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Meyer calls an audible

Coach won’t resign, but to take leave of absence

Less than 24 hours after saying he was resigning, Florida’s Urban Meyer had changed his mind. He’ll coach in the Sugar Bowl, then take an indefinite break. Less than 24 hours after saying he was resigning, Florida’s Urban Meyer had changed his mind. He’ll coach in the Sugar Bowl, then take an indefinite break. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
By Mark Long
Associated Press / December 28, 2009

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NEW ORLEANS - It took an emotional team meeting, a sleepless night, and about an hour of practice for Florida football coach Urban Meyer to change his mind about resigning.

With his health and his family still major concerns, Meyer withdrew his resignation yesterday and decided to take an indefinite leave of absence. He will coach the fifth-ranked Gators in the Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Cincinnati on Friday, then take some time off in hopes of alleviating recurring chest pains.

His announcement capped a wild and weird two days. He stunned college football twice in a 20-hour span, first by saying he planned to walk away from coaching, then by revealing he expects to be back on the sideline next season.

“I do in my gut believe that will happen,’’ Meyer said.

Flanked by athletic director Jeremy Foley and senior quarterback Tim Tebow, the 45-year-old Meyer stoically responded to repeated questions about his health, his heart, and his head. With his wife and three children seated a few feet in front of him, Meyer declined to reveal much detail about his condition.

He acknowledged the possibility he might need a procedure to alleviate chest pains that started four years ago, but would not say if he had a heart condition. He insisted he didn’t have a heart attack and refused to say whether doctors told him he needed to step away.

This much he made clear: His players prompted the about-face.

First, he witnessed their tearful reaction to his resignation Saturday evening. Then he spent a few hours with them on the practice field yesterday morning.

“It’s very simple,’’ Meyer said. “The love that I have for these players, I think that’s well documented. Maybe one of the issues that I deal with is that I care so deeply about each individual. . . . We’ve had a heck of a run, a run that we’re very proud of. And when I sat back and watched those young guys go at it [yesterday] and our coaching staff and the program we’ve built, to not try would be not the right thing to do.’’

So Meyer called Foley from the practice field and told him he wanted to talk about taking a leave of absence - something school president Bernie Machen first mentioned last week. Foley and several assistant coaches also tried to persuade Meyer to take time off, but the coach thought it would be better for the program, his health, and his family for him to get away for good.

Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will run the team during Meyer’s absence.

Tebow and linebacker Ryan Stamper called the two days a whirlwind for everyone. They both sensed something was wrong during Saturday’s practice when Meyer said he loved them and gave subtle hints that “everything wasn’t right,’’ according to Tebow.