ORLANDO, Fla. — No wonder Tim Tebow has been crying so much.
Maybe he knew Urban Meyer was leaving the University of Florida.
The Gators tried to talk Meyer out of it. Oh, did they ever try to talk him out of it.
University of Florida administrators told Meyer to take a long vacation if that’s what he wanted.
They told him to take a leave of absence for a couple of months if that’s what he needed.
For the past two weeks, they tried to work out some sort of scenario whereby Meyer would stay on as the coach of the University of Florida football program.
But in the end, according to sources at Florida, Meyer came to the decision that he could no longer continue at his current pace. The intense, driven and focused coach had given so much to the championship program he built that he had nothing left to give. And that’s why he — shockingly — stepped down Saturday.
Only 45 years old, Urban Meyer had worked himself into a state of exhaustion. And now you know what happens when a coaching flame rises so high, so fast. It burns out just as quickly.
And that’s exactly what happened: Urban Meyer burned out. It’s that plain and simple. Meyer, contrary to the swirling rumors, does not have a life-threatening illness and has not had a heart attack.
He was tired and had been losing weight. He wasn’t eating or sleeping. He checked into the hospital the day after Florida’s loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. He was fatigued, dehydrated and having chest pains. The man who breathed new life into Florida’s football program was sucking the very life out of himself.
“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 re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family.”
What is it about iconic Florida coaches that make them step down when nobody is expecting it? Remember Steve Spurrier after the Orange Bowl of 2002? Boom, out of nowhere, Mr. Fun and Gun was fun and done. And now the Urbanator, after winning two national titles in five years and nearly playing for another this season, has disappeared, too.
It’s one thing to lose Tebow; it’s quite another to lose Meyer. The Gators could have withstood the departure of Tebow, but Meyer’s departure shakes the very foundation and alters the future of Florida football. The state superiority it took years for Florida to build is now gone in a span of a few hours.
Tebow is gone. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is gone. Several star players — both juniors and seniors — will be gone. And now, with Meyer stepping down, the recruiting class may be gone, too.
Just like that, the balance of power has shifted. Miami, in Orlando for the upcoming Champs Sports Bowl, has a young coach and a bright future. And who would have ever thought Florida State, even with the iconic Bobby Bowden stepping down, would have a more stable coaching situation than Florida heading into the future?
Whom will Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley hire as Meyer’s replacement? According to sources, it won’t be Strong, the popular and highly successful defensive coordinator who just took the job at Louisville.
Will Foley make yet another run at Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and get him yet another pay raise?
Will he make a call to former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who is looking to get back into coaching after a one-year hiatus?
Will he go after one of the hot guys such as Chris Petersen at Boise State or Gary Patterson at Texas Christian — both of whom finished unbeaten this season?
But I say keep an eye on Larry Fedora, the head coach at Southern Miss. He has a bright offensive mind and runs the same sort of spread offense that Meyer runs. And he’s a great recruiter and has ties to Florida from when he was the offensive coordinator under Ron Zook.
When Spurrier resigned at Florida unexpectedly, he explained his decision thus: “It’s time to let somebody else captain this big ol’ battleship that is Gator football.”
Florida football fans can only hope that this time, unlike last time under Zook, it doesn’t sink.