Commentary

Meyer should have left last season

Originally Published: December 8, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

This column probably should wait for 24 hours. Just to make sure he means it this time.

But presuming that Urban Meyer is not distantly related to Brett Favre and won't turn his career path into a dithering annual psychodrama, this is it for him at Florida.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyUrban Meyer won't be doing a career 180 off a plane this season.

And that is a stunner.

Not quite as big a stunner as last year, when he quit in Gainesville on Dec. 26 and unquit by the time he'd deplaned in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 27. But a stunner nonetheless.

Meyer's coaching career to this point ranks among the greatest ever -- he owns two national titles and four BCS bowl victories at the age of 46. He's won at a ridiculous rate -- a .816 winning percentage, despite two non-Cadillac jobs (Bowling Green and Utah) and a six-year stay in the vicious Southeastern Conference.

But let's be honest: Didn't he just waste Florida's time for the past year?

Coming back last winter assured the Gators only one thing: They would sign the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. And while that certainly is significant, the program backpedaled through a brutal 2010 season that took its toll on all involved.

Florida was a Zookian 7-5. It floundered for an offensive identity in Year 1 without Tim Tebow and Year 2 without coordinator Dan Mullen. A defense that had been in the top five nationally in points allowed the previous two seasons slid to 31st in Year 1 without coordinator Charlie Strong.

There were more off-the-field problems, a continuing issue at Florida that makes Meyer appear to be much more talk than walk when it comes to player discipline and conduct.

And don't underestimate the impact of Cam Newton on Meyer's personal misery index this season. In a season in which Florida was hindered by shaky quarterback play, a former Gator was taking the nation by storm at Auburn.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesKnowing Cam Newton was once a Gator likely upped Meyer's stress.

Not only that, but Newton's checkered Florida past -- possession of a stolen laptop and a reported series of academic cheating issues -- was getting a rather glossy makeover from the quarterback when he became a national sensation. Newton's story was that he departed Gainesville because he didn't want to back up Tebow another year, when Florida folks were quietly saying Newton's indiscretions might have left him little choice but to go.

And there was Cecil Newton trying to shake down Meyer's buddy Mullen in Cam's recruitment by Mississippi State, then choosing Auburn instead. If you know that backstory -- and you'd assume Meyer would -- watching Newton lead a conference rival to the BCS Championship Game could only add to your esophageal distress.

In fact, all that makes you wonder about the timing of this announcement. Aren't college football's best players scheduled to receive an armload of hardware Thursday at The Home Depot College Football Awards?

Would Meyer be petty enough to purposefully upstage them?

Well, would he?

The players gathered in Orlando, Fla., to be honored for a season of great play and good deeds can thank Meyer for bumping them off center stage. As if the millionaire coaches don't always have things their way at the expense of the players.

He should have walked off and become a family man last year, because the time since then has only damaged his record and his reputation.

I remember looking at Meyer's family at his unretirement/leave-of-absence/I'll-be-back news conference in New Orleans. Wife Shelley appeared to be trying to put a brave face on grave disappointment -- like she couldn't believe that her Hamlet husband wasn't sticking to his commitment to his kids to retire.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyUrban Meyer's family did not look fully committed when he decided to return to Florida last year.

With his rapid change of mind, Meyer's family talk looked insincere -- something that did not appear to be the case this time, judging from his news conference Wednesday night. And when he came back to get his head handed to him by both the SEC and rival Florida State, it marked the first truly disappointing season in his brilliant career.

So you're Urban Meyer. And losing devastates you. And it's happened five times in one fall, which is a first for you in 10 seasons as a head coach. And the spoiled fans are angry. And the media wants to know what happened to the offense. And players keep showing up on the police blotter. And everyone keeps unfavorably comparing your quarterbacks to Newton.

And maybe you really are filled with middle-aged regret about living an unbalanced life that leaves too little time for your wife and kids. So you do this. You listen to the family this time around. You walk away from one of the two best jobs in your profession (Texas is the other) at somewhere near the peak of your career. You have no health issues, Florida sources say, so it's not that. You're Dick Vermeil of the college game, and the pursuit of glory no longer justifies the grind of getting there.

If those things are true, and Meyer is ready to enter a rewarding new phase of life as a paternal bleacher creature, watching his three kids play sports, so be it. Wish him godspeed and good health after an ironic Outback Bowl matchup with Joe Paterno -- the most burnout-proof coach in history.

But if Meyer suddenly shows up in Denver to coach Tebow, he's a con man of the highest order. If he changes his mind and comes back to Florida before it hires someone else, he's a diva even Favre would disdain. If he takes another job a year from now, his family will know once and for all where it ranks in his personal hierarchy of needs.

Guess we'll wait and see who the real Urban Meyer is.

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