GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Urban Meyer is leaving one of the premier jobs in college football for the second time to spend more time with his family.
In a campus news conference Meyer said he wants to make being a husband and father his top priority.
“I have not seen my two girls play high school sports. I can’t get that time back,” he said.
The 46-year-old coach led Florida to two national titles but briefly resigned last December, citing health concerns, but returned the next day. He had been hospitalized with chest pains after the Gators lost to Alabama in last season’s Southeastern Conference championship game.
“Last year was a knee-jerk reaction,” Meyer said. “This year was just completely different.”
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said he had no “second guesses” about how he handled Meyer’s very brief resignation last year.
“He’s at peace with his life,” Foley said. “He wasn’t at peace a year ago, and this institution helped him get there.”
Meyer called Foley on Saturday to tell him he was contemplating retirement. They met Tuesday to finalize his intentions.
“He’s put his heart and soul into college football,” Foley told The Associated Press before the news conference. “He’s not sick. This is a totally different situation than a year ago. He just wants to take a step back and spend time with his family.”
Foley said the coaching search will begin immediately and hopes to have a new coach in the next 2½ weeks.
Meyer’s announcement caught players, fans and the rest of college football by surprise.
He called assistant coaches, many of whom were on the road recruiting, earlier this week to relay the news. Quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler told the AP he was “stunned” and that no one saw this coming.
“We’ll be fine,” said Loeffler, adding that Meyer was planning to meet with his staff Wednesday night. “It happens in this profession. We’re just happy for him. He’s doing it the right way.”
AOL FanHouse first reported the resignation, and fellow coaches were quick to praise his efforts at Florida.
“The world of college football will miss Urban,” said former USC coach Pete Carroll, who like Meyer was one of the decade’s best college coaches but opted to leave his job — in Carroll’s case for the NFL’s Seahawks. “He did a great job coaching at Florida. He had major personal issues and health issues a year ago, and I’m sure that he did everything he could to fight it off. Now he’s making decisions that are probably exactly what he needs to be doing. … He brought a lot of excitement to Florida football, the SEC and all that. Everybody’s going to miss him.”
Meyer was hired away from Utah by Florida after he led the Utes to an undefeated season. In his second season in Gainesville, he led the Gators’ to a national championship. Two seasons later he won another, the third time overall the school topped the final AP Top 25.
A bid for another national championship fell short in 2009, and the day after Christmas, Meyer surprisingly announced that he was giving up the job. Just like now, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family, though he also said that he had health concerns.
Less than 24 hours later, he changed his mind and decided to instead take a leave of absence.
He was diagnosed with esophageal spasms and was taking prescription medication to treat it.
The leave of absence eventually turned into some extended vacation time.
Meyer scaled back in January — he didn’t go on the road recruiting — but still worked steadily through national signing day. He returned for spring practice in March, but managed to take significant time off before and after.
He went to Hawaii with his wife, traveled to Rome and saw the pope, took a trip to Israel, visited the Masters golf tournament with his daughter and took in a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game.
He said it was the first offseason in which he stepped away for days at a time.
But this season he had to replace Tim Tebow and several other stars who had gone on to the NFL, and the Gators struggled mightily.
Florida finished 7-5, the worst record of Meyer’s 10-year head coaching career, which began at Bowling Green. It was the first time the Gators had lost five regular-season games since 1988.
The season ended with an embarrassing 31-7 victory to Florida State, Meyer’s first loss to the rival Seminoles.
After that game, Meyer vowed to fix the Gators’ problems.
“I can assure you we are going to rebuild this thing and build it up the right way and do it right,” Meyer said. “Obviously we are down a little bit. I didn’t believe we’d be that far down, but we are. How do you build a program up? You build it up with tough players, tough coaches and you have got to play better.”
Meyer’s staff had also undergone significant changes in the past few seasons, with both his offensive and defensive coordinators from the championship teams moving on to become head coaches.
Dan Mullen, who had been Meyer’s quarterbacks coach since his days at Bowling Green, went to Mississippi State after Florida won the ’08 championship.
After last season, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong left for Louisville.
Offense has always been Meyer’s specialty, his spread-option had produced some of the most potent attacks in college football throughout his career.
But the Gators ranked 10th in the SEC in offense this season and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, another longtime Meyer assistant, had come under fire for the problems.
Despite this season’s struggles, Meyer’s resume is one of the most impressive in college football.
He is 103-23 (.817) overall, the best winning percentage among active major college coaches with at least 10 seasons, and 64-15 (.810) at Florida.
The Florida job is one of the best in the country, and Foley will no doubt have a deep pool of candidates from which to choose.
Mullen has been speculated to be up to fill the vacancy at Miami, but now it’s fair to ask if he will be pursued by the Gators.