GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a whistle around his neck and a smile on his face, Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer returned to practice Wednesday following a leave of absence that turned out to be shorter than everyone expected.
His stay could be longer than anticipated, too.
Although Meyer declined to divulge any details about his health, he said his return was permanent.
Maisel: Meyer Returns
At 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, Florida coach Urban Meyer jogged through the gate onto the vast practice fields. Every Gator could officially and finally exhale. Their coach really did come back, writes Ivan Maisel. Blog
"I feel fine and I feel good," Meyer said following a rain-soaked practice that lasted nearly three hours.
His brief break came as a result of chest pains, a hospital stay and brief resignation. He had planned to step away after Florida's bowl game in early January, but he stuck around to hire four assistant coaches and lock up the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
He was supposed to return for spring practice, which began Wednesday, but his first day back actually came two weeks ago.
Nonetheless, he eased into things Wednesday and was considerably less involved in several aspects of team drills.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "Usually I'm more involved in kicking game and a little more involved in the offense. I will get back involved. I think spring time I'm usually like this. I like to let the guys coach and let everybody do their job and see what we've got. We've got four new coaches, and I want to see them go."
Meyer also has a new starting quarterback (John Brantley) and several other new starters.
Nonetheless, he believes he has enough talent to avoid a drop-off after the Gators finished 13-1 and lost the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow), their top three receivers (Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez and David Nelson) and their best three defenders (Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden and Brandon Spikes).
"It is a kind of rebuilding I guess or reloading or something like that," Meyer said. "But there's a lot of good players still here, a lot. A lot of good ones coming in, too."
Citing health concerns, Meyer announced his resignation in late December. He changed his mind the following day, deciding instead to take an indefinite leave. He scaled back in January -- he didn't go on the road recruiting -- but still worked steadily through national signing day.
He finally got away after that and took a trip to Hawaii with his wife, Shelley, but even that was merely a college coaching junket.
It wasn't very relaxing, either. A tsunami warning forced them to evacuate their hotel and get to higher ground.
"Got a phone call at 5 o'clock in the morning and said you've got 30 minutes to evacuate," he recalled. "Shelley's hitting me, saying, 'Get up, get up.' We had to drive up to 800 feet."
Players said Meyer hasn't mentioned his health since he returned, and they haven't asked, either.
"He's fine. He's his same old self," Brantley said. "I'm just happy he's back out here and he's doing fine."
Added safety Ahmad Black: "I love him being out here. He's normal, real, real normal."
Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert said it seemed like Meyer never left.
"He looks fine, he looks great," Gilbert said. "He's going to keep this thing going."
Meyer had a battery of stress and heart tests scheduled for last month, but declined to talk about the results.
"I'm not going to get into that," he said. "I'm fine. Thanks for your concern. I'm good."
Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who handled things during Meyer's absence, said Meyer returned with a renewed energy and was eager to get back to work.
"I see a guy fired up ready to coach and energized, that's what I see," Addazio said. "He looks great, he's fired up and energized and excited and it's great."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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