Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Urban Meyer’s “Fix”

I was sitting on the set at the anchor desk watching the Urban Meyer press conference from New Orleans when a lot of answers flooded into my head. Not necessarily the right answers, but answers nonetheless.

I had read the Sports Illustrated article at the beginning of December that profiled the Florida coach in great detail. Stuff nobody’s ever heard of, never reported came out in the article. About his early childhood, his relationship with his father and his late mother. About his pro baseball days and his beginning years as an assistant football coach. The article also revealed a medical condition Meyer has not reported before. He has an arachnoid cyst on his brain that causes debilitating pain when stressed or agitated.

The access given to SI by Meyer was unprecedented. And it gave me a lot of insight into the coach who is close to his family and friends, his players and assistants, but keeps an arms length everywhere else. “The Imperial Urban” I’ve always called him. Removed, above the fray and very good at what he does.

As Meyer spoke from New Orleans a better picture of him formed in my head and it helped explain the events of the last 18 hours. Meyer revealed that he’s had “chest pains” for the last four years and they’ve gotten worse in the last two. After the SEC championship game he had an “episode” and two more after that, bringing him to the point where a decision had to me made: his health or his job.

Meyer has also preached that family and faith come first and he’s lived that as well, except when it comes to him. He encourages players and assistants to spend quality family time and to explore their faith. But he’s working all hours, going over every detail to get the job done. Apparently that drive has brought him to a place physically where his body can’t handle it anymore. He can’t be that end-all, be-all person as he says “full speed ahead.”

I believe Meyer resigned on Saturday at the behest of his wife, and his close circle of friends. He just couldn’t not be the guy on top of everything to get it done so he figured he’d be the guy on top of nothing. But at practice Sunday morning, Meyer realized it’s not the coaching that he’d miss but the relationships that he’d give up. A phone call to Jeremy Foley from the practice field alerted the Florida AD that there might be a change of plans and a “leave of absence” was arranged.

“This is going to take some time,” Foley said in New Orleans. “It’s about Urban’s health and he’ll be back when he’s ready to come back.” Foley seems to understand that it might be a while before Meyer sorts this out.

I asked Bobby Bowden about it at practice on Sunday morning noting that the profession can be very “seductive.” “That’s right,” Bobby said. “It can suck you in all the time. If you’re somebody who is motivated by the work, it’s always there. From the time you get up to the time you go to bed, you can be working on something: recruiting, film, scouting, booster clubs, your team. You can always find something to do and at the end of the day, you’re never finished. You can always pick it right back up the next day. So if you let it, it can control your life.”

Bowden’s no different that Meyer when it comes to his dedication to his job, his players and coaches. And he’s no different than a lot of us who are motivated by our job and enjoy the challenge it poses every day. Where Meyer is different, I believe, is that he’s never been able to find the “off” switch. He’s able to spend time with his family and friends but he’s never able to stop being a football coach.

When asked if it was “who he is or what he does” that caused this problem, Meyer responded, “Yes.”

That’s pretty telling.

He says he has to get it “fixed” but wouldn’t be specific regarding any particular physical ailment other than referring to it as “chest pains.” I think his problem is as much psychological as it is physical. One might have caused the other, but he’s going to have to work on that “off” switch and find a way to be dedicated to his craft without it overwhelming him.

And I think that’s going to take time.

There’s a culture in football that screams, “I can handle it” no matter what it is. But Meyer needs help. He has to trust the people around him to do the job as well as he could and delegate some of his “big ticket” jobs.

There are a lot of professions who deal with stress every day. Firefighters, law enforcement, soldiers and sailors, doctors and surgeons and all find a way to deal with that the best they can. Meyer’s no different and his job should bring him joy not pain.

He’s a football coach!

That’s a great job and he has the one most people in his profession only dream about. He should be able to do the best job he can and accept the outcome. If you read the article in SI you’ll see why that might be tough for him, but he’ll have to adjust.

I’m fond of saying that sports is what I do, not who I am. Bowden is that way. Spurrier and dozens of others as well. Being a football coach is what Meyer should do. It shouldn’t be who he is.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Changes at Florida

I got the text from Kevin: “Meyer quits UF.”

I don’t jump up very often but in the middle of a “Rock Band” session with my kids, I dropped the drumsticks and jumped up with the phone already to my ear. “It’s true and all over the place,” Kevin said as he answered the phone.

Hello was not necessary.

A couple of calls and some quick checks on the Internet and there was plenty of information already out there. Health issues, stepping down after the Sugar Bowl, discussion with his family, wants to stay in Gainesville, will continue with the University of Florida. His official statement said, “step aside” rather than resign so there has been all kinds of speculation as to what might happen.

Apparently on the flight to New Orleans, Meyer told the team that he was hoping to return to coaching that he was going to take a leave to work on his health and that Steve Addazzio was going to be the head coach in the interim. That makes sense if in fact Meyer has a curable condition. He has a documented arachnoid cyst on the brain that causes debilitating pain.

Who knows what the long-term prognosis of that is unless you get it fixed? It flares up when he gets agitated, or stressed. Kind of a difficult condition to have when you’re a college football coach at Florida.

There have been reports that Meyer suffered a heart attack during the season and it caused him a problem after the SEC Title game to the point that doctors said his life could be at risk if he continued to coach. You can have a heart attack and it not mean bypass surgery or some other major procedure. You can have a heart attack and not even recognize it. But apparently Meyer, if true, was able to keep working.

It does appear that Meyer will remain in the football program and the Gators aren’t going to be in the market for another coach.

Right now.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Red Zone Ready

With a rare Sunday off during the football season, I found myself watching, what else, football for most of the day. But it was a very different experience. I tuned in the NFL RedZone channel to see what all the fuss was about.

Phil Taylor wrote about it in Sports Illustrated last week in the Point After column.

My colleague Kevin Talley has been telling me about it all year long.

The concept is that every NFL game has exciting moments so why not skip all around the league and see what’s happening in every game that’s being played? They do a “look in” during regular broadcasts so why not have a “look in” channel? It starts at one o’clock and doesn’t stop until the last game is over. Seven hours non-stop, without commercials. That’s right, no commercials and constant action.

I will say it’s a little hard to follow at first until you get into the flow of what they’re doing. Because of the bad weather in the mid-Atlantic, there were six early games all going on at the same time. Back and forth, over and over, all over the country, big plays, first down throws, turnovers, missed field goals, interceptions, you have everything going on on the field, and cataloguing it in your head.

It does give you the feeling that everything you’re watching is the most exciting thing that’s happening. I found myself having a rooting interest in just about every game and got to see all the big plays. It’s fun and it’s pretty addicting. Every time you get up to go do something, you’re sucked back in to a new game.

Even though it’s called RedZone, you do see all kinds of plays all over the field. Maybe it’s in response to something they have on DirecTV or Dish Network but I don’t know who’s making money on it. Right now it’s pretty pure and if you’re not following one team, or if you’re really into fantasy (nerdy) you’re entertained the entire time.

And one more plus: blacked out games don’t count on the RedZone. Your game is blacked out, go to RedZone and see the game. As Taylor said in his column, it’s so much fun, I’m sure the NFL will get rid of it. Somehow.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bowden Memories

Writing about Bobby Bowden is easy. Not writing about Bobby Bowden is the hard part. He’s one of the most quotable people in the history of sports. He’s genuine. He’ll tell you what he thinks. He’s not going to hide his feelings and he’s not going to tell you what he thinks you want to hear.

There’s nothing about him I don’t like. He’s even a fraternity brother of mine (Pika). I’ve seen him at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That that’s where I’ve learned from Bowden and respected him more than any coach I can remember.

When FSU lost those “Wide Rights” and “Wide left” and when they came close and didn’t quite get there, he never lost his temper. He never lost his ability to look past the final score and to some kind of higher plane that the game meant to him. Of course, he’s a man of great faith and that’s something he’s relied on through his professional life. He seemed to always just figure out that “it’s just a game.” And in that spectrum of wins and losses, road trips and home games, somewhere, Bowden became one of, if not the best college football coach in the history of the game.

I haven’t covered his whole career but from 1978 on, I’ve been to his games, to his office, ran into him in restaurants in Tallahassee, talked with him on the field and in press conferences. On the practice field and in the airport, I’ve seen him in all kinds of situations. As many people have written, he, like Arnold Palmer and few others, has the ability to make you feel like you’re the only person on the planet when he’s talking to you. He looks you right in the eye. He’s polite but not gratuitous.

People seem to have forgotten how innovative Bowden was early in his career at FSU. Whether it was playing the “Octoberfest” of games on the road against the top teams in the country (honest, look it up) or coming up with the “fumblerooski” against Clemson, Bowden always had something up his sleeve.

I asked him about the “Riverboat Gambler” reputation once and he gave me the most thoughtful answer. “Used to be that way ’cause I had to,” Bobby reminisced. “We didn’t have the players to line up and play you so we had to come up with something! Now it’s different (about 10 years ago). We have the players so I don’t have to do anything crazy. But I will if I have to!”

And opposing coaches knew it.

Once I asked Bobby in his office overlooking the stadium if they couldn’t throw the fade in the Red Zone a little better. “We teach them to put that much air under it. Why?” I explained that the quarterback at the time (I think it was Danny Kannell) just wasn’t executing it the way he could. Looking back on that conversation, I was probably way out of bounds but Bowden made me feel so comfortable talking football that it never occurred to me that I was giving advice to one of the best offensive minds ever. But he didn’t blow me off. He didn’t scoff. He stood up and marched across the room pretending he was a wide receiver and asked me to show him what I was talking about. I laugh out loud when I think about that now, but here’s Bowden, arms flailing, looking over his shoulder saying, “You were a quarterback, show me what you mean!”

Who knows if he really took it to heart but every time they threw the fade and scored since then, I did crack a little smile.

Opposing coaches liked Bowden. That’s because they knew him. Steve Spurrier thought he could debunk the “Smilin’ Bobby” mystique, but he just came off as a bit petulant when talking about Bowden. “We don’t like losing to FSU,” Steve once told me after a loss in Gainesville, the words F, S, U coming out slowly and with disdain.

Nobody was ever surprised when the Seminoles threw a reverse in at the most unexpected time. Bowden kept everybody on their toes. He brought in the best players and had a staff second to none. The ‘Noles won two national championships and save for a couple of missed field goals, they’d have three or four more. But that’s not what anybody will remember about Bowden. They’ll remember the way he could relate to everybody on some level. How he could talk about their Mamma’s and their Daddy’s and how he knew everybody’s name, their parents’ name, their grandparents’ name, their high school coach’s name and their hometown.

Players who were on Bowden’s teams all say the same thing: “He taught me more about life than football.” That’s about as big a compliment you can get as a person let alone as a coach.

Bobby paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received after we had played a round of golf together on a perfect afternoon. We were shaking hands standing next to the golf cart about to depart when he asked, “How come I didn’t recruit you?” and then he added, “You could have played for me.” He said it with that smile and that look that we’ve seen in post-games where he answers a question with another question that he really doesn’t know the answer to.

Maybe it’s my own vanity but I’m going to hang on to that memory.
I could have played for him.
And would have loved to.