To say that Meyer’s announcement overshadowed the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the Emerald Bowl would be like saying that Tiger Woods’ absence from the 18 man exhibition he was supposed to host a few weeks ago overshadowed Jim Furyk’s victory in the event.
This really was a big deal.
And then on Sunday it wasn’t nearly as big a deal. Meyer showed up at a press conference in New Orleans and said, never mind, he was just taking a leave of absence and he expected to coach Florida next fall. All that talk about taking care of his health and his family and all that sadness in the voices of the ESPN talking heads, well, it wasn’t all that sad after all. Meyer decided after watching his team practice on Sunday that regardless of what the doctors have told him about his heart issues, a couple months off and he’ll be ready to go.
Look, I’m the last person in the world to in any way make light of heart issues. I can tell you from personal experience this isn’t something you mess around with. A doctor looks at you on Friday afternoon and says you need open heart surgery on Monday, you don’t call him on Saturday and say, “you know I wrote a really good column this morning, so I’m just going to take it easy for a few months and then, you know, be good as new.”
I understand Meyer doesn’t have seven blockages in his arteries and he hasn’t got a doctor looking at him telling him he’s headed for, “A Tim Russert episode,” (which is exactly what I was told) but this is serious stuff. You don’t call your team together a week before a bowl game and tell them you’re quitting unless some doctor (or doctors) has put the fear of God in you.
I’m sure what Meyer is thinking is hat he can put together a health regimen that will make it possible for him to continue to coach and not jeopardize his health. Without knowing the specifics of his problem—which he continues to be coy about at least at the moment—it is difficult to say exactly what Meyer will have to do to get himself cleared to coach.
Here’s what I do know: People rarely change; especially successful people. Oh maybe for a little while after they get a scare put into them. When Joe Gibbs came back to coach the Washington Redskins in 2004 he explained that the exhausting lifestyle that had driven him from coaching was a thing of the past. There would be no more sleeping at the office; no more all-nighters preparing game plans. That lasted until about midway through the first season back. You are who you are.
Even in my own life I can see it. The first couple months after my surgery I behaved impeccably: I ate well, I didn’t drink at all, I went to bed early, I did my walking just about every day. Then I started to feel better and stronger. A steak slipped into my diet here and there; some wine on occasion. My exercise, even now that I’m back swimming, has been sporadic. I have now made a vow that starting New Year’s I’m back to my post-surgery regimen: more exercise, less food. Can I do it? I honestly don’t know.
Whenever Meyer comes back he’s going to tell his doctors and himself that he won’t put in killer hours and he won’t stress so much about the South Carolina game or that recruit who runs a 4.24 from Delray Beach who might want the Gators but might want Miami or Florida State too. He’ll absolutely believe that he’s a changed man and he’s learned his lesson from the scare he got after losing to Alabama in The SEC title game.
Maybe he can do it. Football coaches are remarkably disciplined people who almost get used to being sleep-deprived during the season. But the chances are good that he’ll gradually revert to being the Urban Meyer who came from nowhere 10 years ago to being the most successful college football coach in the country. That means obsessing about every detail and trusting your lieutenants with everything except the really important stuff—like making sure the redshirts get their time in the weight room while the team is on a trip. Or that all the tickets for recruits are in the correct section of the stadium. Stuff like that.
Having nothing to do with football, you have to wish Meyer the best. But he made an interesting comment Sunday, one that he might do well to think about. He was talking about when he first got into coaching 24 years ago. “I didn’t realize then,” he said, “what it was really going to end up being all about.”
He was talking about the time commitment, the emotional commitment, the draining nature of the job. He talked about how awed he was by Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. Paterno became the Penn State head coach when Meyer was two-years-old. Meyer was six when Bowden got his first Division 1 head coaching job at West Virginia.
Right now Meyer believes the one thing he can do well in life is coach football. That’s rarely the case with smart, driven people. He’s climbed the college football mountain and made the huge money coaches at his level make. My hope is that during his ‘leave of absence,’ he gives some thought to finding a second act. I’m just guessing but I suspect that would probably be the best thing he can do for himself and for those who love him.
On a much less pleasant topic than the hope that Urban Meyer can find future health and happiness, I’m going to say a few FINAL words on this whole Rutgers thing and then those who disagree with me or think me the devil are free to post away but this is the end of it on my side of the equation.
Reading the pro-Greg Schiano/anti-me comments that were posted by some I was reminded of something Bob Knight said to me many years ago: “I know as long as I continue to win (at Indiana) people will think me eccentric. If I ever stop winning, they’ll think me an embarrassment.”
That pretty much sums up the life of a coach. Schiano has (as I’ve said repeatedly) done a good job turning Rutgers from a laughing stock into a solid Division 1-A program. Thus, he MUST be a good guy in the hearts and minds of his fans. I get that. I’m happy to simply agree to disagree but I have to respond to a few things, especially some “facts,” that are just wrong.
- --Someone posting said that when you talk about “bad,” people you should be talking about Osama Bin Laden. That name doesn’t belong in any conversation about sports. There’s a large, large gap between being a bad guy and being evil incarnate. Let’s keep it real folks
- --Several people wrote that I showed my ‘bias,’ in expressing my opinions on Pernetti and Schiano. Um, yeah folks, that’s sort of what a blog is about—sharing stories and opinions. That assumption is that you understand opinions comes with bias.
- --One guy actually went ballistic because I dared say that Schiano was a bad coach and Pernetti’s bobo. I am hoping he didn’t learn to read at Rutgers: I wrote that Schiano was a GOOD coach and that Pernetti was HIS bobo. Everybody take a deep breath.
- --Another poster said that Rutgers had a better graduation rate for football players than Navy. Wrong. Rutgers graduation rate is very good; Navy’s has led the country in, I believe, seven of the last eight years.
- --Someone else said I had taken my dislike for Schiano and Tim Pernetti and used it to attack Rutgers. Please READ the blog. I’ve specifically and repeatedly talked about my respect for Rutgers.
- --Another poster claimed the reason Rutgers stayed on the field at Navy during the march-on was because someone on Schiano’s staff screwed up and didn’t properly pass the information on to him. Oh please. No assistant would fail to tell his boss something like that. That’s what is called excuse-making. I will say this: Schiano has made a point of keeping his team on the field, win or lose, for the playing of the Navy alma mater the last few years. Maybe he felt guilty about messing up that first year but he did get it right.
- --Someone said running the score up against Division 1-AA schools “didn’t matter.” Actually running the score up against a conference opponent doesn’t really matter because those programs are on equal footing. Embarrassing kids sent in to a 1-A stadium so their school can collect a guarantee check is what’s unseemly. I don’t care if Rutgers beats Louisville 100-0. That’s on Louisville. Norfolk State is another story.
- --Finally, someone actually tried to invoke the Buckley amendment as the reason for Schiano’s in-game secrecy about injuries. Sorry, doesn’t wash. We aren’t talking a kid’s grades here, we’re talking an injury that has taken place in a public place (including national TV). You don’t have to give specifics of his treatment you simply need to say, “he’s hurt his knee and is being taken for x-rays and won’t return,” or “it’s just a twisted ankle, they’re taping him he should be back.” Or whatever.
Bottom line: Schiano wins games, no one needs to make excuses for him. But I’m guessing those who have posted before will--again. Have at it. I’m done on this topic.