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Urban leaving Florida as legend after one final thrill

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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TAMPA, Fla. -- As Penn State moved steadily down the field, a last-second win in their sights, the clock ticking down, Urban Meyer looked stunned. At one point, he bent over, hands on knees, acting as if the lunch he ate was about to traverse in the wrong direction.

In fact, when the game-saving play for the Florida Gators started, Meyer was glancing downward, only looking up when a loud roar erupted across Raymond James Stadium. Florida defensive back Ahmad Black had just intercepted Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin's pass. Meyer watched as Black scrambled 80 yards for the pick-six, giving the Gators a 37-24 win over the Nittany Lions.

And then, bedlam.

Meyer smiled and celebrated. A moment later, he relaxed. It was one of the few times Meyer's RPMs slowed below the red line even as insanity danced all around him.

Chants of "Ur-ban Mey-er" broke out and a traffic jam of cameras and recorders followed him the hundred feet or so from midfield to the Gators locker room. The walk seemed elongated -- more important -- because no one knows exactly when we'll see Meyer on a sideline again. Meyer, 46, resigned last month citing health concerns and the desire to spend more time with his family.

Before entering the tunnel he stopped at a corner of the stadium near hundreds of Gator fans and, for the last time, sang the school fight song. His eyes welled up. Later he hugged co-defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.

"What a run," Heater told Meyer.

He's gone. He left a winner. Not a bad day's work.

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It was clearly time for Meyer to take a break from college football. He was as burned out as any coach in recent memory. Meyer once had a boyish confidence, but success and the strain of his profession transformed that bravado into an arteriosclerotic grimace. In the end: he won, he tussled, he bullied, he left.

This doesn't mean Meyer won't coach again. This also doesn't mean he won't be coaching his old quarterback, Tim Tebow, in Denver next season. Various NFL sources continue to insist that's a possibility.

For now, for right now, he's not coaching and he's at peace with that decision.

"I'm at full peace because I saw a bunch of smiles in that locker room," Meyer said.

How long until that coaching itch returns no one knows. Perhaps not even Meyer.

This game was a strange jumble of images. In some ways it was a tale of two coaches: one voluntarily walking out the door and another, in Paterno, fighting to stay. It was the young man and old legend at different intersections facing uncertain futures.

As for the game itself it was, at times, absolutely dreadful. Poison to the eyeballs. Early in the game Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin almost threw two pick-sixes (both were dropped by Florida defenders), threw one pass directly into the arms of a Gator (dropped) and threw another into the clutches of one that held on. At one point, excluding Penn State's first drive, McGloin was 1 of 9 for six yards with two interceptions.

Black earned MVP honors because McGloin's late errant pass was gobbled up by Black and returned for that game-sealing score. McGloin was picked off a total of five times.

Florida's offense wasn't much better. In the first half alone the Gators threw an interception, had three drops and a fumble at the goal line. Their points were generated by field position and special teams, including a blocked punt for a score.

Meyer finished his Florida career 65-15 with two national titles. His record is not so dissimilar from some other good coaches like former Miami coach Larry Coker, who was 60-15. What distinguishes Meyer is that he won in the rugged SEC and his offensive system -- while not original -- was distinctive and he proved to be one of the best recruiters in the recent history of the sport.

The new Florida coach, Will Muschamp, watched the game from a luxury box in the stadium. One coach out, another in. It's the way of the coaching world.

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