Tuesday December 28, 2010Meyer Is Pleased At How Transition Has Unfolded; Ready For Final Game
Gators’ coach Urban Meyer appeared as relaxed on Tuesday as perhaps any time during his six seasons leading Florida’s football program. Eighty-four-year-old Penn State coach Joe Paterno also was in good spirits, laughing at Internet reports that had him in the hospital and facing the end of his career – or worse.
Of course, it’s Meyer who is coaching his final game in Saturday’s Outback Bowl. He already has an idea of what he might do afterward.
“I’ve put in my application as graduate assistant at Penn State,’’ Meyer said during Tuesday’s Outback Bowl press conference. “I can set up the cones really well and make a good pot of coffee.’’
Paterno had a few good quips of his own on a sunny afternoon – matching the two coaches’ mood – here prior to the each team’s practice.
When discussing Meyer’s potential future on television, Paterno pointed out that the two coaches have the same passion for the game, but that Meyer is going out differently than he likely will.
“I certainly have some empathy towards the way he wants to go,’’ Paterno said. “I’m different than Urban. I’ve got people calling up saying, ‘When the hell are you getting out?’ I’ve got a whole different slant on it.”
As the two coaches spoke about their first head-to-head matchup, it was obvious the mutual respect the two men share.
Meyer has said repeatedly since the Florida-Penn State game was announced that Paterno runs the Nittany Lions’ program “the right way’’ and is one of the coaches he has tried to emulate during his career.
The two joked openly with each other during Tuesday’s press conference, with Meyer often laughing at Paterno’s jabs.
Kidding aside, Paterno voiced the same respect for Meyer, who at 46 is 38 years younger than Paterno. That hasn’t prevented Paterno from noticing his younger opponent’s impact on the game in 10 years as a head coach.
“I have said this privately and publicly – and that’s why I hate to see him go – I think that Urban has been one of the innovators with some of the things they’ve done on the field.
“My son Jay [Penn State’s quarterbacks coach] worships the guy. I keep telling him, ‘Your old man’s a head coach too, you know.’ ”
While a game between a pair of 7-5 teams might not create a lot of buzz normally, the 25th anniversary Outback Bowl is different, mostly due to Meyer’s surprise announcement earlier this month that he was going to step away from coaching to spend more time with his wife Shelley and their three children.
Adding to the storyline is the contrasting nature of Paterno’s status as the coach who won’t stop coaching.
Paterno has dealt with constant rumors about his health and his future over the past week. He sounded and looked good on Tuesday while addressing his coaching plans for probably the thousandth time this season.
“People think I’m going to quit this year or next year,’’ Paterno said. “I haven’t even thought about it. I don’t see any reason for getting out of it yet.
Meanwhile, Meyer saw a reason and took it. He is uncertain of what he’ll do next, but has said he wants to remain part of college football I some capacity.
“I’m very concerned about it,’’ Meyer said of college football. “Football is not a fad. It’s turning into a fad. I hope to see it come back to the way it was, and that was a team sport with a bunch of good guys doing it the right way and guys getting an education.’’
Paterno agreed that the state of college football could be better.
“I’m worried about the game,’’ Paterno said. “I think football has a dimension to it that is very, very meaningful to young people, particularly at that age when they have that competitive spark and an opportunity to understand what it is to be part of something bigger than they are.’’
Meyer said one of the reasons he got into coaching was because of people like Paterno, former Ohio State coach Earl Bruce and former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, coaches he grew up watching during his Midwestern upbringing in Ohio.
Meyer tried to build the same kind of program at Florida. After two national titles in six years, he is leaving with Florida considered one of the elite programs in the nation.
As he prepares for his final game, Meyer is confident the program is in good hands in Will Muschamp.
“The guy we hired is fantastic,’’ Meyer said. “I think that eased a lot of the burden because the first priority is the players and the coaches. I’ve really enjoyed these last two weeks.
“If there’s ever a good time [to resign] – obviously I don’t know that there ever is – but this kind of worked out very well.’’
Meyer’s smile gave that away.