Somewhere between the crevices of his brain and the dominion of his soul, Urban Meyer will be digging down deep in the ensuing weeks to search for meaning of recent events. Mostly he will be trying to find life after Dec. 5, 2009, digging out from a pit of despair. Or at least a pit of gloom. And he will eventually find it. He always does.
This is nothing new for Urban, although, granted, he does seem to be handling the pain of losing a little better than back in the day when he couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t shave and could just barely breathe.
He just recently declared his long-term commitment to UF. Now Gator fans have something else to worry about: Meyer’s mental and physical condition. It is already documented that stress has been Urban’s worst enemy. His friends and family are on the record as saying that what will stop Urban from coaching eventually is if football threatens his health, because he has had problems in the past.
Do I think it is a major concern? No. Am I curious? Yes. And so are you. But there is no reason to panic.
One of the real dangers is a hard core of greedheads who can never get enough, no matter how good things are around Gainesville. There is an element out there that is never satisfied. One might think that a 47-7 record by a senior class might buy a large amount of street cred, but with that certain element it doesn’t. Some of that abrasiveness is no doubt beginning to wear on Urban. And if there is anything that will drive him away from Florida as quickly as bad health it’s ingratitude. Believe me, there’s plenty of that going around these days.
The health thing isn’t going away, however, just like the Notre Dame thing didn’t.
Urban’s health was discussed in his book:
“Since his days when he blacked out and nearly fell while on the sidelines as an assistant at Notre Dame, Meyer had tried to learn how to better control his emotions. It turned out to be an arachnoid cyst on his brain, benign, but it also caused severe migraines when aggravated by emotional stress. The doctors told Meyer to ‘cool it with the screaming and yelling,’ which he did until he became a head coach at Utah. During a game against Oregon, in a tense moment or the fourth quarter, he almost passed out. Doctors helped him pinpoint those emotional outbursts — usually, in the fourth quarter — and he began to alter his behavior pattern.
“Before he had any more outbursts, he had to stop and think about that.”
Not only has Meyer been known to black out on the sideline in the past, but at least once this season he became woozy during a game and vomited.
When the news came Sunday that Urban had checked himself into the hospital — first it was said “chest pains” by some and later it was amended by UF spokesman Steve McClain to “symptoms of dehydration” — I immediately flashed back to those stories about stress, as did many others.
Bits and pieces finally emerged and he was declared okay. A couple of inside contacts told both GatorCountry.com and ESPN that Urban was in no danger. But we only know what we are told, because Urban has not gone public except an apparent communication with one member of the local media and not responded to queries of others. On the Allstate Sugar Bowl telephone conference, Meyer declined to comment on his health.
“I’m fine,” he apparently told Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun.
On health matters such as this, however, I think the concerned citizens of Gator Nation are entitled to a little more. So perhaps a UF press release would have been in order. Though is health is a private matter, Gator fans worry about him. They throw him get-well bouquets on the messages boards and encourage him to put his life ahead of football. They even fear that somehow Meyer’s health might give him a change of heart about coaching in this Florida pressure cooker. And I truly think there are hundred times more of fans like that than the smattering of greedheads. I’m not just talking about some of these fanatics whose borderline behavior beckons butterfly nets, because there are some intelligent, devout and loyal folks who sometimes get lumped in with the nut jobs.
There was an amazing transformation from angst to compassion on the Internet sites Sunday once the news broke from ESPN and GatorCountry.com that Urban had taken ill. Almost a hush came over these so-called heartless keyboard coaches who are known for their shrill complaining and second-guessing — obviously frightened about Urban’s health. They poured out their hearts.
All of a sudden, getting thumped by Alabama didn’t seem so tragic to them.
So they wait for some assurances. And until they get them, these tried and true Gators will sweat bullets about their coach — the same way they sweated the rumors about him leaving for Notre Dame. Except this is even tougher for them to sweat out.
Regarding the loss and how fans react to it, please tell me Gators fans will respond with some dignity and class. Of course there is disappointment and of course it wasn’t Florida’s best effort, but the inevitable had to eventually happen. For those who can’t live with 47-7 and 22 straight, plus a pair of national championships and SEC titles, go find some other team to back. Because if you think for a moment that the 2010 Gators are going undefeated in the regular season, then you are living in Disney World.
Meanwhile, Urban is taking strides to avoid an Alabama hangover. No doubt Meyer will be tormented until he comes up with answers about the embarrassing loss, just as he was at the conclusion of a rocky 2007 season after losing to Michigan in Orlando. He didn’t sort it out until he went away to a Nike coaches convention where he was inspired by a shoe commercial.
“Living The American Dream” was Meyer’s mantra after adopting it from a Dwayne Wade ad because it made him realize his life was pretty good. And Meyer lived that dream throughout the next championship year.
Promises kept, championships won, Meyer’s Gators found themselves back on top of the world in ’08 and ‘09. And then against Alabama, they fell off the axis.
When all the cobwebs are dusted off and the tears have dried, Meyer and his players will realize that playing in the Sugar Bowl is not exactly a death sentence. As Meyer says, it’s a chance to finish off this senior class’s legacy.
Playing Cincinnati is a chance to reconnect to his roots. Although he never likes to talk about his days as a player there, he met Shelley while a student at UC; he started coaching at a high school there; his father Bud currently resides in Cincy; and Urban’s sister, Gigi Escoe, is vice provost and economist at the school.
Urban’s late mother Gisela met her husband Bud in Cincinnati after escaping from Nazi Germany and learning to be a chef in Switzerland. Gisela worked as a server at the Maisonnette, which had a long run as a five-star restaurant. They married and had their first child, Gigi, in Cincinnati. Urban was later born in Toledo after the family moved there as Bud took a new job as a chemical engineer.
It was there in Cincinnati that Urban first saw his real bonafide football coach. He was heading to his seat for the Cincinnati-Wichita State game when he noticed a coach scribbling on a chalkboard and barking orders to his players.
“He’s just going after the players with intensity, and I just stopped and started watching him,” said Meyer. “I’m a little guy with my dad, and I’m stopped, holding up people. I wouldn’t leave and I was just mesmerized. To this day I can remember that coach with that chalkboard, coaching those guys up. I looked at my dad and said, ‘I want to be a coach someday.’”
As a boy, Meyer saw Cincinnati beat Wichita State, 27-6, in 1973. Now he has to prove that his Gators can beat a different Cincinnati, an unbeaten, No. 3 team, ranked ahead of Florida. And beat a coach, Brian Kelly, who could be headed to South Bend to coach Notre Dame.
No doubt the Domers will root for the Bearcats so they can say since they didn’t get Meyer, they got the guy who beat Urban in the Sugar Bowl.