By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Dick Vermeil engraved “burnout” into the coaching lexicon when he resigned from the Philadelphia Eagles nearly 30 years ago. Since then, fatigue comes with the headset, as common as Cover 2 defenses and play action passes.
So it should surprise no one when Urban Meyer adds his name to the sporting triage. After quitting once, Meyer quit twice, taking an extended (if not eternal) vacation from his vocation. No doubt he found retirement more palatable after a 7-5 season at Florida, which, by his and the program’s standards, is a disaster.
The grind and decay of coaching life is so pronounced that it reminds you of the Star Trek episode when the crew of the Enterprise returned from an alien planet and brought with them a disease that accelerated their aging process by a thousand times.
We’re now fluent in the grisly protocol: coaches who camp under the cone of a projector’s light more than the sun, with fast food on speed dial, and as sleep deprived as a soldier in 1944 Bastogne. They see their kids by gazing across their desk at a family photo. Bill Belichick looks like he slept in his sideline garb because that’s a distinct possibility.
So five years later, the coach (predictably) has a health problem. Their answer, of course, is to return to the very place that makes them sick, making coaching a virus in formal and figurative form. But the very mechanism that makes them bolt from the emergency room to the meeting room is what makes them great coaches.
But there has been a hostile bent to the media’s coverage of Meyer’s resignation/reinstatement/retirement, as though he’s done something wrong. It’s a more genteel version of the Brett Favre dementia, but the rancor is palpable. Meyer’s whimsical approach to his career is tolerated because he wins – a lot. The press knows this; they just don’t like him.
Cynics will assert that the sincerity of this retreat is commensurate with his next contract offer. But he can’t get bigger or better than the Florida Gators. And to those who call him the Phil Jackson of college football – winning only when Tim Tebow is his quarterback – please recall his dominance at Utah. (Not to mention Chris Leak, a Ron Zook recruit, started when Meyer won his first title.)
Meyer is good for football, not despite his winning and thorny persona and indifference to our opinion of him, but because it. We need empires in sports, and Meyer is a walking dynasty. The difference between a victor and a villain is perception, often defined by the provincial bond of a college degree. If you went to Florida, he’s a charming ogre. If you went to Tennessee, he’s a smooth criminal with an army of felons on his roster. Either disposition is good for business.
Urban Meyer is worth the vertigo because the market says so. It’s no different from tolerating the eccentricities of a great pitcher or point guard when they win twenty games or average twelve assists. It seems Meyer’s greatest crime is he can’t accept that the job is literally killing him. Forgive us if we don’t kill him for that.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com