"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 begins 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.
Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, TCU's Gary Patterson and Stanford's Jim Harbaugh also could be considered.
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 served as the offensive coordinator 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."
Meyer's decision was even tougher because of Florida's woes this season. The Gators were near the bottom the SEC in every offensive category, got blown out by Alabama, South Carolina and Florida State, and finished 7-5. It's the most losses in Meyer's 10-year coaching career.
Several freshmen transferred, others threatened to leave and there seemed to be a huge divide between the team's underachieving seniors and Meyer's highly touted newcomers. Players refused to point fingers, but there were outcries for personnel and assistant coaching changes. There also was another arrest, the 30th involving 27 players during Meyer's tenure.
"I just think Florida deserves the best, and I'm not sure we gave them my best this year," he said.
Meyer seemingly didn't give his family his best, either. But he plans to rectify that after the bowl game, maybe even sooner.
"He's always been the No. 1 advocate for preaching about family and making sure you take care of your family and everything," punter Chas Henry said at the College Football Awards show in Orlando. "He's always going to be a legend and loved at the University of Florida."
Meyer was hired away from Utah in 2004 after he led the Utes to an undefeated season. In his second season in Gainesville, Meyer led the Gators to a national championship. Two seasons later, he won another, giving the school three in 13 years.
A bid for one more fell short in 2009, and the day after Christmas, Meyer surprisingly announced that he was giving up the job. Less than 24 hours later, he changed his mind and decided to instead take a leave of absence.
Meyer scaled back in January — he didn't go on the road recruiting — but still worked steadily through national signing day. He returned for spring practice in March, but managed to take significant time off before and after.
But this season he had to replace Tim Tebow, several other stars who moved on to the NFL and four assistant coaches, and the Gators struggled mightily.
Florida lost five regular-season games for the first time since 1988. The season ended with an embarrassing 31-7 victory to Florida State, Meyer's first loss to the rival Seminoles.
After that game, Meyer vowed to fix the team's problems.
Now, he'll help find the person to do it.
"It has to be fixed," he said. "It's broke a little bit right now. But the way you fix it is hard work. When I say broke it's broke because of a constant attrition of coaches who, God bless them, have gone on to be great head coaches. ... You lose five juniors to the NFL draft and you have a little bit of a void in there right now. But it's Florida. We'll be back strong, stronger than ever."
College football writer Ralph Russo in New York, and Sports Writers Fred Goodall in Orlando, Fla., and Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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