Meyer’s Florida exit shocking, but fitting

As shocking as it is — and will be through spring practice and into the 2010 season — perhaps it’s fitting that University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer is stepping down because of a health issue after the Gators play Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl on January 1.

With all the Notre Dame talk — as fictional as it may have been — along with his name being linked to a potential coaching opening with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, it seemed as though Meyer was already being counted on by many to move on from Gainesville and onto his next venture.

And with the impending graduation of Tim Tebow, who brilliantly ran Meyer’s highly successful spread offense for three-plus seasons, Meyer’s exit seems almost expected, albeit very concerning considering the circumstances.

Meyer released a statement late Saturday afternoon in which he stated that he must step down as head coach to focus on his “health and family.” The 45-year-old Meyer led the Gators to BCS national titles in 2006 and 2008, and heads into the Sugar Bowl with the highest winning percentage among active FBS coaches (with a minimum of five years).

“I have given my heart and soul to coaching college football and mentoring young men for the last 24-plus years and I have dedicated most of my waking moments the last five years to the Gator football program," Meyer said in the statement. "I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family.

“After consulting with my family, Dr. Machen, Jeremy Foley and my doctors, I believe it is in my best interest to step aside and focus on my health and family.”

In addition to the two national championships, Meyer’s Gators appeared in three SEC championship games and were one victory away from playing for a third BCS title in five years this season.

It isn’t unusual for college coaches to move on after a successful season, particularly when a head coach is heading to a bigger program or the NFL. But those moves usually occur shortly after a season. The timing of this decision is unique, yet so is the fact that the coach leaving will remain for the team’s bowl game.

How will this affect the Gators against the Bearcats? Add in the emotion tied to Tebow’s last game at Florida, and expect to see a fired-up squad looking to win one for a coach who pulled off the almost impossible task of successfully replacing the popular Old Ball Coach Steve Spurrier.

The major question surrounding the Gators’ program, however — and the question on every fan’s mind (besides the seriousness of Meyer’s health issue, of course) is where will athletic director Jeremy Foley turn in regards to the upcoming coaching search.

Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong left Gainesville to accept the Louisville job vacated by Steve Kragthorpe, but he was a defensive mind, anyway. Would the Florida program go that route?

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen almost assuredly will be on Foley’s list, as the former offensive coordinator was instrumental to the Gators’ success in their national championship campaigns. Mullen had the Bulldogs back to playing solid football this past season, and it was clear that the Gators took a step back without him calling plays.

Besides the obvious recent Florida connections stated above, the one obvious name that comes to mind is current Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, who made a name for himself as Spurrier’s defensive coordinator in the Gators’ previous glory days and who revived the OU program in Norman. Just how much did Stoops think about going to South Bend, and could the job in Gainesville be exactly the change necessary for Stoops to re-establish himself as the “it” guy in the college ranks? If Bob says no, what about brother Mike, who is coming off a successful season at Arizona?

I won’t even mention Jon Gruden because this isn’t 2011, but what about Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham? He runs a similar offensive system with the Utes, thoroughly led his team to victory over Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl and has proven, with a 47-17 mark at Utah, that he can flat-out coach. And as a bonus, he has a defensive background to go along with a similar offensive game plan.

There’s no question that the next few weeks will be intriguing in Gainesville. But first and foremost, it will be interesting to see the Meyer story develop in the next few days as we discover just how serious or non-serious this health issue is. Does the issue have anything to do with the cyst on his brain that was discovered while he was an assistant at Notre Dame? Until we learn more, this is all speculation, of course.

One thing is for certain, though. When we watch the Sugar Bowl game on New Year’s night, we will be watching the end of the Florida career of not one great Gator, but two.

If he gets healthy, Meyer will almost certainly be back on the sideline in the not-too-distant future. But the mere thought should be the furthest thing from our mind this evening, as Gator Nation and college football fans across the nation deal with this sobering news.

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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