- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. | Urban Meyer shocked college football Saturday by resigning as Florida’s coach after five seasons and two national titles because of health concerns that came to light when he suffered chest pains following the SEC championship game.

The 45-year-old will coach his final game at the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati on New Year’s Day.

He leaves No. 5 Florida with a 56-10 record that includes a 32-8 mark in league play and a school-record 22-game winning streak that was snapped by Alabama in the SEC title game Dec. 5.

“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 a statement. “I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family.”

By stepping down, Meyer leaves a program that has become one of the jewels of college football. He has scheduled a news conference in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon.

Meyer consulted with his family, doctors, school president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley before deciding it was in his best interest to focus on his health and family.

“Coach Meyer and I have talked this through and I realize how hard this was for him to reach this decision,” Foley said. “But the bottom line is that Coach Meyer needed to make a choice that is in the best interest of his well being and his family. I certainly appreciate what he has meant to the University of Florida, our football program and the Gator Nation. I have never seen anyone more committed to his players, his family and his program. Above all, I appreciate our friendship.”

Although reports quickly surfaced that Meyer was suffering from, among other things, a stroke and a defective heart muscle, a source close to Meyer said they were false. The person spoke on condition of anonymity out of respect for Meyer’s privacy.

“He just had a wake-up call,” the person said. “He got scared and realized he can’t do it anymore. His tank is empty.”

Last month, Sports Illustrated chronicled Meyer’s coaching career and reported that he suffered from persistent headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst that becomes inflamed by stress, rage and excitement.

Meyer told the magazine that since the diagnosis in the early 2000s he has tried to stay composed during games.

News of Meyer’s retirement stunned his peers.

“He is a first-class coach, and the success he’s had is unmatched in our profession, especially over the last five years at Florida,” Alabama’s Nick Saban said. “We hope he is able to regain his health and have the opportunity to coach again in the future.”

“It’s a surprise to everybody,” said Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, who retired Dec. 1 after 34 years. “I hope he’s OK physically because he’s done as great a job at the University of Florida as has been done there, or anywhere else. I admire the way he handles himself and I really like his family. The college coaching profession will really miss him.”

Meyer has a wife and three children - the oldest recently started college at Georgia Tech - and has said repeatedly he would never stay in coaching long enough to match the tenures of Bowden or Penn State’s Joe Paterno. Nonetheless, his tenure will be remembered.

“He leaves a lasting legacy on the field, in the classroom and in the Gainesville community,” Machen said. “I am saddened that Urban is stepping down, but I have deep respect for his decision.”

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