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.