ever known.

"But I do think he feels better that the door is cracked open. He looks better already. I can't have him looking or feeling the way he has been. But I don't see him becoming a man of leisure. It's going to be interesting."

Interesting is an understatement. Florida has a coach-in-waiting except he is the head coach. Foley made that clear Sunday in a bizarre news conference. How bizarre? For the first time since he came to Florida, TimTebow was an accessory at the podium.

Foley and UF president Bernie Machen had pushed Meyer to take the leave of absence and you could certainly argue it is a risky move. Recruits are going to be told by opposing coaches Meyer is done. The players who return are going to spend anoffseason wondering who their coach will be next season.

And Meyer has no idea what lies ahead.

"That's something I've got to figure out," he said. "There are obviously coaches who have had great careers for a long time. I'm going to get that fixed."

For Foley, the concern is for a friend as much as his head coach. There weren't a lot of answers at the news conference because this has all happened so fast.

"This is a long-term conversation," Foley said. "He's been very successful because of how he's done things. You don't want to take away that edge that made him successful.

"We're not there with Urban. Obviously, we're in better position than we were (Saturday) night. I look at it this way -- if he comes back to be our coach, the University of Florida benefits. After a period of time, we may end up with Urban Meyer as our coach. And there aren't a lot of Urban Meyers out there."

But if he does come back, can he ratchet it down? Can he delegate? Can he not go full bore all the time?

He has to or Meyer has no business coming back. After the Sugar Bowl, he'll find out. He'll take his son, Nate, to baseball games. He'll watch Gigi play volleyball without being on his cell phone the entire time.

"Maybe I'll get him to volunteer at St. Pat's," Shelley said. "Go fishing, play nine holes while the kids are at school. It's going to be a very new experience."

Meyer will lean on some friends in the business for advice like he does with everything. I talked to Steve Spurrier on Sunday and he mentioned Meyer needs a hobby.

"I'm going to call him," Meyer said of Spurrier. "I admire the way he does things."

Spurrier never let the stress get to him because he always had golf and Crescent Beach. This profession eats up coaches and spits them out. This season would cause any coach to feel burned out.

Welcome to the Great Unknown, Gator Nation.

Welcome to the real world, Urban Meyer.

Go have some fun.

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

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