Commentary

Meyer's flip-flop leaves questions

Originally Published: December 27, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- We have this news update from Flip-Flop Florida, the school that drops bombshells and then magically turns them into daisies before they detonate:

Following the U-turn tradition of Gators men's basketball coach Billy Donovan, football counterpart Urban Meyer announced Sunday that he is not leaving the school after all. At least not for good.

He is taking a leave of absence after the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati here later this week, with assistant Steve Addazio in the thankless role of keeping Meyer's throne warm.

How long will the leave of absence be? We don't know. It's realistic to believe Florida doesn't know, either.

What exactly will his leave of absence entail? We don't know. Again, it's realistic to believe that remains a work in progress for the Gators.

Is this resignation-turned-leave based on doctor's advice? Or counter to doctor's advice? We don't know. Because Meyer wouldn't answer my question about it.

And why did Meyer turn the football world upside down one day and then rescind his resignation the next? We have Florida's explanation, and it only leaves me counting the ways this could have been handled better.

The likelihood that he will return to coaching is a good thing -- college football is better with Urban Meyer than without him. Everyone should hope one of the game's brightest stars strikes a perfect work-family balance and lives a long and healthy life.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireWhat changed in 24 hours for Urban Meyer?

But Florida's "We Love Us" Sunday press conference left me feeling like Urban just had a drama-queen weekend for the ages.

"The last 24 hours," said suddenly secondary Florida figure Tim Tebow, "have definitely been a whirlwind in dealing with everything."

We know the stated reason for the brilliant 45-year-old coach's sudden, stunning resignation was health concerns that forced him to realign his perspective and put his family first. He mentioned his family three times in the resignation statement released Saturday night, and athletic director Jeremy Foley mentioned it twice more in the same statement.

Then on Sunday, Meyer apparently went out to practice and decided that burnout is for losers, and his family may or may not come before his players. They had a spirited practice in unseasonably cold weather and, shazam, Urban's not resigning after all! Just taking a vacation of unspecified length! While looming over the program like a 900-foot shadow!

"To see that come out this morning ... with a great attitude and great work ethic and just go to work, I admire that," Meyer said. "I know I'm dealing with some stuff, and my family comes first. That's never been an issue. That's non-negotiable, that I want to make sure I do right by my family. My second family are my players and our staff, and to see that was the moment. I went immediately to Jeremy, and we had some discussions after that."

Said Foley: "He called me from the practice field, and he didn't come to that decision right then, but he was just, I guess, a little stunned may be the right word."

The rest of us are a lot stunned.

Who makes a decision as momentous as a resignation at the peak of a man's profession so rashly that he changes his mind the next morning ... because he liked what he saw at practice?

Who would upstage his school's BCS bowl game with a resignation announcement? And then an un-resignation announcement? Why not wait until Jan. 2 for all of that?

And after all the discussion about the intensity hard-wired into Meyer, and how that both built him into a coaching giant and also tore him down physically, we still have no answers about how he's going to change. Saturday night, the certainty seemed to be that if the Urbanator keeps on revving at his current rate, he'll end up in a hospital and might never walk out. Sunday, there was vague talk about somehow reinventing a mellow Meyer.

"He has to learn to [relax]," Meyer's wife, Shelley, said. "I think he'll make a really good attempt to."

Hopefully, Meyer can figure it out. But the suspicion here is that getting him to not spend that extra hour watching film, to not make that extra recruiting trip, to not stay up nights agonizing about a blown assignment in a big game will be brutally difficult. It's like asking Mike Tyson to become a finesse fighter, or casting Jack Black as Hamlet.

"He'll never be 40 or 50 percent," Foley said. "He won't allow himself to be."

During the press conference, Meyer's three children and Shelley sat in the third row. You had to wonder what was going through their minds -- especially after Meyer acknowledged that he didn't even discuss his change of heart with them until after his phone conversation with Foley on Sunday morning.

"They just found out recently as we stepped on the plane," Meyer said, which means the family-first guy let his wife and kids be among the last to know.

Meyer also said the first page of his "Play to Win" team manual states that family and health come first. But clearly, he has put neither first during his intensely successful nine-year run as a head coach.

Saturday night, Meyer told The New York Times that oldest daughter Nicki rejoiced at the news of his impending resignation, saying, "I've got my daddy back." Now it appears daddy is only back on temporary loan.

Last time I saw Meyer interact with his family was after Florida's final regular-season game, a romp over Florida State in The Swamp.

After addressing the media, he gave daughter Gigi a hug of unusual length. It was almost as if he were trying to squeeze days, weeks, months -- maybe even years -- of missed time into that single embrace.

I thought of that Saturday night, when I heard Meyer was resigning. I wondered if he felt like so many of us middle-aged fathers, watching your kids grow up and hoping you're really an active participant and not just offering drive-by parenting while working your tail off. I found myself admiring him for walking away from the summit of his lucrative, insanely competitive profession for all the right reasons.

Then Urban Meyer changed his mind. And now I'm not sure what he truly wants.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.