By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer arrived at the University of Florida six years ago as one of college football’s most highly regarded up-and-coming coaches.
In a feat difficult to accomplish in today’s hype-filled sports world, Meyer not only lived up to the advance billing, he surpassed it. Meyer will leave UF as the nation’s winningest active coach with 10 seasons or more following a six-year stretch like no other in the 105-year history of Florida football.
Meyer, 46, informed Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley over the weekend that he was contemplating resigning and the two finalized the plan Tuesday. Meyer told the Gators of his decision during a team meeting earlier this afternoon. UF has scheduled a press conference for 6 p.m. at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium where Meyer and Foley will address the media.
Meyer will remain Florida’s head coach through the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year’s Day.
“I have been a Division I football coach for the last 25 years and, during that time, my primary focus has been helping my teams win titles,” Meyer said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and I am a fierce competitor to my core. At this time in my life, however, I appreciate the sacrifices my 24/7 profession has demanded of me, and I know it is time to put my focus on my family and life away from the field. The decision to step down was a difficult one.
“But after spending more than two decades motivating and celebrating the young men I’ve been so proud to coach, I relish the opportunity to cheer for my three terrific kids as they compete in their own respective sports. I know how fortunate I am to be in a position to make this choice and to have a family that is as loving and supportive as my amazing wife and children have always been.”
In six seasons at Florida, Meyer led the Gators to two national championships, three SEC East crowns, and he has a 64-15 record entering the Outback Bowl matchup against Penn State. The Gators won a school-record 22 consecutive games during Meyer’s tenure -- the fourth-longest streak by an SEC team and the longest in 15 years – and re-established their dominance over traditional rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State, going 16-2 against the trio.
“I am enormously grateful to the University of Florida and our tremendous fans for giving me the incredible opportunity to lead the football program,’’ Meyer said. “The support provided by school president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley has been an invaluable part of all that we have been able to accomplish over the last six years I have exceptional regard for my coaching staff who have always shared my passionate commitment to winning and to guiding the development of the young men of Florida football.
“Most important, I will be forever grateful to the student-athletes I have had the honor to coach and from whom I have learned so much. I will profoundly miss coming to campus every day to coach this team, but I will always be a Gator at heart, and I am confident that the program will continue to reflect the highest ideals of the University of Florida and collegiate sports.”
A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer became the fastest coach in SEC history and second-fastest since 1945 to reach 100 career wins when the Gators defeated Kentucky 48-14 on Sept. 25. In 10 seasons overall – two at Bowling Green and two at Utah prior to Florida – Meyer has a 103-23 record and has won three National Coach of the Year Awards.
“I just feel very blessed,’’ Meyer said after his 100th win. “Some of these coaches who I have known a long time don’t get to coach players like I get to coach.’’
Perhaps more than anything else he did at UF, Meyer rebooted a football program that had failed to meet expectations for three years after former coach and Gator icon Steve Spurrier left for the NFL following the 2001 season. Florida’s resurgent program under Meyer not only rejoined the nation’s elite, but it became a program other schools around the country tried to emulate.
“When I first came to Florida in 1976, all anybody wanted to do here was win one Southeastern Conference championship,’’ Foley said Wednesday. “As good of a coach as he is, he’s a better person. He’s given Gator fans and this program memories of a lifetime. When you win 22 games in a row and have back-to-back 13-win seasons, two national championships, it’s hard to quantify.
“People just need to understand what he did. Winning two national championships is really hard. He fell in love with the Florida Gators, he loves this place, and he’ll always be a part of our history. It was our privilege to have him as our football coach.’’
Penn State’s Joe Paterno, college football’s all-time winningest coach, shared his respect for Meyer during Monday’s Outback Bowl press conference.
"Urban's one of my favorite people in coaching,” Paterno said. “It's going to be exciting to play against him.
“He’s honest. He’s not one of those showoffs or anything like that. He's got a great feel for the game. I've looked at a lot of the tapes of his games through the years because he seems to always be one step ahead of people he’s playing against. I like being around him.’’
Hired in December 2004, Meyer made his Gators debut with a 32-14 win over Wyoming on Sept. 3, 2005. Sixteen months later, he held the national title trophy above his head following the Gators’ 41-14 dismantling of Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.
Florida’s quick rise after Meyer’s arrival solidified his reputation as one of the game’s most innovative minds.
“He's a mastermind,’’ former Florida receiver Andre Caldwell said after the 2006 title. “I don't know what goes on in his head up there, but he gets it done.’’
Following the departure of starting quarterback Chris Leak, the Gators finished 9-4 in 2007. However, the future was in good hands with sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy and became one of the most popular UF student-athletes in history.
Tebow led the Gators to their second national title under Meyer by defeating Oklahoma in the 2008 BCS Championship Game. With Tebow a senior, the Gators were ranked No. 1 for most of the 2009 season until a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. The Gators finished 13-1 and ranked third in the final polls.
A year ago this month, Meyer announced his resignation the day after Christmas, citing health reasons for his decision to step down. A day later, Meyer changed his mind and committed to a healthier lifestyle.
Meyer started exercising more – often walking the steps at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during lunch – and eating better and more often. The changes led to a healthier looking Meyer during the 2010 season. Foley said Meyer is in a much better place physically and mentally than last December.
“It’s so much different that it was a year ago,’’ Foley said. “He went through some tremendous issues a year ago. But I see his face now and I see the peacefulness. He’s totally at peace with the decision. He certainly has given every fiber of his body to this university. I’ve seen it every day. The results speak for themselves, but to get those results, how do they happen? That guy has given everything he had to this university.
“It was just time. He wants to spend more time with his family. He’s got daughters who play college volleyball; he’s got a son who is growing up. Urban loves his family. When all is said and done, he loves us, he loves the Gators, he loves football, he loves his players, but his world revolves around his family. I think more than anything else that was the impetus for this.’’
On the field, Meyer had one of his most difficult seasons. Florida opened the season ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25, but the Gators finished 7-5 following the departure of Tebow and eight other players selected in the NFL draft last spring.
The Gators lost three consecutive games in the middle of the season, a first for a Meyer-coached team. The third loss was to Mississippi State and Dan Mullen, Meyer’s offensive coordinator at UF for four seasons.
Prior to the game, Mullen reminded everyone that Meyer took losses harder than most and not to expect his former boss to hang around forever due to Meyer’s intense personality.
“I don't know if you'll see Urban catch up to Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno,’’ said Mullen, one of nine former Meyer assistants to move on and become head coaches. “Before he gets close to coach Bowden, he'll sail away.”
Meyer’s next move remains uncertain. What’s not in question is Meyer’s impact at Florida and in college football.
Meyer led Florida to six January bowl games and in December 2009 he was named Sporting News and Sports Illustrated "Coach of the Decade."
Bowden, who retired after last season, was 0-5 against Meyer.
On numerous occasions in recent years, Bowden said he considered Meyer one of the best coaches in the game. He reiterated that at last year’s Gator Bowl when news of Meyer’s brief departure broke.
“He’s done as great a job at the University of Florida as has been done there, or anywhere else,’’ Bowden said. “I admire the way he handles himself and I really like his family.
“The college coaching profession will really miss him.’’