Monday, December 28, 2009

Urban Meyer is the story of the weekend; Last word on a few comments

On a weekend when the only real story in sports appeared to be the jockeying for NFL playoff positions, Urban Meyer put the spotlight squarely on himself early on Saturday evening with the stunning announcement that he was stepping down as Florida’s football coach at the age of 45 after a remarkable five year run of success.

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.

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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.
Finally, thanks to all those who saw this is what it is: a minor argument and nothing more, a discussion topic that happened to come up during a radio appearance.

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.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

John

Any comments on the passing of George Michael? I'd be curious for your personal impression of him as a professional and a person.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

I, too, would like to hear what you thought of George Michael. Good guy? Or bad guy? (As you say, it's a blog, where you express opinions.) Also, while it's not proper to speak ill of the (recently) departed, what did you make of the miracle or magic of the sports machine? I always thought that he was an innovator but that his innovation -- in, oh, about 1986 -- was steamrolled/big-footed by ESPN. And so he seemed mostly a showman, pretending he was offering something special but really just rolling commodity highlights.

Mason said...

I don't have any overwhelming interest in Florida or Meyer, but the story is interesting. I caught part of his press conference yesterday and he seemed beaten down and worn out, confused and out and out human. Seems he's torn between his love of his job, his family and his health. With the money growing so high over the past decade, it provides (maybe) more pressure, but also affords the coaches the ability to walk away.

I will have to say this, he and his bosses have every right to play this as they see fit, but next year, regardless of what Meyer chose(s) to do, Florida is probably having a down year in their context. In the 2011 season, if they arent top 5, how quickly will his fan base turn on Meyer and blame him for their 'failure,' and using the reasoning as his not giving it his all anymore?

Should be interesting as an outside observer.

Chris said...

People who heard you and didn't know about Schiano took you at your word that he was a "bad guy". What do you expect people to take away from that? Are they left thinking "oh he doesn't disclose injury reports, he runs up scores on D1-AA teams" (which again, apparently would make the vast majority of D1-A coaches "bad" people)? They are going to have a less favorable opinion of Schiano because you can freely toss out biased (based on his boss' interaction with you) claims of him being mischievous.

Whatever, all I'll take away from this is that I don't have to look at your blog anymore and won't ever buy any of your books. Yeah, I'm bitter and holding a grudge...hey maybe reading your awful page has had more of an impact on me than I thought.

Bobby O'Shea said...

John,

I really liked your take on Meyer. I write aVanderbilt sports blog and used your piece to put into context Coach Meyer's weekend. I'd love to hear your thoughts (or your reader's thoughts on my "take).

Keep up the good work!

JJ said...

John,

I'm glad you're done talking about Rutgers and their coach. Their coach has a 500 career record, and They haven't even won the Big Least for goodness sakes.

Onto Meyer...I'll bet my mortgage payment that Florida was afraid that he would "retire" and come back to coaching another school in a couple years. After all, name a coach who has left in his prime, and stayed retired.

Anonymous said...

john, the more you try to explain your reasoning, the more pathetic you sound. stop thinking you are more important than you actually are. you lose more credibility everytime.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog Mr. Feinstein, If I wanted vapid mediocrity I'd go to ESPN, please don't censure yourself because of the PC police.

Gordon said...

John:

Just a guess .... You WILL NOT be giving the commencement address this or any other year at Rutgers.

As for bias I guess people have not read how hard you are on your own ala mater, Duke.

Urban Meyer is an interesting case study in the addiction of coaching. Clearly the money is a non issue and with so many seniors redemption is also a non issue. the Gators have one of the top recruiting classes coming in but it's still a rebuilding year by their standards. The timing of the change of heart is curious. One practice in the big easy changed his mind?

Here is hoping that Dominic Randolph of Holy Cross gets drafted and is given a chance in the NFL

Keith said...

John,

I continue to love the blog and it's the one guaranteed read for me every day.

The naysayers are obviously a minority. Last time I checked, I think that when it comes to sports writers/authors, you could simply say "Scoreboard" and that's all you'd have to say.

I did want to comment on one of the other posted comments from JJ RE coaches retiring in their prime. I would suggest there is potentially one that did: Tom Osborne. He went 60-3 over his last 5 seasons, with 3 (OK, 1 was a co-championship) National Championships during the same period. Granted, he was 60 (at least approximately), as compared to Meyer's age of 45, but he had also had some medical issues over the years. (And, he went on to be a U.S. Congressman, which is probably debatable as to that being less stressful.)

I would be curious as to your thoughts on Osborne sometime, if you have anything good or bad to say.

Oh, I'm admittedly biased, as UNL is my alma mater and I grew up in Nebraska!

Glen said...

John - interesting take on Urban Meyer. There is a lot of evidence that people, even faced with life-threatening situations, just don't change. I hope you are one of the minority that can make the necessary changes - we need you to keep writing! BTW, here's an article I give my students to discuss personal and organizational change
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/94/open_change-or-die.html

Christopher said...

John- A comment concerning coaches retiring in their prime and staying retired. I suggest that Ara Parseghian is a good example. he was 50 years old when he retired from Notre Dame ending a 11 year run at 95-17-4 with 5 bowl appearances.

Paseghian had turned around a program that was in the doldrums and taken ND to their first bowl games. Once he quit, he did television work but never coached again.

Jae said...

Not sure why your not calling Urban Meyer a "Bad guy" for running up the score on poor little Charleston Southern? Oh wait, maybe your kissing ass for another book. Just admit you went over the line and apologize. The more you try to explain yourself the pettier you come off.

Anonymous said...

I lost all respect for Junior for these petty comments and selective recitation of facts. Basically your beef with Schiano boils down to one series in a win against norfolk State in 2007. RU didnt score (despite trying; Heisman candidate Ray Rice sat out the 2d half and the backup QB threw 3 passes. In 2008 they beat Morgan St 38-0. Hardly RUTS.

The Navy game you spoke of was in 2004. That was RU's first visit to navy under Schiano, but they didnt have any issues at earlier visits to Army. And GS was trying to get a young tema into a bowl game - they didnt. navy won that day 54-21. Wasn't even close. Im pretty sure Schiano acknowledged that mistake in handling the navy game. You seem to suggest it was deliberate and Im not sure why. I seem to recall watching the end of the 2003 game at RU and RU players respecting Navy as they played their alma mater at the end of the game. They also played at RU in 2001 and don't recall an issue.

You have no beef on the injury thing - shouldnt coaches protect their players - especially those looking to go to the NFL like Devin?

I have alway been a fan even when you wrote nasty things about RU basketball coaches in your book on the patriot League. but this is really petty and taking a handful of incidents and extrpolating them to a career -- when ther is little evidence of a pattern of "bad" conduct in the man's record.