Urban Meyer was sitting on top of the college football world in August 2009. He had just won his second national championship and signed a lucrative six-year extension to stay in the Swamp for years to come.
However, things would begin to change for Meyer later that year. Not long after his Gators suffered their only loss that season, in the SEC championship game to Nick Saban and eventual national champion Alabama, Meyer's wife would call 911 as he lay in the floor suffering from chest pains.
That would be the beginning of the end for Meyer and Gators. He initially stepped down that December only to announce the next day that he was staying on as head coach, but would be taking a leave of absence early in 2010.
Meyer would coach the Gators in the 2010 but with far different results than he was accustomed to. The Gators finished the season 8-5, his worst record as a head coach since taking over Bowling Green in 2001.
On December 8th, 2010, Meyer would step down as head coach of the Gators; this time for good. Meyer left $20 million dollars on the table because the stress of staying at the top of the coaching world had caused his relationship with his family and his health to crumble.
Upon stepping down, Meyer said, "At the end of the day, I'm very convinced that you're going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won."
Fast-forward to the present day; Meyer is entering his second season as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. He has figured out how to win again, and upon accepting the Ohio State job, he promised his family and even signed a contract stating that history would not repeat itself.
What happened during Meyer's year off the sidelines and can he consistently contend for National Championships and keep his promises to his family?
Why It Was Time to Go
Two years in a row, Meyer suffered health scares and realized he could no longer continue at his current pace. The repeated chest pains, coupled with the stress of maintaining the success he had built at Florida, were too much for Meyer. In addition to that, he was spending less and less time at home.
Meyer's own competitive nature had not only caused his health to deteriorate but also forced him to realize he wasn't being the father he should be. Meyer's three children, all teenagers at the time, became accustomed to their father's absence at their high school games.
While many speculated on the reason behind Meyer's departure, he made it clear that it was due to his family and health.
Meyer Used His Brief Time Away Wisely
Meyer spent the 2011 football season out of coaching. He spent time with his wife, attended his daughters' volleyball games and coached his son's youth league teams.
Meyer didn't go completely domestic. He also helped with ESPN's College Football coverage and traveled around the country with his son, Nate, to meet with coaches. It was during these trips that Bob Stoops and others helped Meyer learn how he could maintain a successful program while still fulfilling his responsibilities as a husband and father. Through it all, Meyer realized that if he ever did return to the sidelines, he would need to find a different way to win.
Meyer was clearly happy in his year away from football. However, during his time away from the game he realized how much he actually missed coaching. It wasn't just the winning. It was the process. He missed putting a team together, the joy of victory and the overall camaraderie of football.
Meyer Was Ready For the Right Job
In November 2011, Meyer got his chance at a comeback when he was named head coach of Ohio State, the team he cheered for as a child growing up in Northeastern Ohio.
It was his dream job, but was he ready?
Could he return to coaching and be the same coach without allowing it to consume him and his health?
He walked away from one of the best jobs in college football just a year earlier because he couldn't balance maintaining his own health and spending time with his family. Would only one year away from the grind of coaching be enough for Meyer?
The great coaches in every sport are so driven that sometimes they become their own worst enemy. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins is one example. Gibbs, one year removed from winning his third Super Bowl in 1993, resigned from the Redskins because of health and family reasons.
Like Meyer, Gibbs was a workaholic coach. So much so that he would often sleep on a sofa in his office during the week during his first stint with the Redskins. His obsession with his job also led to severe health problems, including diabetes.
When Gibbs returned to the Redskins' sidelines in 2004—after 11 years away from the NFL—he said he learned from his past mistakes and assured his family things would be different in his second go-around. But once the season began, Gibbs was back to sleeping in the office.
Gibbs' second run with Washington lasted four seasons before he abruptly stepped down after the 2007 season for, again, family reasons. Gibbs realized he could no longer put football before his family. He had to walk away.
Meyer Is Better-Equipped to Deal With the Stress of Coaching Now
There will obviously be no bigger critic of Meyer than his family. When he returned to coaching, his daughter, Nicki, made him sign a handwritten contract promising to get his priorities in check.
Here are the first two stipulations from that contract:
1. My family will always come first.
2. I will take care of myself and maintain good health.
After one year on the job, Meyer got a glowing report from Nicki.
So far, so good.
In Wright Thompson's excellent ESPN piece, he alluded to Meyer finding a comfortable medium from his time at Bowling Green, when he and his family was happy, to his tremendous, yet stressful success at Florida.
If we are to use 2012 as a barometer, Meyer's career in Columbus will be just as successful as his stint in Gainesville. The Buckeyes finished the season 12-0 and 8-0 in the Big Ten. However, will he be able to avoid the pitfalls that consumed him during those successful years in Florida?
Can intense, ultra-competitive coaches like Meyer change their habits and still be successful? Yes, they can, but it will be worth monitoring over the next several years as Meyer will undoubtedly have the Buckeyes in contention for several national championships.
Meyer is building again. And, as he said to Thompson in the ESPN piece, building is his passion: "Building takes passion and energy," Meyer says. "Maintenance is awful. It's nothing but fatigue. Once you reach the top, maintaining that beast is awful."