For Urban Meyer, the reality of retiring is beginning to sink in
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.
TAMPA — In some ways, it has been like any other bowl week. News conferences and practices. Dinners and down time. Special events and special moments.
But this hasn't been any other bowl week.
It's the last one.
"This is it," Shelley Meyer said. "It's going to be emotional for all of us. As emotional as the Sugar Bowl was last year, this is going to be so much more emotional. Last year, I didn't know if it was his last game. This time, I know."
Urban Meyer will lead the Florida Gators out of a locker room for the last time today, the Outback Bowl serving as bookends to his Florida career. It was his first bowl game as a Gator and will be his last bowl game as a Gator.
For Meyer, who resigned Dec. 8, his preparation for the bowl has been like any other. He told the media during Friday's news conference that he didn't want to talk about life after football because he wanted to focus on the game.
It hasn't been easy.
Meyer has been peppered with questions about his last game. Senior Tackle, the bowl ritual where seniors get up and speak about their experiences as Gators, was the most emotional one ever Thursday.
The Meyers have talked about life after football, but only briefly because the Florida coach wants to make sure he sends his seniors out with a win.
"I haven't really thought a lot about what will happen after this game," he told me Friday. "I really have been focusing on giving these players the best I have. Up until the final whistle blows, I'm going to keep my priority right.
"Really, up until (Friday), I hadn't thought about it much. But (Friday), I told Shelley, 'It's getting close.' That's the first time I said that in two weeks. I've started to feel it, the emotions are starting to bubble up."
Meyer said he has also had to deal with numerous phone calls from different people who want to sit down and have meetings with him about his future.
"A lot of messages," he said. "People want me to do this and want me to do that. I haven't returned any of them. Not until Jan. 2."
Meyer's future may be hazy, but his past is not. He has reminisced about his teams at Bowling Green and Utah and, of course, at Florida where he won a pair of national titles. His departure comes after his worst season as a head coach, one that he wants to finish on a positive note.
To that end, he has tried to make things as normal as possible.
But you can see by his demeanor all week that it's not. Meyer has been as relaxed as I've ever seen him this week. We ran into each other before one of the news conferences and I said, "Coach Meyer. Hmm, I won't be able to say that next week."
And he laughed. There was no sadness in his face. He'll miss it, sure, but there has been an incredible weight lifted from his shoulders.
"He's not as tight as usual this week," Shelley said. "He's focused. He's still doing his job. But he knows this is it. And he's comfortable with his decision."
This week has been a lovefest between Meyer, leaving the game at 46, and Joe Paterno, who at 84 insists he is not finished. Paterno seemed almost agitated that Meyer is getting out of the coaching profession.
"I hate to see a college coach like Urban Meyer leave the game," Paterno said. "He's got a lot of class and a lot of poise. He's won two national championships and he's done it in a classy way. I hate to see him go, but it's what he wants to do. Who am I to judge?"
Meyer joked earlier this week that he was going to apply to be a graduate assistant at Penn State. But the post-UF life for Meyer is expected to include a lot of time with son Nate's travel baseball team and traveling next fall to volleyball matches in Atlanta (where Nicki plays for Georgia Tech) and Fort Myers, where Gigi will play for Florida Gulf Coast. Meyer spent a day at ESPN last week, and, as first reported by The Sun, met with ESPN officials about the possibility of doing some work with the network.
"I'm going to have to do something," Meyer said.
For Shelley, her schedule is already busy between teaching nursing in the fall at Florida — which she will continue to do — and working with charities in the area. That part of her life will not change.
"I guess we'll turn over the (Urban Meyer) Scramble to Will (Muschamp)," she said. "But I want to help with that. I already do a lot of charity work, and we always say the same thing — whatever fits our schedule, we'll do as much as we can do.
"I love Gainesville. We're right in the middle of both of our girls. I love my job, I love Gainesville Health and Fitness. I love my friends. I love Florida. We'll always be a part of Gainesville and the University of Florida. That's the great thing about this, that there wasn't a nasty separation. Usually, if you leave a job, you leave where you were living. We don't have to do that."
Instead, a new life will begin in the same city on Sunday. Florida will have a new coach. Urban Meyer will have a new focus, even if he's not sure what it will be.
That's the tricky part for Meyer. The stress of his workaholic life caused him to leave his job not once but twice because of health. But as dangerous as it was for Meyer, it was also addictive. And in his mind, it was necessary to reach the goals he set for himself and his program.
On Sunday, that's over.
"He's going to be like my dad," said Brandon Hicks, a senior linebacker. "He's going to be sitting there watching TV and he'll have to get up and mow the yard. Or wash the car. He won't be able to stay still. My dad retired and that's the way he was. He'd mow the yard every other day. He'd be telling me to get off his lawn and I'd tell him, 'You're going to mow it again anyway.' That's what I see with Coach Meyer. He'll always be looking for something to do."
Still, as Meyer said earlier this week, it's a blessing to be financially set and emotionally secure enough to be able to walk away at 46 and enjoy some down time.
How he handles it will be the interesting part.
"I told him two weeks ago, 'You're going to have to get to the place where you're OK with life not being so intense for 18 hours a day,' " Shelley said. "That's going to be a huge shock for him. It's not like he's going to be retired and sit around the house. It doesn't mean he's going to be hanging around with nothing to do.
"He's looking forward to it. But I know the person he is. The down time he's going to have to get used to. I hope he plays golf. He used to love golf. I'm happy for him. But you mention that there's never been a dull moment. How are we going to handle the dull moments now?"
Before that, one last football Saturday. One more tension-filled game. One more locker room with tears and cheers.
And then, the sunset waits.
So does a new life.