I remember when Steve Spurrier announced he was resigning from the University of Florida. I was sitting at work, pretending to get something accomplished, when a friend (a Florida State grad) called and asked if I had heard the news. The Ol’ Ball Coach was gone.
As a Florida alum, Spurrier was all I had ever known. When I first arrived on campus, Emmitt Smith was still our running back and Galen Hall was still our coach (yes, I’m that old), but it was Spurrier who instantly stepped in and redefined our football program. He immediately turned things upside down in Gainesville, owning the Southeastern Conference and winning a national championship in 1996. Yet suddenly, our decade of dominance was over. How could he ever be replaced?
This Saturday, I got a similar call, this time in the form of a text. It came from Webmaster Eddie Griffin, ironically another Seminole fan. His text read simply “Have you heard?”
Once again, I knew something was up.
Eddie and I speak semi-regularly about site maintenance, big games or when our homepages will be featured on Sportsnation, but his three words led me to believe something bad had happened of which I was blissfully unaware. I was right.
I logged on to ESPN.com to check the headlines, wincing at the thought of what was to come. Nothing on their main page. Instinctively, I clicked on the college football section and there I saw it.
Urban Meyer had resigned.
For health reasons, Meyer announced he would be leaving Florida to refocus on faith, family and well-being. A haze took over me.
My phone immediately started blowing up, calls from drinking buddies, alumni and fellow fans. Awash in confusion and depression, we felt just like we did when Spurrier abandoned us nearly a decade ago, maybe worse.
The list of possible successors ran selfishly through our heads, caring more for the health of the program and not of the man who built it.
We already knew we were going to have to start over without Charlie Strong, Tim Tebow and a handful of key seniors. We just didn’t know we were going to have to do so without our head coach as well. Another era had come to an end. Start drinking heavily.
In a town where the visor once ruled supreme, it didn’t take long for Coach Meyer to cast a shadow larger than any visor ever could. He brought success to a new level, spoiling us all in the process, like Urban Claus dropping neatly wrapped national championships down every Gator chimney.
Collectively a nation of Florida fans winced at the recollection of the Zook era, fearing the next hire and knowing the program has but one direction to go: down. I had visions of eleven other SEC teams licking their chops over a debilitated, Meyer-less Florida. We play in Tuscaloosa next October, I have nothing to wear and no head coach to lead my team.
Then, after twenty four hours of friends trying to convince me that change is good, I received another text, this one much more enlightened.
False alarm. Coach has decided to stay. My panties in a wad for nothing, my Chump Chat Christmas wish for Meyer to return had been answered. Meyer’s decision to flee Florida had lasted as long as Billy Donovan’s when he left to coach the Magic for a day. Must be something in the Alachua County water supply.
Instead of retiring, Meyer announced he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence. While refusing to answer specific health-related questions, Meyer only cited a need to return to his core values. We knew about irregular chest pains and the benign cyst in his brain. We knew that he was hospitalized after the loss to Alabama. We just didn’t know how bad it really was.
I watched his press conference intently, happy that our leader was back but concerned for his well-being. He didn’t look the same. He looked sick, overworked. His drive and intensity had gotten the best of him and it showed.
Meyer is intelligent, intense and introspective, yet at 45, with only a little gray and no receding hairline, he looks older, weakened and preoccupied.
When asked whether he saw himself patrolling the Swamp’s sidelines next fall, the competitor in Meyer answered yes, while his doctors probably secretly cringed backstage. The New Ball Coach hasn’t changed that much after all. But he’ll need to, for his own well-being.
In a way, Meyer’s announcement gave us all a chance to reprioritize our lives, especially over the holiday season. Like other intense figures before him, Meyer simply needs a break. His life depends on it. The pressure and expectation to win every game is an immeasurable burden. And we thought being broke this Christmas was stressful.
Meyer’s announcement preempted NFL football at the height of the playoff races, demonstrating he has become larger than life, ironic considering that it is actually his life that could be at stake.
Gator Nation can sleep easy knowing that Coach is back where he belongs, leading his squad into the Sugar Bowl and still wearing the orange and blue. All we can do is support him from afar and wish him a speedy recovery. After all, that’s what matters most. A speedy return to the sidelines should be secondary.