Florida coach Urban Meyer steps down

From left, Urban Meyer addresses questions from the media Dec. 7, 2004, after being named Florida's 21st head football coach; UF quarterback Tim Tebow talks with Meyer during 2009 Pro Scout Day; Meyer gets a Gatorade bath during the final minutes of the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1, 2010; and Meyer and his wife, Shelley, hug before the trophy ceremony after the Sugar Bowl.

Published: Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 12:42 a.m.

Less than two weeks ago, Urban Meyer's intense, competitive fire seemed to flare up again. It could be seen in his eyes, when he vowed moments after an embarrassing loss to Florida State that he would do whatever it took to restore the Florida football program to elite status.

But something happened in the days that followed. The fire went out.

For the second time in less than a year, Meyer shocked Gator Nation (and the college football world) with an unexpected announcement Wednesday that he was stepping down as the Gators' coach.

Last December, he reversed his decision a day later. This time, there is no turning back. His UF coaching era, which included two national championships, is over after six seasons and 64 victories against only 15 defeats.

"I'm stepping down as the head football coach at the University of Florida to focus on family and my other interests away from the sidelines," Meyer said at an early evening news conference that was televised nationally.

On Dec. 26, 2009, Meyer resigned due to health issues. He said the decision this week to walk away, seemingly in the prime of his career, was made so he can devote more time with his wife Shelley and the couple's three children — daughters Nicole and Gigi and son Nate.

He said his health was not a factor.

"Last year was a wake-up call," Meyer said. "Early this week, I had a visit with (UF athletic director) Jeremy (Foley) about some thoughts I was having, and a decision was reached yesterday.

"Last year was a knee-jerk reaction of an emotional family. We're a very tight-knit family. We had a daughter home from college and (she) found out what happened (with Meyer's health concerns). This year was just completely different. This is what's best for the University of Florida, for our players and for myself. At the end of the day, I'm convinced you're judged on how you are as a husband and father.

"I've not seen my two girls play high school sports. I can't get that time back. I've made a commitment that I'm going to enjoy the best years of their lives, and that's right now."

In his six seasons at UF, Meyer compiled led the Gators to two SEC titles and two national championships (2006 and 2008). Perhaps the only real downer about his UF career is its ending with a 7-5 season. Meyer will coach the Gators through the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Penn State and its coaching icon, Joe Paterno.

Foley said the search for a new coach would begin immediately, and he expects to name Meyer's replacement in two to two-and-a-half weeks.

"I don't see any reason it should take longer than that," Foley said. "I'm confident we can get this done in two to two-and-a-half weeks."

Foley said he has not contacted any candidates yet. Some names sure to be mentioned in the coming days are Mississippi State's Dan Mullen (Meyer's former offensive coordinator at UF), Utah's Kyle Whittingham, TCU's Gary Patterson, Houston's Kevin Sumlin, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Louisville's Charlie Strong ( Meyer's former UF defensive coordinator).

Foley said the search would not be limited to someone he knows or who has head-coaching experience.

"The slate is clean right now," Foley said. "This is a tough job. If it's not a head coach, it would have to be (someone) pretty special. We'll compile a list. The slate is open. We'll get on that tomorrow. I didn't know Urban Meyer until I walked into his living room."

When Meyer made his stunning resignation last December, he changed his mind the next day and decided to return following an indefinite leave of absence that was proposed to him by Foley and UF president Bernie Machen.

In regards to Meyer's latest decision, Foley said he will not try to talk Meyer out of it.

"It was a sad day because something good was ending. It's kind of how I feel today," Foley said. "Also, for me personally, it's an OK day because I know Urban is OK. He's not only at peace with this decision, but I know the University of Florida is going to be fine. Good things come to an end sometimes.

"I'm at peace with his decision because he's at peace, and I shared that peace with him. This is a totally different situation (than a year ago). It's not a knee-jerk reaction to being 7-5 (this season). He's at peace with his life, his family and with what he wants to do. It's his time to step back and spend time with his family. I admire him for that."

Meyer's resignation news conference took place in the same room in the football stadium where his introductory news conference was held six years and one day earlier.

Machen, who worked with Meyer at Utah, praised Meyer on Wednesday for his success in all aspects of his job at UF.

"Urban Meyer was hired because of his commitment to excellence, because of his commitment to integrity and his commitment to his players," Machen said. "In every dimension, he has exceeded everything we could have hoped for as he carried out duties here at the University of Florida. He took us to a new level, a level that maybe will be reached again, but never exceeded. He leaves a legacy at the University of Florida.

"We're so proud of him and what he has accomplished and the way he's done so. He's a true Gator."

Machen and Foley said they hoped Meyer and his family would remain in Gainesville and stay close to the program.

Meyer did not rule out coaching again some day.

"I'll think about that later," he said. "Immediacy, no."

Meyer signed a six-year, $24-million extension in 2009. He is walking away from about $20 million in guaranteed salary. But Foley agreed to pay Meyer a $1-million retention bonus the coach would have received had he been employed on Jan. 31, 2011.

Meyer informed his players at a 2 p.m. meeting Wednesday.

"For the most part, they were very gracious," Meyer said.

Senior center Mike Pouncey, a team captain, said the players back Meyer's decision.

"Coach Meyer changed a lot of lives in this program," Pouncey said. "He turned this program around from nothing. When Coach told us, it was just like the year before, we were very supportive of his decision and always will be. We're good friends and always will be.

"Florida is going to be Florida. We're going to move forward."

Meyer said that a year ago he reversed his resignation decision for his staff and his players.

This resignation is for his family — and it's final.

"Last year was a Christmas decision when everyone got together and everything came out (about his health issues). The timing was bad," Meyer said. "There is not a perfect time. But I know this is probably about as good a time as you could have (to make this decision)."

Meyer also produced a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Tim Tebow, now with the Denver Broncos.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime to play for a man who will be remembered as one of the greatest football coaches of all time," Tebow said in a statement released by the Bronocs. "But Coach Meyer was more than just a coach to me — he was a father figure who cared about me as a person and taught me valuable lessons that I will never forget."

Foley said he would meet with Meyer's assistants in the next few days, and some of those coaches could end up as part of the new staff. He said no one on the current staff has inquired about applying for the head coaching position.

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