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Urban Meyer leaves the Florida Gators his way

By leaving Florida to have more time for his family, Urban Meyer gives up millions in salary and a chance of continued glory in one of the top jobs in college football. Characteristically, he makes the decision without looking back.

Associated Press

By leaving Florida to have more time for his family, Urban Meyer gives up millions in salary and a chance of continued glory in one of the top jobs in college football. Characteristically, he makes the decision without looking back.

GAINESVILLE

His boss was talking about him. Praising him. Darn near gushing over him. University of Florida president Dr. Bernie Machen went on about national championships. And graduation rates. And charity work.

And in a corner of the room, UF football coach Urban Meyer appeared not to be listening at all. He wasn't looking at his boss. He wasn't paying attention to the dozens of reporters waiting on him. Instead, he was looking at his daughter Gigi and son Nate.

When they finally turned in his direction, Meyer smiled. And then he winked.

Just like that, he was all theirs.

For the second time in a calender's worth of months, Meyer has resigned as Florida coach. The first time was over a health scare, and he changed his mind almost immediately. This time, it was a family call and Meyer says his decision is irreversible. He needs, he said, to spend time with his daughter Nikki, a volleyball player at Georgia Tech, Gigi, a high school senior, and 12-year-old Nate.

"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 a father, not how many bowl games you won," Meyer said.

And so Meyer departs the same way he coached. On his terms, and without looking back.

This is the complete allure and occasional aggravation of Urban Meyer. He did what he wanted, when he wanted and how he wanted. And if you didn't agree, he was more than happy to tell you how wrong you were on your way out the door.

Don't get me wrong, he has every right to walk away today in the name of his family. It may be the most admirable thing he has done.

It's just that it falls in line with the rest of the Meyer mystique. All in or all out. When it comes to life's gray areas, Meyer is color blind.

That's part of what made him a magnificent football coach. He was innovative. Passionate. Relentless. Up until a loss in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in 2009, it was easy to make the argument that Meyer was the best college coach in the land.

His teams have won more than 80 percent of their games and have won conference titles in five of his 10 seasons as a head coach. He won two national championships at Florida and was on the verge of a third before it all fell apart last year.

Yet those same qualities that made Meyer, 46, a success on the sideline did not always translate elsewhere. He was never shy about criticizing others outside of UF but chafed whenever the scrutiny was turned on his program.

And lately, the scrutiny has become more intense. There have been a high number of arrests of UF players. There have been questionable hires of assistant coaches. Mostly, there have been more losses than either Meyer or Florida have become accustomed to.

With four losses in the SEC and another against Florida State, this has been UF's weakest season since before Steve Spurrier arrived in 1990. The 7-5 record is also the worst Meyer has had as a head coach.

Still, Meyer said the recent struggles had nothing to do with his decision.

"Oh no. No, not at all. Not at all. The struggles this season … you can fix struggles," Meyer said. "If it was a different time in my family's lives, where they weren't involved in sports, involved in all of the things that a dad should be at, then it might be different. But I want to make clear, that's it. That's the reason. Last year's (health problem) was a wakeup call."

Meyer said his resignation last year was a knee-jerk reaction to the chest pains that landed him in a hospital after the SEC title game. He was later diagnosed with esophageal spasms, and he has since taken great pains to take better care of his health.

Meyer has never been a huge fan of the booster club circuit and seemed even more withdrawn this year. Gator fans have obviously reveled in his success, but he has never seemed quite as beloved as his record might indicate. In a way it has been more like respect than reverence.

Now Meyer is gone without warning.

He has walked away from a job that is among the best in the nation, and he is forfeiting almost $20 million in salary. He may work on a sideline again, but he would not address when that day might be.

And so Meyer leaves behind championships and questions. Memories and mysteries.

One of the best coaches in the nation, and with no team to call his own.

In the minutes before the start of Wednesday night's news conference, athletic director Jeremy Foley and Meyer were standing alone in a hallway. Two men whose relationship has grown tight in the six years they've known each other. Their offices are side by side at the University Athletic Association, and their homes are not far apart in the same Gainesville neighborhood.

So Foley looked at his friend, and asked him how he was doing.

"He said, 'My heart's breaking a little bit,' " Foley said.

"This was hard. He loves this place."

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Urban Meyer leaves the Florida Gators his way 12/08/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 9:18pm]
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