GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The man could coach him up some quarterbacks. The man could run him some option, too. When the well ran dry on both fronts at Florida, Urban Meyer called it a day.
That's not necessarily why Meyer resigned (again), but it will be his legacy. Alex Smith didn't do squat before or after Meyer had him at Utah. Basically, it was because Smith ran the zone-read option so well that Meyer got the Florida job. Two years into the new gig, he won the first of two national championships because he realized two things:
1. Given the SEC's world-class defenses, his offense wouldn't work without some sort of blocking.
2. His offense really wouldn't work without Tim Tebow.
More than done.
With Tebow backing him up and making every big play, Chris Leak and the rest of the Gators got rings in 2006. With Tebow taking over the show, along came a Heisman and another title. Everything else is details. When Tebow left, Meyer's offense sputtered. There was no one to run between the tackles. There was a lack of physical presence. A quarterback who had been in the system for three years, John Brantley, couldn't run the system when he became a starter. This time there was no No. 15 to bail him out.
I'll completely buy Meyer's reasons for resigning on Tuesday. He wants to spend time with his family. But he said the exact same thing last year, then changed his mind 24 hours later. I suspect there was some hubris back then, a belief he could do it again -- without Tebow. There might have been some prodding from AD Jeremy Foley to come back. Whatever. When Meyer saw a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic world sans Tebow, well, let's just say it made Tuesday's decision easier.
"Last year was a knee-jerk reaction," Meyer said. "Florida deserves the best and I'm not sure we gave them our best."
Not with Florida's former Next One leading Auburn to the national championship game. No one can blame Meyer for Cam Newton's transfer. At that point, Newton was injured, was third on the depth chart and allegedly in academic hot water. Newton's success, though, does reveal a simple truth of modern college football: It's possible to have a one-man team in the ultimate team sport. Incredibly, the time had come at Florida when Meyer didn't have that difference-maker when he scrambled, having to use three different signal callers. Would things have been better in 2011?
"I saw a drop-off [coming], I didn't see the drop-off that we had," Meyer said.
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They're addicts, coaches, all of them. Bobby Bowden kept chasing one more title before Florida State unceremoniously kicked him out. Chris Ault has been coach at Nevada three times. He reached his ultimate high this season, leading the Wolf Pack to an upset win over Boise State and the school's first top-25 ranking since the 1940s. The addiction can be a killer, though. There is a handful of places in the country where a coach is pretty much guaranteed to win. Florida and Texas are two of them. This year those schools became the biggest disappointments in college football. Mack Brown is retooling his staff. Meyer is retooling his life. For that we should admire him.
Who thought Meyer would be coaching in the Outback Bowl in his last game? His foe will be 84-year-old Joe Paterno, one of those still chasing that high.
Meyer went cold-turkey six years after taking on one of the most stressful jobs in the country.
"Six years and a day," he said.
That little nugget suggests Meyer will be back at some point. NFL? SEC? Doesn't matter. The man needed a blow. Excuse him if he becomes the college version of Bill Cowher, the championship coach taking a long sabbatical that may or may not end.
The next Florida coach will have to be a rock star. The legacies left behind by Steve Spurrier and Meyer demand it. He will have to have the chops to recruit with, and beat, Nick Saban. The hiring of, say, Bobby Petrino would turn Brantley, the drop-back type, from a square peg to a superstar.
This time the shock is diminished. Last year was the jaw-dropper. Meyer stepped down, at least for a few hours, after a 13-1 season. On Wednesday, it just seemed like it was time. Florida will have a new coach in two weeks, maybe 2 1/2, according to Foley. That's the advantage of being a top-five program: you don't pick up the phone -- candidates call you. That suggests Foley has a guy in his hip pocket as we speak.
In an hour the press conference was over and an era had passed, quietly this time, after a year of reflection and bad football.
"We didn't try to talk him out of it," Foley said.