Saturday, December 26, 2009

Urban Meyer did what?

Raise your hand if you saw this coming:
Florida coach Urban Meyer, who was admitted to a hospital because of chest pains following the Southeastern Conference championship game, is stepping down because of health concerns.
Admit it: Your first thought was either "he's going to the NFL" or "Florida's about to get hit with some NCAA violations." But unless he's been putting together a remarkably detailed scheme for the past several months, it sounds like his resignation is legit:
"There was no heart damage," Meyer told the New York Times, referring to the night he was admitted to the hospital. "But I didn't want there to be a bad day where there were three kids sitting around wondering what to do next. It was the pattern of what I was doing and how I was doing it. It was self-destructive."

Last month, Sports Illustrated chronicled Meyer's coaching career and reported that he suffered from persistent headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst that becomes inflamed by stress, rage and excitement.
If I'd have asked you yesterday to come up with the most shocking story possible in the world of college football, where would "Urban Meyer resigns" have ranked? First? Second? I can't think of anything else more shocking or with more potential ramifications, with the possible exception of Pete Carroll stepping down at USC.

The guy has an .841 winning percentage, has won two national titles in the past four years, is 45 years old and has never faced any accusations of impropriety. His resignation is an absolutely seismic event that was so unexpected that when I first heard the news, I literally didn't believe it; I assumed it was a joke until I saw a quote from Meyer himself.

It's debatable whether he's the best coach in the country -- Carroll and Nick Saban have to be in the discussion -- but when you stack everything up, the numbers are pretty impressive. I've gone over Brian Kelly's track record repeatedly in the past month to demonstrate just how good he's been throughout his career, and even a resume as impressive as Kelly's has weaknesses when compared with Meyer's. In fact, you could make the case that Meyer has been one of the best college football coaches of all-time; he's the only coach in the BCS era with two national titles (a remarkable stat), and just take a look at his win-loss records since being hired as head coach at Bowling Green in 2001:

2001: Bowling Green 8-3
2002: Bowling Green 9-3
2003: Utah 10-2
2004: Utah 12-0
2005: Florida 9-3
2006: Florida 13-1
2007: Florida 9-4
2008: Florida 13-1
2009: Florida 12-1
Overall: 95-18

Keep in mind that while success at Florida now seems like a foregone conclusion, Ron Zook was an outstanding recruiter and couldn't do better than eight wins in any of his three seasons in Gainesville. Hell, even Steve Spurrier hadn't won more than 10 games since 1996, so anyone who tells you what a great program Meyer inherited at Florida is using a bit of revisionist history. And just for reference, Utah had gone 5-6 the year before Meyer took over. Bowling Green had gone 2-9.

There's really not much else to say; even if he never coaches again, Meyer's legacy is secure.

Unfortunately for Florida, his departure means somebody else has to take over ... and if you thought all the craziness surrounding the Notre Dame coaching search was overwhelming, just wait. We're talking about arguably the best position in the country coming open, and other than Carroll and Saban, there's not a coach in the sport who won't represent a drop-off in quality. Florida has some absolutely MASSIVE shoes to fill; I don't think I'd wanna be Jeremy Foley right now, because there's just no way to get through this without hiring someone a lot of people won't be happy with.

The list of candidates presumable includes Bob Stoops, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida under Spurrier before heading to Oklahoma; Dan Mullen, Meyer's former offensive coordinator who left Florida last year to take the top job at Mississippi State; Charlie Strong, Florida's defensive coordinator (he has agreed to take over at Louisville but has not yet signed a contract); and Bobby Petrino, a brilliant passing-game strategist who isn't averse to changing jobs. Other names I've heard mentioned include Spurrier (maybe the one guy who wouldn't cause fan depression), Boise State's Chris Petersen (doubtful), Rich Rodriguez (just as doubtful despite the similar offensive systems) and Utah's Kyle Willingham (an interesting candidate in part because of his connection to Meyer).

If I had to take a wild-ass guess without really looking at the pros and cons, I'd probably go with Stoops; Spurrier is a definite dark-horse possibility. But there'll be plenty of time for that speculation in the weeks ahead, especially as the Sugar Bowl (and Florida's inevitable three-touchdown win) approaches. For now, let's acknowledge that we're losing one of the great coaches in recent history and a guy who could have gone down as an all-time legend. I've never really liked Meyer -- especially after his public lobbying for a spot in the 2006 national title game (which came at Michigan's expense) -- but there's no denying his success.

EDSBS speaks for Florida fans everywhere:
In the meantime, we hope he spends some time without shoes familiarizing himself with the wonders of daytime television, of golf, of all of the things he has the money and time to investigate now. He owes Florida nothing after giving all, and can marinate in his own personal slice of Bali H’ai for now. For Florida fans, we can only be thankful for the time we got to spend in the islands, and make indefinite plans to visit them again in the future.
What a stunning end to a bizarre year.

No comments: