NEW ORLEANS — Urban Meyer's heart demanded that he make drastic changes in his life to prevent serious medical problems, but it wouldn't let him walk away completely from the job he loves.
One day after announcing his resignation as Florida's head football coach, Meyer decided instead to take an indefinite leave of absence, and could return to the sidelines as early as next fall.
Meyer contacted Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley on Sunday afternoon after a morning practice and asked to take Foley up on a previous offer to step away temporarily. He told his family as they gathered to board a plane from Gainesville to New Orleans for Friday's Sugar Bowl game.
Foley said there is no specific timetable for Meyer's return, but Meyer said he believes he'll be the head coach next fall.
"I do believe in my gut that will happen," Meyer said.
The decision allows Meyer, 45, to step away from the game and devote more time to his family and mounting health concerns, without leaving the Gator football program.
Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will take over as interim head coach.
Sunday's news conference ended a whirlwind 24 hours in which Meyer stunned the college football world and his players with his resignation. Calling the past two weeks extremely emotional, Meyer said he realized in watching his team practice Sunday that he couldn't walk away.
"It was our players," he said when asked why the change in plans.
His players said they could sense Meyer's contentment in the decision.
"This morning when we got to the practice field and he sees his team play and he talks to his team, he lights up," Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow said. "Because he's around guys that he loves and he's around all the coaches and his players, and he loves those players, and you can see there's a little bit more joy in him this morning. And then when he told us that he was coming back, you could see a little bit more joy came into his eyes and came to his face, and it just got brighter."
During his time away, Meyer will focus on learning to live a new way. Whether a man who admits he is too driven for his own good can change is anybody's guess.
"We're going to find out," said Meyer's wife, Shelley. "He has to learn to."
Shelley Meyer said her husband will finally have a chance to participate in many family activities he has missed.
"I told him I can't be sitting around the house with him all day," she said. "I'm busy. I've got things going and I'm moving. So we'll see what he does, but we've got kids that play sports still at home, and (daughter) Nicki's at Georgia Tech playing volleyball and he wants to go enjoy some of those things. He doesn't (currently). I'm the one.
"I really look for him to be able to enjoy his kids and do some stuff with us as a family. That's been what he's been feeling guilty about and part of his misery."
For several years Meyer said he has suffered from chest pains caused by stress, and dealing with a benign brain cyst that causes severe headaches. A few hours after the Gators' 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5, Meyer was hospitalized with chest pains. While he steered clear of specific details of his health on Sunday, he denied reports that he had suffered a heart attack.
In the past week, Foley and UF president Bernie Machen offered Meyer a chance to take a sabbatical, but he declined.
Meyer's last game — for now — will be the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.
"He won't be allowed to be there (at his office)," Foley said. "This is a leave of absence. He's agreed to that. That's the university's stance, that's Dr. Machen's stance, and that's my stance. It's what's best for the University of Florida and what's best for Urban Meyer.
"We've all tried to get him to the point he's at today, and I think ultimately his players got him to that point. I think that says a lot about his relationship with his players, and it also says a lot about the players on our team."
The details on Addazio's salary, what Meyer will and won't be allowed to do, and who will hire a new defensive coordinator (replacing Charlie Strong, who was hired to be Louisville's head coach) remain to be worked out.
Tebow and senior linebacker Ryan Stamper said the past 24 hours had been difficult for the players, many of whom refer to Meyer as their second father.
"He comes first," Stamper said. "If you're as close as we are, you pretty much know, you don't really look at the other things like the coaches and the things like a coach coming in. He's got to pretty much worry about himself right now."
Meyer said the low point was Christmas Day, as he saw the concerned looks from his family about his health, then on Saturday when he informed his players he was leaving.
One thing he wants to be clear: When he does return to coaching, it won't be anywhere but Florida.
"I made this clear to Jeremy, if I am able to go coach, I want to coach at one place — the University of Florida," Meyer said. "It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my shirt and go coach. I don't want to do that.
"I have too much love for this university and these players and for what we've built."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]