Urban Meyer is going to be back for spring football. His indefinite leave of absence is roughly amounting to taking some time off in February. Some people have been taken aback by that revelation. Me, I'm not.
I've held back my most of my personal predictions about how long Meyer would be gone out of respect for the situation and in an attempt to not seem crass. However, I feel comfortable in saying now that I am in no way surprised by his announcement that he'll be back for the start of spring ball. I had thought he'd be back shortly after the Orange and Blue Game with Steve Addazio running the show for spring, but bumping things back a bit is not a huge deal. It fits with Meyer's personality.
I think what has thrown people for a loop throughout this is the perception that Meyer is a humorless, emotionless robot who cares only for football and nothing else. A lot of that comes from his monotone press conferences and generally non-expressive sideline demeanor, but I really don't think that's the case. He probably just doesn't like talking to reporters, a trait that is not uncommon among sports figures. Plus if you've watched Meyer while his team is losing (this year's SEC Championship Game being a good example), he's a wreck on the sidelines, constantly pacing and running his hands through his hair. All you have to do is read about the Marty Johnson situation at Utah to know he's an emotional guy.
Let's consult Occam's razor on this one. Is this whole episode some sort of elaborate setup, ruse, or something else? As fans of Florida's rivals have suggested, is the leave of absence a trick to keep the recruiting class together so Meyer can bolt after national signing day?
Probably not. An emotional guy made a snap decision to resign (without sleeping on it or even consulting his father or his coaching mentors first) and a press release went out. The next morning he changed his mind, and the situation has been winding down ever since. An indefinite leave of absence after the bowl became an indefinite leave of absence after signing day, and that turned into a break of some kind, and then he's back for spring practice. As distance has grown from the initial decision, things have been becoming less extreme. Given Meyer's rapid health improvement over the last month, it's a fairly logical progression.
The only surprise is that this was all done publically. It strikes me as the sort of thing most athletic departments would deal with in-house and away from the press. Coaches take time off and go on vacations all the time. Others make big life adjustments too, like when Ralph Friedgen chose to get serious about controlling his weight. We didn't hear about that one until after the fact though, which is when I would have assumed we'd hear about Meyer's life readjustment too. It's perfect fodder for a summertime soft-focus piece when the news cycle is low.
The only question left, really, is how many adjustments will he make. He's already cut out traveling for recruiting this month, and there's a good likelihood he'll turn over coaching the special teams to new linebackers coach D.J. Durkin, who worked with Stanford's special teams previously. Other recent changes have included sleeping in past 7:00 AM, eating good food regularly, and getting daily excercise.
Those may sound like fairly cosmetic changes, but as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book Outliers, big problems are seldom ever the result of one big failure. That's the popular idea since that's something perpetuated by movies and TV, but much more often they're the result of a lot of little problems compounded. By themselves working too long, not eating right, not working out, and not getting enough sleep will not lead to a 911 call in the middle of the night. Compounded together over time, that's a crisis cocktail.
Most of Meyer's problems are a matter of setting time priorities. The not eating right thing would seem to be as easy fix for someone pulling down $4 million a year who is surrounded by nutrition specialists at his job (hint: pay someone to make sure you eat well while away from home). I'd assume that's what most of February will be spent working out between his wife, boss, and doctors.
So while the initial incident was certainly cause for sympathy and understanding, I'm tending to agree with cocknfire expressed in Sprints this morning. Meyer has gone in two months from someone undergoing a significant health crisis to just another workaholic seeking balance. The time for dancing around the issue and treatment with kid gloves is largely over. Despite all the graduation and NFL departures, Florida can reclaim its place as likely SEC East favorite since Meyer will be running program over much of the off season after all.
If nothing else, this entire situation drives a final nail in the coffin of the Meyer as Coachbot theory. His heart broke at Marty Johnson's problems and with the death of Avery Atkins. He labels at least one or two wins a year as "one of the best in Florida football history." On his Sunday morning coach's show, he beams like a new father after wins and looks like his dog just died after losses. He had the public tiff over Shane Matthews' criticism last summer. Now he quit, then unquit, then decided to take a leave of absence, then decided just to sit out about a month (if that).
Meyer is a real human being, and yes Virginia, he does have emotions. Perhaps one of his biggest challenges from here on out is simply keeping them in check.