Urban Meyer, who led Florida to two national championships and is the winningest active coach in college football with 10 or more seasons, announced Wednesday that he will step down after the Outback Bowl against Penn State on New Year's Day.
Joe Paterno will be 84 years old by the bowl and plans on coaching the Nittany Lions again next season, but the 46-year-old Meyer said he is retiring to make up for lost time with his family.
"At the end of the day, I am very convinced that you're going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won," Meyer said Wednesday night at a campus news conference. "I have not seen my two girls play high school sports. I missed two already with one away at college. I can't get that time back."
His oldest child, Nicki, recently completed her sophomore season on Georgia Tech's volleyball team.
Meyer has a 103-23 overall record and a 64-15 six-year mark with the Gators, but this year's team never found an identity offensively and struggled to a 7-5 regular season. This marks the first time Meyer has lost more than three games in any year as a head coach, which includes stints at Bowling Green (2001-02) and Utah (2003-04).
After losing to Florida State for the first time on Nov. 27, Meyer vowed to get the program turned around. He changed his mind about coaching, however, and informed athletic director Jeremy Foley this past Saturday that he was considering leaving.
The resignation was finalized Tuesday, and Meyer met with his players Wednesday.
"When I first came to Florida in 1976, all anybody wanted to do here was win one Southeastern Conference championship," Foley said. "As good of a coach as Urban Meyer is, he's a better person. He's given Gator fans and this program memories of a lifetime. When you win 22 games in a row and have back-to-back 13-win seasons and two national championships, it's hard to quantify.
"People just need to understand what he did. Winning two national championships is really hard. It was our privilege to have him as our football coach."
No SEC coach could dominate his rivals like Meyer. He will leave with a 27-3 record against fellow East members Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and he was a combined 11-1 versus Georgia and Tennessee.
Meyer went 6-0 against Tennessee, the only coach in SEC history to go undefeated against the Volunteers in so many opportunities.
Hired after an undefeated season with Utah in '04 to replace Ron Zook, who had underachieved on the field but was a tireless recruiter, Meyer went 9-3 his first year and won the national championship in his second. The Gators moved to No. 2 in the final BCS standings in '06 by jumping over Michigan and benefiting from a UCLA upset of Southern Cal, and they made the most of their chance by routing No. 1 Ohio State 41-14.
His second BCS title occurred in 2008, when junior quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow made a vow following a 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss that no player would work harder and push his team harder the rest of the season. The Gators responded with 10 consecutive double-digit victories, including a 31-20 triumph over previously undefeated Alabama in the SEC championship and a 24-14 win over Oklahoma for the national crown.
Florida spent the entire 2009 season ranked No. 1 before losing to Alabama in the SEC title game. Meyer announced a surprise resignation the day after Christmas, citing health reasons, but decided to return the next day.
He was eventually diagnosed with esophageal spasms.
"Last year was a knee-jerk reaction," Meyer said. "This year was just completely different."
The Gators began this season ranked No. 4 but plummeted from the national elite with consecutive losses to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. Meyer said Wednesday that he doesn't regret coaching this year but admits the program has slipped as the result of quality assistants such as Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong leaving and the loss of five juniors this past January to the NFL.
"It's Florida," Meyer said. "We'll be back stronger than ever, in my opinion."
Meyer signed a six-year, $24 million extension last year, so he is walking away from roughly $20 million in guaranteed salary. Foley has decided to pay Meyer a $1 million retention bonus, which he was due to receive in late January.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.