Commentary

What Urban Meyer faced

A big-time coach's inside look at the pressures of leading a college football program

Updated: December 9, 2010, 2:54 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The coach's name doesn't matter. He's a heavy hitter in the business and a guy at a major program who has won lots of games and will win lots more before he calls it quits.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Kim Klement/US PresswirePrior to 2010, none of the teams coached by Urban Meyer had lost five games in a season.

What matters is that he was willing, on the condition of anonymity, to talk about how his business can break a fellow coach such as Urban Meyer. Because if it can happen to Meyer, it can happen to anyone.

Sometimes you just listen and type. This was one of those times.

The coach:

"Florida is the best job in college football -- the No. 1 job -- and Urban knows that. He wants to walk out, get everything back in line and take another job someday. He's not done coaching. He's 46 years old.

"But I can understand the pressure he's under. Most people don't understand the stresses that come from all different angles. So it's hard to do what he did. It's hard to say, 'I'm giving up.'

"You know what it is? We feel more obligated because of the money. One year you're making $200,000 as an assistant. The next year you're making $2 million as a head coach of a big-time program. We're our own worst enemies because of what's happened in salaries the last 10 years.

"Because of the money, we tell ourselves, 'I've got to do better. I've got to win nine games instead of eight. I've got to beat my in-state rival.' We put more pressure on ourselves. In football, you've got to make money because it pays for most, maybe all, of the other programs. If football loses money, then your school loses money.

"Meyer was making $4 million a year. [Texas'] Mack Brown's making $5.2 million -- and he's not going to a bowl game this year. You think he's not stressed out?

"We're our own worst enemies because we're competitive and we want everything to be perfect. But it's not going to happen. The money makes it more than just a college football game. I don't know if this makes sense, but we're fighting for dignity, for a reason to say we're worth that much. You try to make yourself believe you're worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. That's how we think.

[+] EnlargePlay Sheet
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesThe coach controls the game plan. He can't control much of what happens off the field, but he has to worry about that anyway.

"Money has been a major problem. My first head coaching job I made about $200,000. I worked my way up to a million and more. Yeah, it adds pressure to you. You feel like you've got to be a better coach. It probably should not make any difference what you make monthly. But it does, and guys change. You think, 'I'm paid more so I should give more.' Sometimes you don't have more to give.

"As a coach, you're responsible for a lot of things you can't control. And still, we blame those things on ourselves. Fans come to a game on Saturday, and they have no idea about the issues we have to deal with during the week. I'm not talking about football. I'm talking about agents and runners. You're scared to death about gambling, drugs. Every day you have to deal with that. It's gotten a lot tougher from when I started coaching.

"The agents are huge, especially at schools like Florida, where they have so many pro prospects. Most of those prospects are only going to stay three years, so the agents start working on them during the second year. Sometimes former players will come back, be around the program -- but it'll turn out some of them are runners for agents. It can be a sleazy business.

"And as coaches, we're held accountable for that. It's 24/7. We're held accountable, but we can't be everywhere all the time. There has to be some level of trust between the coach and the player.

"I'm sure Urban was upset about those things. Some of those stresses he was under -- you try to do all you can do to monitor it, and you still get 2-3 players arrested a month. That's what happened there. If it happens on your watch -- even if you can't prevent some of those things -- it's still your environment and your family. It's still your responsibility.

"Urban finally got a taste of criticism. He was on a fairytale ride for his first few years, and then he came down to reality. He ended up with a dream player [Tim Tebow], but now he doesn't have that guy anymore. In the offense he runs, you've got to have a great quarterback.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesLike Urban Meyer, Mack Brown has been highly successful in recent years. Unlike Meyer, he'll be back next season.

"I think the stress and anxiety, you could see that last year with Urban. He wants to spend more time with his family, OK, but I don't miss my kids' games. I mean, you're the boss.

"And I'm not saying any of this happened to Urban, but sometimes you just get fed up with things you should be able to control, and other people try to control them for you. It puts more stress on you.

"I'm talking about small decisions on staff, on budgets, on scheduling. But sometimes the power brokers like to handle those things or have input. ... They might have a favorite team they want to play. They want to fire a defensive coordinator because they don't think you blitz well enough.

"I'm not saying this happens at all schools, but some coaches have to deal with people who really don't have a clue.

"I know a lot of coaches are frustrated by the cheating that goes on and by the NCAA. If it were up to me, I'd burn the NCAA rules book and start over. Make it simpler. Make it more bottom-line oriented. If a coach intentionally breaks a rule, do something about it. Quit slapping hands. Bust their hands.

"But the NCAA isn't consistent. It's like it's afraid of lawsuits, of costing itself money.

"I know there's 1.5 billion people in China who could give a crap about what we do. We chose this job. We make a lot of money. But it's gotten a lot tougher from when I started coaching."

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter