Stress can eat away at the soul. With talent comes success, with success comes prominence, with prominence comes pressure, and with pressure comes stress.
To say Urban Meyer was stressed would do his legacy so little justice it is almost disgraceful.
The man was a victim of the sports media revolution, and his body was ill equipped to handle it.
A series of health problems has led Meyer to resign as head football coach at the University of Florida after five seasons.
After nine seasons as a head coach and 15 more as an assistant, Meyer had reached the pinnacle of his profession faster than maybe anyone before him.
Two seasons was all it took Meyer to completely revamp a football program. In his second year at Utah, the Utes finished the regular season 11-0 and earned the first BCS bowl bid from a non-qualifying conference since the system began. In his second season at Florida, the Gators obliterated the favored Ohio State Buckeyes in the national championship game, putting Meyer at the head of the class in terms of this generation’s coaching greats.
Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reported that Meyer has an arachnoid cyst on his brain that while not life-threatening, could become more dangerous if subjected to high levels of stress.
Heck, next to politicians, try and find a profession with a higher demand for success than a football coach in the SEC. College football coaches deal with so many outside factions ready to criticize their every move.
How about a little role play for a few moments. You are now the face of a program that, over the course of the last century, has built a reputation for being one of the most successful in the business.
You have over 75,000 living alumni of the school for which your program represents, and they are not afraid to remind you.
You have every media outlet in the country - bloggers, writers, reporters - on both the national and local level following you everywhere, stopping at nothing to tell the country what you had for breakfast if they can acquire such knowledge.
Your competition includes some of the other most elite programs in your field. You are also fighting non-stop on a daily basis to lure potential prospects to your program rather than theirs; if they choose your rivals over you…well, go ahead and pack your things and make room for your replacement.
Meyer deals with the scrutiny associated with each and every one of those tasks, and then some. And Doc told him he has to avoid stress.
Recent developments in the story report that in addition to complications with the cyst, he has developed a chest condition that caused him to be hospitalized just hours after his Gators were knocked from their perch as the nation’s top-ranked team, losing the SEC championship game to Alabama. That condition appears to be more serious than the public was originally led on to know, and it has caused Meyer to leave the program he has come to love.
Meyer was a legend in the making: the “Next Bear Bryant” as many television experts seemed to think. He won 95 games in his nine seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida; an average of 10.5 wins per season.
Even the Bear didn’t win like Meyer did. In 38 years as a head coach, Bryant won 323 games, or an average of 8.5 wins per season.
To make the comparison is some pretty simple math.
The question now becomes: is this the end of the road for Meyer, or is he simply pulling off the highway for more gas? The speculation concerning his future will reach Brett Favre-like levels of frequency in the media, but it’s a topic well worth debating. Tiger Woods and his publicists can start sending Meyer thank-you cards immediately.
In this generation, the only comparable scenario to this development is when Barry Sanders stunned everyone by retiring at age 30, way before his time should have come.
Still, Sanders had no health concerns to speak of and no family trouble to keep him sidelined, he simply wanted to walk away.
When a player, coach, or icon in general relieves himself of duty at an age far too young to be commonly acceptable, it sends shockwaves through the landscape of his or her domain.
A month after Bryant retired from the game of football, he passed away. It seemed almost fitting that as his career on the sidelines came to an end, his life nearly simultaneously went along with it. He had simply run his tank too low, and there was nothing left for him to live for.
Maybe we can all take a page out of Meyer’s book; “re-prioritize,” as he put it in a prepared statement Saturday evening. This is an example of a guy who understands what’s important, and understands the situation at hand.
Maybe, just maybe, that tank of his will be full in a few years. If it is, he’ll have only himself to thank for not running out of gas entirely.