Commentary: Will Meyer really change?

IT TOOK A lot of pain to teach Urban Meyer a simple lesson: He needed to slow down.

Whether it sticks is another matter.

Peel back the drama of the past 24 hours and the only thing that's really changed is Meyer's acknowledgment that he couldn't go on like this forever. He is still the football coach at Florida. He will coach the team's last game this season, and his gut tells him he will be back on the sideline when the Gators kick off the next one on Sept. 4 against Miami of Ohio.

Never mind what Meyer said about resigning to deal with the stress that caused his heart to ache often and his soul on occasion. Sobering words from a doctor, family and friends can have that kind of effect on anybody, especially a driven 45-year-old who just climbed to the peak of his profession. Yet once Meyer convinced himself that the healing process could be fast-tracked - like everything else in his view of coaching - he decided a few months would be plenty.

Officially, he's taking an indefinite leave of absence; unofficially, it sounds like anything but. Meyer has no idea when that leave will begin, let alone end. He hasn't stopped getting ready for Florida's Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl date with Cincinnati. He hasn't adjusted his recruiting schedule or made plans for once the season is over.

One thing Meyer does know: He wants the questions about his health and the distractions they caused to go away.

"I'm trying - and I did a bad job of this - let's get off of me and let's go play this game," Meyer said at a news conference Sunday in New Orleans. That was as close to an apology as he came.

"Let's go have fun. Let's go enjoy our time here in a great city and go play. ... I'm not going to give it any thought," he said, "because we've got a game to go win."


Winning might solve all kinds of problems, but in Meyer's case, it always creates new ones. Usually it's losing that turns coaches inside out. Meyer took every loss hard, to be sure, but he minimized that pain by winning early and often at each of his three stops. Yet the smoother the road ahead looked, the more Meyer focused obsessively on cracks the rest of us barely noticed.

Worse, he was intent on fixing every problem himself. In the bargain, running one of the biggest, most successful football programs in the land became like a game of "whack-a-mole." After nine seasons - five in Florida - and two national championships, it should have surprised no one that Meyer was wearing out.

Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley, who was sitting alongside Meyer on Sunday, occupies the office next door to his coach in the Gators' athletic complex. He has seen firsthand the countless hours Meyer put in, the sacrifices large and small. "Relentless" was the first word that came to Foley's mind.

"Every single facet of this program, every detail, every player issue, staff issue, game-planning, just an unbelievable amount of preparation, then recruiting - it never ceases," he said.

"Is Urban Meyer going to be coaching football when he's 60 doing it the way he's doing it now?" Foley asked a moment later without waiting for an answer. "No. I knew that when he signed the new contract. ... You can't keep up that kind of pace."

No, but apparently it won't stop Meyer from trying. He vowed to change something upon his return without being sure what that would be. It was the least convincing part of the entire afternoon.

"That's something I've got to figure out," he said. "There's obviously other coaches that had great careers and have done great things for a long time. ... I'm going to get that fixed."

Meyer understood long before this episode that the money and attendant pressure it brought have altered the college football landscape for the worse. At the biggest programs, like Florida, job security is no better than it is these days in the NFL. Just a year ago, on the eve of the BCS championship game that would give Meyer his second title, he was asked if he envisioned himself hanging on the way Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden did.

"There's no chance I'll be doing this in my 70s or 80s," he said.