The first time I met Urban Meyer it was only a matter of days after Florida hired him. We were practically alone in the corner of a press box atop the Gators' baseball field. Meyer was there to watch a game; I was there to watch Meyer.
I walked away from our 20-minute interview thinking: this is the cockiest coach I'd ever met. And I've covered names like Bill Parcells, who is the cockiest of the cocky. Meyer made Parcells seem like a shoeless friar trekking to a monastery in Spain. He was bold in his looks and words. He rarely smiled, was toned and fit -- beaming almost -- and when we shook hands his grip was strong.
Then, last season, only five years later, I saw Meyer on television. Meyer looked like he had aged 20 years. I'd seen Meyer many times since we'd first met but for some reason this one shot of him -- looking into the distance, a blank stare -- was a stunner. There were more wrinkles and he was slightly pudgy. He looked like an entirely different guy. At least to me.
Meyer's initial healthy arrogance de-evolved into a different brand of arrogance as the player arrests at Florida piled high and the losing became more commonplace. He was more mean-spirited. He physically threatened reporters. The crushing gravitational forces of coaching changed Meyer. He became a smaller, more petty man.
Meyer acted like a guy who wanted the soundtrack from Inception to play every time he entered a room.
This is what coaching does to some people. It consumes them. It ruins their bodies, destroys their innards and causes them to see enemies that aren't there. This is what happened to Urban Meyer.
He needed a break. The time for that is now.
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Oh, I don't feel sorry for Meyer. There's enough money in Meyer's bank accounts to last many lifetimes.
It's also doubtful this is the last we've heard of Meyer. He'll be back. A few months on a beach, time in the gym, dinners with the family, and he'll be back. You can count on it. Guys like Meyer don't walk away. Ever.
Next year, after sipping on drinks with umbrellas, and after he tires of breaking down a defense on a big screen in a television studio, he'll return.
But I do understand why Meyer is leaving. He isn't bailing or running scared. This is classic coach burnout. I've seen it with almost every NFL and big-time college coach I've been around, from Jon Gruden to Dan Reeves to Joe Gibbs to Jimmy Johnson to Bill Belichick and a legion of others. It's why Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno defy the logic and are forces of nature.
When around the Gators I heard tales of how Meyer never took days off. Not one. Never. He was always doing something.
This isn't Meyer being a coward. It's Meyer again being arrogant, this time, arrogantly underestimating the violence -- that's the word, violence -- the coaching profession unleashes on its own.
When Meyer took a leave of absence last year he spoke of the need to re-evaluate his priorities of faith and family. I never believed that reason. He was burned out and needed a break. That was it. That was all.
And it has happened again.
He's gone, for now, another example of the profession once again consuming its own.