Commentary

College football will miss Urban Meyer

Originally Published: December 8, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Urban Meyer tried to coach Florida this season with balance. All he got out of it was a win-loss record more balanced than the standard that drove him so hard for the past 25 years. In the wake of the Gators' 7-5 season, Meyer announced Wednesday that he has retired again.

It's as if football crooned to him, "All or Nothing At All." That was one of Frank Sinatra's first big hits. Sinatra, like Meyer, retired young, thought over the idea and changed his mind. Sinatra, aka "The Voice," couldn't stay away from the glare of the lights.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/John RaouxUrban Meyer announced his resignation on Wednesday, saying he would like to spend more time with his family.

Meyer has retired twice in one year. Meyer, aka "The Glare," didn't pay heed to the voice. It told him last December to get out to save his health and his peace of mind. He changed his mind the following day. Meyer regained the former. He is retiring again in search of the latter, a search he couldn't complete while giving football his all.

"My primary focus has been making a difference in the lives of the young men I have been so fortunate to have coached and building championship programs," said Meyer, 46. "At this time in my life, however, I fully grasp the sacrifices my 24/7 profession has demanded of me, and I know it is time to put my focus on my family and life away from the field."

Meyer will coach the Gators in the Outback Bowl against Penn State and its legendary coach, Joe Paterno, who will turn 84 this month. Two years ago, at a media conference the day before Meyer led Florida to its second BCS title, someone asked Meyer if he could envision coaching as long as Paterno. Meyer visibly recoiled.

"There will be no chance I'll be doing this in my 70s or 80s," Meyer said.

He heard the voice then. Meyer walks out of the Heavener Football Complex with a 10-year career record of 103-23 (.817). It is a measure of Meyer's success that his record at Florida (64-15, .810) doesn't quite measure up to his record before he arrived (39-8, .830). Perhaps the two crystal footballs that Meyer won with the Gators will soothe his disappointment.

Ten seasons is important. That's the minimum used by the NCAA in its record book. Meyer ranks 10th in winning percentage, just behind Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma and just ahead of Jock Sutherland of Pittsburgh. They are in the College Football Hall of Fame, as is every coach ahead of Meyer. He'll be there soon enough.

Still, Meyer's mediocre season took a toll on his legacy. Through nine seasons, he had a winning percentage of .842, which would be fourth on the all-time list. Had Meyer stayed retired for more than 24 hours last year, had he stayed out as his doctors and his body told him to do, he would have been seen as a great coach. He still will be, but the 2010 season is a thumbprint in the middle of the coaching masterpiece that Meyer created.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesMeyer's career winning percentage of .817 (103-23) places him 10th on the all-time list.

Florida's 7-5 record included a 4-4 record in the SEC. The Gators lost by 24 points to perennial rival Florida State, their first loss to the Seminoles since 2003, and by 25 points to recent rival Alabama. With the Gators' fourth SEC East championship on the line in Meyer's six seasons, they lost 36-14, at home to South Carolina, coached by Steve Spurrier, whose shadow loomed over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from the time that Meyer arrived.

The falloff in 2010 left Meyer open to the suggestion that his acumen could be summed up by his ability to sign quarterback Tim Tebow in February 2006. The fact is, Meyer has won everywhere he has been. By the way, he went 4-2 against Spurrier.

Other coaches have walked out on top. Frank Leahy, who quit at age 45 in 1953, has remained second in winning percentage (107-13-9, .864) ever since. Leahy quit to regain his health and never returned to the sideline.

Dick Vermeil, who made "burnout" an entry in the coaching lexicon, took UCLA to the Rose Bowl in 1975, the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980, and quit in 1982, also at age 46. Vermeil didn't return to the sideline for 15 years. He took over the St. Louis Rams in 1997 and won Super Bowl XXXIV two years later.

It's easy to see Meyer returning to the sideline in some distant season. It probably will be easy to see him, period. He's telegenic, he's smart and his recruiting prowess indicates he is right at home in the living room, even if he arrives via cable.

Whether television beckons him in the fall, or whether Meyer devotes himself exclusively to his wife and three children, he will be missed.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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