Meyer has change of heart
NEW ORLEANS -- Florida coach Urban Meyer changed his mind Sunday and said he was taking an indefinite leave of absence instead of resigning. Despite ongoing concerns with his health, he expects to be on the sideline leading the Gators when next season opens.
"I do in my gut believe that will happen," he said Sunday at an Allstate Sugar Bowl news conference.
Urban Meyer decided Sunday to stay at Florida. His win percentage is the highest among active coaches with at least five years experience.
Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will run the team during Meyer's absence, but Meyer will coach against Cincinnati on New Year's Day.
"It's full speed ahead. We're going to do everything possible to win this game," he said.
Meyer, 45, said he was offered and encouraged to take a leave of absence earlier in the week. He said being with his players at a "spirited practice" Sunday morning persuaded him not to resign.
"I've accepted this offer to improve my health," said Meyer, who refused to elaborate on his health problems and declined to answer when asked if doctors advised him to stop coaching.
After the Southeastern Conference championship game three weeks ago, Meyer spent several hours in a Gainesville, Fla., hospital because of chest pains. Meyer said Sunday he had experienced similar problems at times this season but had not had a heart attack.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said when he went to sleep Saturday night he did not think there was any chance Meyer would change his mind.
"It was a long night for everybody in Gator nation," Foley said. "The intent here is to make sure Urban goes and deals with the issues we discussed last night."
Meyer led the Gators to BCS national championships in 2006 and 2008. Meyer is 56-10 with Florida, including 32-8 in the SEC and a school-record 22-game winning streak that was snapped by the Crimson Tide in the conference title game Dec. 5.
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"I want to make sure I do right by my family," said Meyer, who is married with three children. "My second family is my players and my staff.
"The love that I have for these players, I think that's well documented. Maybe one of the issues that I deal with is that I care so deeply about each individual. ... We've had a heck of a run, a run that we're very proud of. And when I sat back and watched those young guys go at it today and our coaching staff and the program we've built, to not try would be not the right thing to do."
Gators quarterback Tim Tebow said he and several of his teammates cried when they found out Meyer was stepping down Saturday and were elated when he told them he changed his mind.
"We look at our team as like a family, and we just wanted what was best for our dad, and that's Coach Meyer," Tebow said. "We want him to do what's best for him. We want him to get himself right, and when he's right, then come back to coaching."
None of Meyer's players knew the severity of his health issues.
Meyer told Sports Illustrated last month that he suffered from persistent headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst that becomes inflamed by stress, rage and excitement.
His chest pains became public after the SEC title game three weeks ago. Meyer fainted getting out of bed and was rushed to the hospital for several hours of tests.
"It's something that started about four years ago," Meyer said. "It was chest pains that became rather significant two years ago. Whether it's stress related ... I started to become very alarmed with that. And then I'm a person of faith, and I just wanted to make sure I had my priorities straight. A lot of times coaches do not have their priorities straight. You put business before God and family, you have a problem.
"So when we had the issue, when I had to go to the hospital, and a couple issues after that was when I came to the conclusion that I had to re-prioritize everything. So that's exactly what it is. I was advised that I have to get this right or it could lead to damage. That's what made that decision."
Meyer acknowledged that part of the problem is his tireless work ethic and his need to put the weight of the program solely on his shoulders.
How will he handle being away from football?
"We're going to find out," said his wife, Shelley, who found out her husband changed his mind when they got to the airport to fly to New Orleans from Florida. "We've just got to see how he handles his leisure time. I've never seen him handle leisure time. That's like an oxymoron."
Foley said Meyer won't be too involved with the team until he gets things straightened out.
"You can't coach when your chest hurts. You can't live your life when your chest hurts," Foley said.
Foley added that there could be precautions in place if Meyer returns, all in hopes of easing his workload.
"There's a lot of things we've got to evaluate and make sure we're taking care of Coach Meyer, and that's what we're going to do," Foley said.
Information from ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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