GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With his wife and two of his three children sitting a few feet away, Urban Meyer didn't have to look very far to be reminded why he's leaving one of the premier jobs in college football.
It's all about family.
Meyer resigned from Florida on Wednesday, stepping down for the second time in less than a year. His first attempt, which lasted just a day, was for health reasons. This time it's to be a better husband and father.
"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 at a campus news conference.
"I've not seen my two girls play high school sports. They're both very talented Division I-A volleyball players, so I missed those four years. I missed two already with one away at college. I can't get that time back."
The 46-year-old coach led Florida to two national titles but briefly resigned last December, citing health concerns. He had been hospitalized with chest pains after the Gators lost to Alabama in last season's Southeastern Conference championship game.
"Last year was a knee-jerk reaction," Meyer said. "This year was just completely different."
Meyer called Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley on Saturday to tell him he was contemplating retirement. They met Tuesday to finalize his intentions.
Meyer signed a six-year, $24 million extension in 2009, meaning he's walking away from about $20 million in guaranteed salary. But Foley did agree to pay Meyer a $1 million retention bonus the coach would have received had he been employed on Jan. 31, 2011.
This time, Foley doesn't anticipate another change of heart.
"He's worked his tail off," Foley said. "You think of what he's rebuilt. He built one at Bowling Green, he built one at Utah, he built one here. It's not just sacrifices here the last six years. That's 10 years of their lives, not to mention what he did before that as an assistant coach. It's his time to step back and spend time with his family. You're not getting it back. I admire him for that."
Foley said the coaching search will begin immediately and hopes to have a new coach before Christmas. Although Foley declined to offer names, Utah's Kyle Whittingham, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino are likely on the list.
Meyer said he planned to be involved in the search, which could make Whittingham and Mullen front-runners. Whittingham was Meyer's defensive coordinator in Utah, and Mullen held the same position under Meyer for four years at Florida. Petrino was Foley's second choice behind Meyer in 2004.
"I don't see why it should take that long," Foley said, adding that he has not contacted anyone.
Meyer's announcement caught players, fans and the rest of college football by surprise.
He called assistant coaches, many of whom were on the road recruiting, earlier this week to relay the news. Quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler told the AP he was "stunned" and that no one saw this coming.
"We'll be fine," said Loeffler, adding that Meyer was planning to meet with his staff Wednesday night. "It happens in this profession. We're just happy for him. He's doing it the right way."
AOL FanHouse first reported the resignation, and fellow coaches were quick to praise his efforts at Florida.
"The world of college football will miss Urban," said former USC coach Pete Carroll, who left his job for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. "He did a great job coaching at Florida. He had major personal issues and health issues a year ago, and I'm sure that he did everything he could to fight it off. Now he's making decisions that are probably exactly what he needs to be doing."
"I believe he will coach again some day, but if he doesn't, he will go down as one of the best coaches in college football history," said former Florida coach and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
Meyer left open the possibility of returning to the sideline, but said it was not going to happen in the "immediacy."
He plans to catch his daughters' volleyball matches — his oldest is a sophomore at Georgia Tech and the other will attend Florida Gulf Coast next fall — and catch more of his son's athletic events.
"There's not a perfect time, however, this is probably about as good a time you can have," Meyer said.40 comments on this story
The decision to walk away was even tougher because of Florida's struggles this season. The Gators were near the bottom the SEC in every offensive category, got blown out in games against Alabama, South Carolina and Florida State, and finished 7-5.
It was the most losses in Meyer's 10-year coaching career.
"I just think Florida deserves the best, and I'm not sure we gave them my best this year," he said.
Meyer was hired away from Utah by Florida after he led the Utes to an undefeated season. In his second season in Gainesville, he led the Gators' to a national championship. Two seasons later he won another.