Meyer to coach final game at Sugar Bowl
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Urban Meyer, who was admitted to a hospital because of chest pains following the Southeastern Conference championship game, is stepping down because of health concerns.
"There was no heart damage," Meyer told The New York Times, referring to the night he was admitted to the hospital. "But I didn't want there to be a bad day where there were three kids sitting around wondering what to do next. It was the pattern of what I was doing and how I was doing it. It was self-destructive."
Meyer resigned Saturday after five seasons in Gainesville and two national titles. He goes into the Sugar Bowl with a 56-10 record at Florida that includes a 32-8 mark in league play and a school-record 22-game winning streak ended early this month against Alabama.
Urban Meyer decided Sunday to stay at Florida. His win percentage is the highest among active coaches with at least five years experience.
Meyer, 45, says he consulted with his family, his doctors, school president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley before deciding it is in his best interest to focus on his health and family. Meyer told his wife and three children on Christmas he planned to quit as Florida coach, The Times reported.
He told The Times his daughter Nicki, 18, hugged him and said, "I get my daddy back."
"I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do," Meyer told The Times of his daughter's reaction. "I was worried about letting people down. I was feeling so awful and concerned about my health. That was among several other signs that said it's time to back away."
Meyer's health problems are not life threatening, a Florida source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. The same source said Meyer will remain in Gainesville in a non-coaching role to be defined later.
A Florida spokesman said reports of Meyer being diagnosed with muscle-heart-valve defect and having a heart attack during the season are inaccurate. The team does not have an official medical diagnosis for Meyer.
Meyer will hold a news conference in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon and will coach his final game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati on New Year's Day.
"I have given my heart and soul to coaching college football and mentoring young men for the last 24-plus years and I have dedicated most of my waking moments the last five years to the Gator football program," Meyer said in a statement. "I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to reevaluate my priorities of faith and family."
"Coach Meyer and I have talked this through and I realize how hard this was for him to reach this decision," Foley said in a statement. "But, the bottom line is that Coach Meyer needed to make a choice that is in the best interest of his well being and his family. I certainly appreciate what he has meant to the University of Florida, our football program and the Gator Nation. I have never seen anyone more committed to his players, his family and his program. Above all, I appreciate our friendship."
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Last month, Sports Illustrated chronicled Meyer's coaching career and reported that he suffered from persistent headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst that becomes inflamed by stress, rage and excitement.
Meyer told the magazine that since the diagnosis in the early 2000s he has tried to stay composed during games.
News of Meyer's retirement stunned his peers.
"He is a first-class coach, and the success he's had is unmatched in our profession, especially over the last five years at Florida," Alabama's Nick Saban said. "We hope he is able to regain his health and have the opportunity to coach again in the future. Urban Meyer is a great person as well as a great coach, and the game of college football is better with him as a part of it."
"It's a surprise to everybody," said Florida State's Bobby Bowden, who retired Dec. 1 after 34 years. "I hope he's OK physically because he's done as great a job at the University of Florida as has been done there, or anywhere else. I admire the way he handles himself and I really like his family. The college coaching profession will really miss him."
A tireless recruiter and creative motivator, Meyer came to Florida from Utah in fall 2004 amid speculation he would end up at Notre Dame.
Meyer brought most of his staff with him -- some of whom worked with him at Bowling Green (2001-02) and Utah (2003-04). Together, they restored the program to national prominence two years later with the school's second national championship.
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The Gators upset Ohio State 41-14 in Glendale, Ariz.; they won another one in January by beating Oklahoma 24-14 in Miami.
With just about his entire team returning this fall, Meyer spent all season coaching under intense pressure and sky-high expectations. He said he welcomed it all as the defending national champions tried to become just the second team in the last 14 years to repeat.
But the season was far from smooth. Florida dealt with distraction after distraction, prompting Meyer to call it "the year of stuff."
It included preseason talk about perfection; flulike symptoms that ravaged the team; Tim Tebow's concussion; linebacker Brandon Spikes' eye-gouging incident; Meyer's hefty fine for criticizing officials; defensive end Carlos Dunlap's drunken driving arrest; a few controversial calls; some close games; and what seemed to be a season-long offensive slump.
Indeed, the Gators went through just about everything in 2009. Still, the loss to Alabama was the most crushing blow -- until this.
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The Crimson Tide derailed Florida's perfect season and left Meyer in a Gainesville hospital. Team officials initially said he was treated and released for dehydration. But players and coaches later said Meyer had chest pains. Meyer refused to talk about his hospital stay, but acknowledged that he needed to take better care of himself.
"He puts a lot on himself and he cares a lot and he takes a lot of the burden on himself," Tebow said last week. "That's something we talk about a lot. You've got to take care of yourself. Although we're both very passionate, you can't always let it all feel like everything is on your chest.
"And I think he's doing a better job of doing that. But when you have guys kind of not doing the right thing and you get beat in a game like that, it can weigh on you a little bit. I think he felt a little bit of that. But I think he's doing a little bit better now, though."
Meyer told The Times he has not considered returning to coaching anytime in the near future. He said his main concern was winning the Sugar Bowl.
"I just want to win this game for these players and make sure that the University of Florida is in good shape," Meyer told The Times. "I haven't even thought about anything after that, other than I'm a Gator and I'll always be a Gator."
Potential successors to Meyer could include Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Boise State's Chris Petersen, Arkansas' Bobby Petrino, who was the other top candidate in 2004 when Meyer got the job, former Florida Gator and Super Bowl-winning NFL coach Mike Shanahan and former Meyer assistants Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong. Former Florida offensive coordinator Mullen just finished his first season as head coach at Mississippi State. Defensive coordinator Strong was named the head coach at Louisville earlier this month.
Louisville media relations director Rocco Gasparro said Saturday night that Strong had signed a term sheet with the school, but not a formal contract. It is unclear whether the term sheet would be a sticking point should the Gators turn to Strong to replace Meyer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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