Urban Meyer’s recent announcements have set the college football world, especially the Gator faithful, on its side. Here is a young coach who blazed a trail of success from Bowling Green to the University of Florida , stepping away in his prime?
Looking at the situation there are a couple possibilities for this. You can take what he is saying at face value, that it is truly stress and health concerns or, if you are cynical, you are looking at this as Urban running away when the Gators are set to have a major rebuilding effort ahead of them.
If Urban Meyer takes a college position other than at Florida in the next year or two, then we can more safely assume that he was looking for an easy way out. Although his timing is terrible for this decision, we should believe it is from the heart. At this point we shouldn’t question his loyalty to the program.
From all accounts Urban is a man who takes the well-being of his student athletes very seriously. He has taken criticism over his handling of the Brandon Spikes suspension, and the many Gators to face legal trouble lately. Could it have been he trusted his player too much? That it was not just spin but that Spikes really felt absolutely terrible, and Meyer believed him?
If the description of Meyer is accurate as someone who will open his home up to an athlete he feels he can point in the right direction, is it any real surprise the stress is catching up to him? With the amount of arrests piling up, and the death of former Gator Avery Atkins fresh in his mind, this is more off-field issues than Urban has ever had to deal with in his coaching career.
Meyer looks like a coach who has so much faith in his abilities to help a young man see his potential and go in a positive direction, that he may have taken more "special cases" than he could handle. Of course this is about winning games. A coach isn’t giving sub-par athletes with the same off-the-field issues these kinds of chances. This is just how athletics work. It gives those endowed with amazing athletic ability the chance to turn their lives around through sports.
Add together his struggle to hold the Gators to his high standards, and the pressure that comes with coaching the defending national champions and preseason favorites to repeat, and it looks to have caught up with Meyer all at once. Look at his quotes regarding how much fun he is having. This year wasn’t about fun for him; it was about business.
When the Gators were winning, he was able to push through and keep focused on that ultimate goal. When the quest to repeat died in Atlanta, so did Meyer’s resolve. All of the stress that had been chasing Meyer caught up to him when his mission for 2009 was stopped dead in its tracks.
The question for University of Florida fans is, "How long do you wait for him to come back before moving on?" Within a day of announcing he will be stepping down, Meyer changes that decision to an indefinite leave of absence. His offensive coordinator, Steve Addazio, is a great guy, but a program with the stature of Florida should not settle for an interim guy, unless that role is truly temporary. If it turns out to be temporary, Addazio is the perfect guy as the players are behind him.
It is a difficult decision though, as Meyer has done so much for this Florida program. You want to do the right thing, and take the risk that he will never come back, because the reward of him returning to the sidelines might just be worth it. A coach with a 95-18 record, who is also a two-time national champion, is worth some patience.
This is all very fresh in his mind, and we will know more as next season gets closer. If Meyer is not able to return for 2010, there are serious questions whether he should ever risk his health to coach again. We can only hope he does what is best for his health, and that he can do so without holding the Gator program in limbo waiting on him. In a cutthroat football state like Florida, you can only stand still for so long.