|Published:||Aug 11, 2010 10:05 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Aug 12, 2010 4:30 AM EDT|
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) â€” He resigned, then returned. He took a leave of absence, then kept working. He guarded details about his health like a playbook, then revealed a few. He finally stepped away, then enjoyed the downtime so much he promised to do it again.
The last eight months have been far from routine for Florida coach Urban Meyer, who provided the college football world with more twists and turns than Percy Harvin in the open field.
Now, he's back â€” again â€” and looks healthy, re-energized and eager to lead the Gators to the Southeastern Conference championship game for the fourth time in five years.
"I feel great, especially when I get to see what kind of team we have," Meyer said. "It's a good-looking team."
Nothing at Florida looked good on Dec. 26, when Meyer announced his resignation three weeks after he was rushed to the hospital with chest pain.
Meyer's decision surprised players, assistant coaches and fans. He spent the previous three weeks brushing aside questions about his health, granting few people access to the thoughts running through his head. There was even less information about his medical condition.
His chest pain started about four years ago and became "rather significant" in 2007. Still, he didn't do anything about it until he fainted getting out of bed Dec. 6 â€” hours after a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game â€” and his wife called 911.
"If you haven't walked in those shoes, you really don't have any idea," said Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney, who spent 12 years in charge at Iowa State. "You can hear about it or see it or read about it, but you don't know until you walk in those shoes and feel the pressure every day of trying to be as good as you can be and make sure everybody's the best they can be."
Meyer underwent a battery of tests. It was the kind of scare that would make most 45-year-old fathers reconsider their daily routine. Doctors later told him he needed to get his condition fixed or he could end up in worse shape.
That's when Meyer decided to re-prioritize his life, coming to the conclusion that he needed to step down as head coach.
At least for a few hours.
"The biggest concern was not knowing what the problem was," Meyer said. "Have I had that before? I have. But not to the detail that occurred last December. I just didn't know and I wasn't getting the answers. Saying 'Don't worry about that pain,' that's not easy to live with."
Although he was still worried about his health and his family, Meyer withdrew his resignation the following day after an emotional team meeting, a sleepless night and a morning practice. He called athletic director Jeremy Foley from the practice field, then told his wife, three children, players and assistant coaches just before they boarded a flight to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
Meyer instead decided to take an indefinite leave of absence.
That plan was short-lived, too. He stuck around after the bowl game to hire four assistant coaches and lock up the nation's top recruiting class.
He took a few weeks off after national signing day â€” he went to Hawaii on a coaching junket â€” then was back in the office two weeks before spring practice. He finally got away in April. He traveled to Rome and saw the Pope, took a trip to Israel, visited the Masters golf tournament with his daughter and took in a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game.
It was the first time in a decade as a head coach that Meyer had been gone for several days at a time.
"I'm going to do that again," he said. "I'm going to spend time (away), especially when you look at what stage I am in my life, with my children at their ages. I think I learned something, and it made that part that much more enjoyable."
He returned to work with a summer tan, weighing more than he normally does during the season and walking with a bounce in his step.
"He's just appreciating life a little bit more, trying to take an extra breath or two now and then," McCarney said. "The last few months he's probably spent more time with his family, and I just see a real peace of mind with him right now.
"I just think he's enjoying coming to work more and I think he's enjoying and embracing every day even more than he ever has."
He also has another stellar team coming back. The Gators are not quite as experienced as they were last season, and Tim Tebow is now in the NFL. Without Meyer, Florida would have been a wild card this season. With him, the Gators are national title contenders again.
"He's the same guy. He hasn't slacked off or anything," center Mike Pouncey said.
"We weren't worried. We knew he was going to be back."
Meyer opened up about his condition at the league's spring meetings in Sandestin, telling reporters he had been diagnosed with esophageal spasms and is taking prescription medication to minimize the attacks. A month later he disclosed his medication, Nexium.
"There's a systematic approach to when I do get pain; I know exactly what it is," Meyer said. "The thing that everybody has to remember is it's all due to one reason, and that was because of a certain pain I had. Now I know what that is. I haven't really thought much about it."
He thought enough about it to make his staff undergo "executive physicals" during the offseason. The extensive checkups included blood panels and stress tests. It was the first time many of Florida's coaches had ever gone through such detailed exams.
"We've only got one body and we better take care of it and we better keep an eye on it and keep it in check," McCarney said. "Unless you've been in this arena as a coach, most people don't really realize the toll it can take on you mentally and physically."
Meyer does now.
"Anybody who knows Urban knows he has a phenomenal work ethic," co-defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. "He anguishes over things. He believes you can control much of what happens, but some things happen that you can't control. That's frustrating when you're coming from that management style. So that made it all-encompassing for him.
"He's trying to balance that a little bit because that's a tough road to hoe and a tough race to run over a period of time. That's the part he's doing great."