He has won two consensus national championships and become the face of one of college football’s elite programs, but shortly after the end of the regular season decided to step down with his health in question.
That might someday be the perfect depiction of Joe Paterno. Right now, it describes Urban Meyer.
The 46-year-old Meyer will call it quits after leading Florida in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, when Paterno – who plans to return for a 46th season on the sidelines at Penn State – looks to add to his record 24 postseason victories.
Rumors of retirement have swirled around the 84-year-old Paterno for years, but the all-time leader in wins among FBS coaches confirmed days before the Nittany Lions (7-5) lost their season finale to Michigan State that he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
Meyer’s tenure with the Gators (7-5), meanwhile, appeared to be over on Dec. 26, 2009, when he announced his resignation following a medical scare. But just one day later, Meyer changed his mind, saying he was merely taking a leave of absence.
He was back before spring practice, but after a rare rebuilding season in Gainesville, he’s gone again. Meyer announced on Dec. 8, with his family by his side, that he would step down following the Outback Bowl.
“At the end of the day, I’m 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.
“Last year was a knee-jerk reaction. This year was just completely different.”
On Dec. 11, though, a report surfaced that Meyer’s resignation had plenty to do with his health. A source said that Meyer has a recurring burning sensation in his chest that doctors told him would raise cardiovascular risk factors if he continued to coach.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley didn’t waste any time finding Meyer’s replacement. The same night of the report regarding Meyer’s health, Foley handed Will Muschamp – Texas’ defensive coordinator and heir apparent to Mack Brown – his first head coaching job.
Muschamp is no stranger to Florida or the SEC. He spent 10 years in Gainesville growing up, then was an assistant at Auburn and LSU over the past decade.
For now, though, the Gators will take the field under Meyer one last time against Paterno, who’s been leading Penn State on fall Saturdays since Meyer was in diapers.
“I almost laughed when I heard that (Meyer) was retiring,” Nittany Lions guard Stefen Wisniewski said. “Our coach is (84), and our coach wants to come back.”
Both Meyer and Paterno own a pair of national championships, with Meyer’s seemingly instant turnaround in Gainesville after Ron Zook’s three mediocre seasons serving as one of the nation’s more impressive accomplishments in the past decade.
Paterno called Meyer “one of the great coaches of the last 25 years,” a classification that certainly includes Penn State’s bespectacled leader. Paterno will coach in his 25th New Year’s Day bowl game, the most recent a 19-17 win over LSU in the 2010 Capital One Bowl.
“He is a great friend and he’s a guy I have admired since I got into coaching because he does it right,” Meyer said of Paterno. “I spend every second I can with him when I’m in the same place as him. I’ve studied (him). I take a notebook every time I’m with him.”
The Gators have beaten the Nittany Lions twice on New Year’s Day in their only meetings, including a 21-6 win in the 1998 Citrus Bowl.
Meyer may not want to be defined by his success in bowl games, but he’s made it awfully tough to ignore. He was 2-0 in the postseason at Utah and is 4-1 at Florida, including four BCS victories.
Meyer and Paterno’s programs rank fourth and 12th, respectively, in wins since 2005, but there were also plenty of similarities this season between two teams that couldn’t achieve top-tier status due to their struggling offenses.
With Tim Tebow gone, Florida finished 10th in the SEC in total yards (356.8 per game) – more than 100 fewer than it averaged in 2009.
Penn State, meanwhile, finished ninth in the Big Ten in points per game (24.6). Freshman Robert Bolden threw five touchdowns in seven games before being replaced by sophomore Matt McGloin, who tossed 13 TDs the rest of the way.
The Gators began the season with John Brantley under center, but freshmen Jordan Reed and Trey Burton later saw time running Meyer’s familiar spread option formation. Brantley only threw nine touchdown passes in 12 games and finished 87th nationally in pass efficiency.
The offense especially sputtered toward season’s end, turning the ball over six times and averaging 251.0 yards in Florida’s last two games against FBS opponents, losses to South Carolina and Florida State by a combined 67-21.
“It’s been tough,” Brantley said after a 31-7 loss to the Seminoles. “You never hope for a season like this. Things happen, and we’ve stuck together throughout it all.”
Florida will be without cornerback Janoris Jenkins in this game. Jenkins had surgery on his right shoulder recently, while right tackle Maurice Hurt (right knee) and defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh (right hip) and Terron Sanders (right shoulder) also will sit out.
Jenkins has started all 11 games this season. He has eight career interceptions, including three this season. Moses Jenkins or Cody Riggs likely will start in his place.
The Gators may also be without defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who was treated and released from a hospital Tuesday after suffering from gastritis. Austin joined the Gators this season after spending the previous seven in the NFL as a defensive backs coach.
Florida is 1-2 in the Outback Bowl, while Penn State – 3-0 previously – will attempt to be the first school with four wins in the Tampa game.
Penn State (7-5) vs. Florida (7-5), 1 p.m. Saturday on ABC
- Series Record: Florida leads 2-0.
- Last Meeting: Florida 21-6 on Jan. 1, 1998, in Orlando, Fla.
What’s at Stake
Penn State is appearing in its 37th postseason game under Joe Paterno, the all-time leader in bowl wins with 24. The 84-year-old coach has shrugged off rumors that this may be his last game, saying he has no plans to retire, and the Nittany Lions are approaching the game with intentions of setting the tone for the 2011 season.
Florida, meanwhile, will be playing its last game under Urban Meyer, who resigned Dec. 8 because of health concerns and to spend more time with his family. The Gators, who won two of the past four national championships, have hired former Texas head coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp as his replacement.
Florida’s spread offense against a Penn State defense that’s allowed at least 24 points in each of the Nittany Lions’ five losses. The Gators have been inconsistent offensively in the first year of the post-Tim Tebow era, yet still average 31.3 points and 364.2 yards per game. Penn State’s defense has yielded 22.6 points and 352.5 yards per game.
Players to Watch
Penn State: RB Evan Royster has run for 916 yards and six touchdowns this season, becoming the Nittany Lions’ career rushing leader with 3,834 yards and 29 TDs. QB Matt McGloin has thrown 1,337 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions, and leading receiver Derek Moye has 48 catches for 806 yards and seven touchdowns.
Florida: QB John Brantley has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,020 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. RB Jeff Demps has rushed for 531 yards and three TDs, averaging 6 yards per carry. WR Deonte Thompson has 36 receptions for 548 yards and one TD.
Facts and Figures
Penn State is appearing in a New Year’s bowl game for the 25th time under Paterno. The Nittany Lions are 17-7 in those appearances, including a 3-0 record in the Outback Bowl … The only other times Florida and Penn State have faced each other were the 1962 Gator Bowl and 1998 Citrus Bowl. The Gators won both meetings … Royster is 84 yards shy of becoming the first Penn State player with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons … It’s Florida’s 38th bowl appearance. The Gators are 18-19, including 4-1 under Meyer, who won the national championship in 2006 and 2008. … Florida’s Chas Henry won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter … Eighteen Gators, including four on defense, scored touchdowns this season … Florida is 1-2 in three previous trips to the Outback Bowl. The win came against Iowa in the 2006 game, capping Meyer’s first season (2005) in Gainesville.
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