Urban Meyer is back as coach of the Florida Gators. This couldn’t be better news at a better time, just 28 days after his announcement that he was retiring from football, completing one of the epic off-the-field turnarounds in a program without ever running a single play.
With the wealth of football talent that has been accrued from across this great land in the last month, Urban’s Saturday night shoutout that he’d be coaching spring ball is like the cherry on top.
As my old friend Jack Hairston used to say, when poking fun at the pomposity of some reporters pontificating about their breaking news, “It comes as no surprise to this reporter…”
Meyer made an impromptu announcement to media covering the Florida-South Carolina basketball game that he was returning to coach football in March. Although some of his own staff members hadn’t known, many of us felt that this would be the end game as soon as he was feeling better again.
At long last it puts to rest the speculation that he was considering stepping aside after National Signing Day on Feb. 3, a rumor that surfaced again last week (I was asked about it on a Denver radio show Friday). And no matter how many times some of us wrote and said that Urban would be back on the sideline soon – maybe by spring – that rumor persisted. Of course there was also the dis-information coming out of other football ports of call – some if it traveling across country from Knoxville, Tenn., to LA.
So Urban sent a message loud and clear Saturday night that he’s not going anywhere and that the Florida Gators are about to launch another run.
He joked about his leave of absence, telling the media: “”I keep hearing about this time out. People I’m closest to are going to demand I take some time off, but I tried that already. I tried a day and a half, and it didn’t work.”
Details are still pending on whatever medical tests are still forthcoming and he declined to talk about that. The fact that he’s eating well and on an exercise regimen, however, is proof positive that he’s on the mend.
And as for that leave of absence? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.
“I guess,” said one of his staff members, who was pleasantly surprised at the news, “he’ll take the month of February off.”
And maybe not.
Clearly Urban needed to inform members of this diamond-studded recruiting class that he plans to be back in the saddle this spring just to hold the expected 27 recruits together in this mosaic. Other schools are trying desperately to change their minds and hearts, but so far the kids have held strong. The last two members of this class – should they come into the fold – will be blue chips from the national contingent and will easily solidify the Gators as the No. 1 class in the country.
It certainly didn’t hurt that prized recruits Ronald Powell from California and Matt Elam, Florida’s Mister Football, were visiting over the weekend and attending the game.
And even should Urban need to take time off later after National Signing Day, it’s all good.
“It’s a no-harm, no-foul deal,” said another source close to the team. “We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s good news right now.”
Certainly Urban appears to be stronger mentally and physically. And if I know Urban Meyer, he can’t wait to get an up-close look at his team – especially those 10 new freshmen. There is a buzz about this class unlike any other Urban has ever had, including the Class of 2006, because of its national flavor, the preponderance of talent and the blazing speed.
“That’ll make you start feeling better in a hurry,” said one of his assistant coaches.
Football is a two-edge sword for Meyer – one that cuts out his heart when he loses games and one that exalts him to the top of the football mountain when all is well.
His mood was cheerful Saturday night when we exchanged text messages, and although the content of the messages wasn’t terribly revealing, I could tell he was feeling like his old self.
Clearly his mental outlook has been altered since that painful loss to Alabama, which was somewhat avenged by the 51-24 blowout of Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and the final No. 3 national ranking. That closed the door on Era I of Urban Meyer.
Saturday night at the O-Dome, Era II of Urban Meyer began.