NEW ORLEANS — Urban Meyer awoke early Sunday morning prepared to walk away. By midmorning, he was having second thoughts. By Sunday afternoon, he was back but with a catch.
A season filled with more subplots and drama than a daytime soap opera climaxed for the Florida Gators in New Orleans on Sunday with the most over-the-top twist of them all.
Less than a day after announcing his resignation as coach of the University of Florida, Meyer changed his mind and, instead, will now take an indefinite leave of absence following the New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Meyer read from a prepared statement in a fascinating news conference at the New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center.
His family was in attendance amid reporters. He glanced at his wife, Shelley, and three children throughout the 37-minute news conference.
On Sunday morning, Shelley Meyer told the Orlando Sentinel that there was “no chance” her husband would reconsider quitting. A few hours later, he did just that.
The 45-year-old coach fought back tears at times when asked questions about his medical condition, which include chest pains and an arachnoid cyst on his brain.
The chest pains, which Meyer said are linked to stress, began four years ago but have intensified. He has been hospitalized twice since Florida’s 32-13 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game, but said on Sunday he has not had a heart attack.
Meyer wasn’t specific on Sunday when asked about the medical procedures required to improve his health, although a stress-free environment seems to be a requirement.
LOVE FOR THE GAME
He said a love for Florida, his players and his boss, athletics director Jeremy Foley, were the reasons he couldn’t give up his profession without first attempting to improve his health and then attempting a return.
“To not try would be not the right thing to do,” Meyer said. “What I didn’t want to have happen, and I made this clear to Foley, if I am able to go coach, I want to coach at one place, the University of Florida.
“It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my shirt and go coach.”
Meyer gave no timetable for his return, but Foley made it clear that Meyer was still the head coach.
Meyer said that he could return by next fall or perhaps sooner or perhaps not at all. In the meantime, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will be the Gators’ interim head coach.
“Meyer is the head coach at the University of Florida, and obviously those details as far as Coach Addazio and those types of things are to be worked out,” Foley said. “But the head football coach at the University of Florida is taking a leave of absence, and that’s what it is, and that’s what it will be, as I said, until he comes back and tells us this is what he wants to do.”
The Gators arrived in New Orleans around 4 p.m. on Sunday to begin preparing for the Sugar Bowl. No. 5 Florida (12-1) plays No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) at 8:30 p.m. on Friday at the Louisiana Superdome.
The game seems like a minor detail after a bizarre 24 hours for one of the most powerful college programs in the nation. It began when the most successful coach in the game for the past nine seasons decided to quit his job on Saturday. The story grew more peculiar with every passing hour.
“Two sleeping pills didn’t even help last night,” Foley said. “It was a long night. It was a long night for everybody in the Gator Nation, I’m sure.”
On Saturday night, Meyer informed his team that he was quitting because of concerns over his health. There were tears. Players cried. Meyer cried. When night turned to morning, Meyer was back at work for the final practice before the team flight to New Orleans. According to Meyer, that’s when he began to have second thoughts about resigning.
“I think it’s very simple,” Meyer said, attempting to explain his thought process. “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.
“When I saw them come out there today after our meeting we had last night, it was a very — it was an offer that I was encouraged by the people that I’m closest with, my family members, my close friend Jeremy Foley and others, to just step back for a minute.”
According to Foley, Meyer began considering retirement 10 days ago to focus on his health and his family. Throughout the week, Foley encouraged Meyer to take a leave of absence but Meyer refused, telling Florida’s athletics director that he didn’t think it would work and would ultimately hurt the program. Meyer informed his family on Christmas that he was quitting his job to spend more time with them and focus on improving his health.
The Meyer family suffered through a month of watching his health deteriorate. He was rushed to the hospital twice in the days following the Gators’ loss to Alabama. On one occasion, Meyer underwent extensive testing to determine the cause of his chest pains. When asked to specifically explain his heart condition, Meyer declined to comment.
“The low point was when on Christmas night with my family there was so much concern and love in that family on obviously a very special holiday, and I could see the concern in my family,” Meyer said.
“When you put your heart, soul and everything into being a father, husband and coach, not much time is left. Got to make sure we stay in that order, father, husband and coach, and not flip it.”