If you were watching bowl games the night after Christmas, you heard the news repeated over and over again every few minutes: Florida Gators football Coach Urban Meyer had announced he was stepping down from one of the most prominent and prized coaching positions in college sports.
The reason cited was concerns about Meyer’s health, specifically his heart.
But Sunday’s New York Times story by Pete Thamel about the resignation indicates that a deeper motivation was that God had been tugging on Meyer’s spiritual heart (otherwise known as his soul) since the night of Dec. 5, when the Gators lost the Southeastern Conference title game and Meyer was taken to the hospital with severe chest pains.
Meyer said in a telephone interview late Saturday that the hospital trip prompted weeks of soul searching that ended on Christmas night, when he told his family he would be leaving his job at Florida. He said that his 18-year-old daughter, Nicki, hugged him and said, “I get my daddy back.”
“I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do,” Meyer said of his daughter’s reaction. “I was worried about letting people down. I was feeling so awful and concerned about my health. That was among several other signs that said it’s time to back away.”
[On Sunday, new reports said Meyer was considering taking a leave of absence instead of resigning.]
The symptoms that led to Meyer’s resignation are all too familiar to any of us who are driven to excel and respond to the pressures of modern life by seeking to cram ever more amounts of frantic activity into our already over-crammed days.
If there was a hallmark to Meyer’s coaching style, both on and off the field, it was his relentlessness. He said he found himself e-mailing recruits in church. He said that his 16-year-old daughter told him that she had not felt as if she had talked to him in the past two years. In a 10-day period around the SEC title game, Meyer said, he lost 20 pounds. Meyer discussed coaching one more year with Florida’s athletic director, Jeremy Foley, but decided to step down immediately.
“When your health flashes before your eyes, what’s before you means more than anything,” he said. “I have a strong faith that there’s a reason for everything, and God has a plan for us. I just don’t know what it is.”
Kudos to Thamel for letting Meyer call it as he sees it, even if it means filling the sports section with religious language. We’ve become accustomed to hearing God talk from Florida player Tim Tebow. Some readers feel they have heard too much. They argue that sports figures should be quoted discussing plays and stats, not riffing on theology. But Meyer had more on his mind than football, and Thamel let him express it.
The message of Meyer’s decision comes as we wrap up a year that was difficult for many of us. And it arrives just before the New Year’s tradition of making resolutions designed to help the future be better than the past. Perhaps Meyer’s action can inspire the rest of us to take a look at our lives and see what needs rearranging. Thus, we read:
“I made the decision that had to be made at this time,” he said. “There were all the warning signs. I felt like God was telling me I have to slow down and stop it.”