TAMPA — When he wakes up Sunday, he will be just plain old Urban Meyer, not “coach” Urban Meyer. “Coach” is a title he embraces with great admiration and respect, both for himself and others. He will still be “coach” to his former players and maybe his peers, but whether he plans to re-enter the profession remains to be seen.
Right now he’s not even ready to answer that question for himself, let alone anybody else. In fact, he’s not even sure how his team will perform Saturday, considering their collapse in the second half of the season when the Gators lost five of their last eight games.
Although he admits he has thought about coaching his last game, Meyer declined to share those feelings in his final press conference Friday, choosing to reflect on other parts of his past and talking a little about game preparation, injuries, etc. Admitting, at the same time, he’s not sure what to expect out of his team — other than the fact that his seniors will play “like there’s no tomorrow.” Much like opposing players did for their coach in his last game three years ago.
“That’s the essence of coaching,” Meyer said when asked what he expected from the Gators in his last game. “That’s the essence of practice, that’s the Plan to Win, that’s the ‘Four to six seconds of relentless effort.’”
When Florida lost to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl after the 2007 season, it was Lloyd Carr’s last game as Wolverine coach. Carr said then he hoped for Urban that “his team will play as hard for him in his last game as mine did today.”
Meyer, of course, remembers Carr’s comment and reflected on it a bit Friday. “I have great respect for Coach Carr,” Meyer said. “I’m a big fan of those old coaches, so I do remember that very well.”
The title “coach” is spoken with great reverence, and always affixed to those in his profession as if it were earned like a doctorate. It is indicative of how Old School Urban Meyer is at his core.
* * *
There are those who think Meyer used his analytical skills to evaluate his future and realized that the cataclysmic change in the game did not bode well for either his career or health. Long tenures as head coaches appear to be going the way of the dinosaurs. Old fossils like Paterno and Bobby Bowden are as rare as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“It’s the pressure induced by the money,” said an attorney and longtime observer of college football. “There will be a ‘coaching churn’ from now on and you’ll see turnover ever three to five years in most programs.”
Friends say Meyer will sign with ESPN as a studio analyst soon. Urban likely sees himself in the TV booth for at least a year and maybe more. It’s a perfect gig for a guy who wants to be home all week with his family and can jet his way to the studio on Friday afternoons or even Saturday mornings to watch and talk football — and get paid well for doing it.
He can always get back into the coaching game later because he is still relatively young. Just a little over half Paterno’s age, Meyer is almost puppy in the profession. As an example, when Bear Bryant was 46 he began his second year at Alabama. Steve Spurrier was already 44 when he began at UF and 51 when he won his first national championship. Meyer was 41 when came Gator head coach and at 43 already a national championship coach.
Don’t bet against him being back in coaching before he’s 50 (he turns 47 on July 10), but maybe only on a short burst of 3-4 seasons. Much will depend on vacancies at places like Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame, his “Big Three” choices. But don’t rule out a run by Penn State if Paterno retires after net season. Happy Valley is still a bit of a safe haven, but even the long arm of social media dips into the Mayberry RFD of college scenarios.
Life is a bit more pastoral in Happy Valley. And while expectations are high for Penn State football, they’re not off the charts unreasonable. It could be an ideal setting for Meyer’s do-over.
* * *
Indeed, he has always revered the Old Guard, including Paterno.
Of Paterno, Meyer said: “I love the man, I consider him one of my closest friends and allies in this game of college football. You just get tired of hearing about the bad. Joe Paterno is about the good.”
Clearly Meyer still loves the profession and still loves the game — but maybe just not the marriage right now. That could change if the timing, and the job, are right.
There are some people in Pennsylvania who think when JoePa does hang it up in a year or two that the folks in State College would come calling for Urban. After all, it has been a mutual admiration society all week between Meyer and Paterno — JoePa heaping praise on the outgoing coach as one of the game’s true innovators and somebody “who does it the right way.”
First and foremost, however, Urban Meyer needs time away from the game, almost a rehab.
* * *
It remains puzzling to the more skeptical exactly what prompted Meyer to quit this time, despite the reasons he has given — health, family etc. Although certainly a valid explanation, there will always be those that believe Meyer came back to put a band-aid on the program then ducked out.
Another factor in his choice to quit now may have been diminishing passion for challenge. The real truth is probably that the all-in, totally committed romance with the game was over for him. And he knew it. Perhaps once his “Braveheart” quarterback had left, he fell out of love with the idea of being a warrior himself.
Additionally, the changing culture of the athletes and their sense of “entitlement” go directly against his coaching philosophy.
Still others believe he began get discouraged by the lack of total support from the institution and administration.
Meyer fears the game is getting out of control. Asked about the current state of the game, Meyer said this week:
“I’m concerned, but I’m sure I’m not the only one, and it’s part of life right now. I hope to see it come back to the way it was, and that was a team sport that a bunch of good guys doing it the right way and guys getting education, graduating from college and looking at their college experience as the greatest experience they’ve ever had. That’s what I love college football for.”
Whatever, Urban just doesn’t have in his heart to coach right now. A year from now he might feel differently.
For sure he won’t miss the “struggle.” Meyer is a big fan of history and likes to quote older football philosophers like legendary Michigan coach Fielding Yost on the mission of unselfishness and teamwork.
“I think Fielding Yost had one of the greatest quotes of all time when he talked about the game of football in 1903,” Meyer said. “It was, ‘football is not a fad.’ It’s turning into a fad. It’s different from, with all due respect, all sports. You have to love football. Football separates people in practice. If you have a real bad day in football, you have a real bad day.
I think the last line of that quote is you have to love the struggle.”
* * *
Although Urban says there is never the “perfect time” to step aside, he realized he had used up his mulligan. He says he intended to come back all along — remember his “mini-promise” about getting “tough-ass players” and “tough-ass coaches” after the loss to FSU? — but it came upon him one morning after prayer that this was the time to go.
Fives things bode well regarding the timing:
1) He didn’t have to call the mover and could stay in his home.
2) His bosses didn’t kick him out and, with the good graces of his successor, agreed to build him an office at UF.
3) The ability to step right into the TV studio would keep him involved in the game.
4) Having gone through this as a dress rehearsal, Meyer was able to secure two-year contracts for his assistant coaches, which meant they wouldn’t have to go stand in the unemployment line.
5) The news of his resignation, though sudden, would not catch Jeremy Foley totally off guard.
Also, despite what you might have read, his health is pretty good. And you can tell by the look in his eye and smile on his face that his mental state has rebounded.
“I’ve really enjoyed these last two weeks,” Meyer said on Tuesday, “I enjoyed practice yesterday, enjoyed being around the players. If there’s ever a good time, obviously I don’t know that there ever is, but this kind of worked out very well.”
* * *
Just how history finally judges Urban Meyer as Florida coach depends on his evolving legacy as a transformative force. Measuring his success against those Florida coaches in the future will be relatively easy, because it will be visible in the numbers and the trophy case as a formidable standard.
His legacy will also be reflected in the careers of his former coaches who how have head jobs: Ten from his staff in 10 years. While it’s true that some have since moved on that that others (Dan McCarney, North Texas State) had already been head coaches, it is still an impressive coaching tree:
McCarney, Greg Brandon (formerly, Bowling Green), Mike Sanford (formerly, UNLV), Tim Beckman (Toledo), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Gary Andersen (Utah State), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State), Doc Holliday (Marshall), Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Steve Addazio (Temple).
So does Will Muschamp become Johnny Brantley, chasing the ghost of a legend? Or is Muschamp more like Urban Meyer, who finally caught up to the Godfather of Gator football and even surpassed Steve Spurrier in everything but most SEC championships?
And if Muschamp falls short, will he begin to look more like Ron Zook, whose biggest sin was that he wasn’t Steve Spurrier (plus the fact that he never addressed problems publicly)?
Either way, when the finally horn sounds Saturday and Urban Meyer is no longer “coach” Urban Meyer, he becomes yesterday’s news. Which, by the way, might be best scenario for some members of the Gator Nation to fully appreciate this recent six-year “Platinum Era” of Gator football.
In fact, the more years that pass following Urban Meyer, the better he will begin to look. They should just go ahead right now a reserve a fourth statue at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, not to mention a spot in the Ring of Honor.