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FIRST-PERSON: Urban Meyer walks away from a cliché

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Saying that family is a priority in one’s life is easy. Spout a few trite clichés on the importance of family and you’re done. Actually making the family a priceless aspect of one’s life is more difficult. It requires actions that actually articulate in a tangible way that family is a priceless priority.

Urban Meyer, head coach of the University of Florida football team, recently took action that has articulated to the sports world — and more importantly to his wife and children — that family is prominent in his life.

One of the most successful coaches in college football, having won two conference championships and two national championships, Meyer announced Dec. 8 that he was leaving coaching in order to focus on his family. “At the end of the day,” Meyer said, “I’m very convinced that you’re going to be judged on how you are as a father and not on how many bowl games we won.”

Meyer has struggled with the cliché of family importance for some time. He has been coaching at the collegiate level for 25 years. In the past 10 years Meyer has been the head coach at Bowling Green, Utah and, for the past six seasons, Florida. The 15 years prior to his career as a head coach Meyer spent time as an assistant at Ohio State, Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame.

Life as head coach of a prominent college football program is beyond demanding. Few outside the profession can grasp the time commitment. Most in Meyer’s profession burn the proverbial candle at both ends. As a self-professed workaholic Meyer has — more times than not — even had the middle of the candle ablaze.

“At this time in my life, however, I fully grasp the sacrifices my 24/7 profession has demanded of me,” Meyer said in a statement released by the university.

“I’ve not seen my two girls play high school sports,” Meyer said during the press conference announcing his resignation. “They’re both very talented Division I-A volleyball players.” He added, “I can’t get that time back.”

Meyer and Shelley, his wife of 24 years, have three children: Nicole, Gigi and Nathan. Nicole plays volleyball at Georgia Tech and Gigi recently signed to play volleyball for Florida Gulf Coast University.

“I think this last year was a wakeup call,” Meyer said during the press conference. “To see my beautiful daughter Gigi over there signing a national letter of intent to go to Florida Gulf Coast and I’ve not even seen the school yet.” He added, “I guarantee I’m going to see it.”

Sports cynics believe Meyer’s decision to step down as head coach of the Gators has more to do with a sub-par season than it does the noble choice of putting family first. Florida struggled this season, finishing the regular season 7-5. Some jaded broadcasters and jaundiced journalists predict Meyer-the-family-man will succumb to Meyer-the-driven-coach when the right offer comes along.

The skeptical pundits point out that a year ago, Meyer announced he was stepping down due to health reasons, only to change the resignation into an extended leave of absence one day later. They predict that a few months of recuperation away from the locker room, plus the prospect of a huge payday, will cause Meyer’s devotion to family to dissolve.

Will Meyer return to coaching? Perhaps someday, but those who know him best say it will not be in the near future. “I don’t think anytime soon,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told the St. Petersburg Times concerning the prospect of Meyer coaching again.

It is difficult to admit that in practical terms — the only terms that really matter — your career has been more important than your family. It takes humility to announce to the world that your priorities have been askew.

As difficult as it is to confess that one’s family has been placed on a back burner, it is even tougher to do something about it.

Meyer leaves his post at Florida with five years remaining on his contract. His final five years were reported to be worth about $4 million a year. The decision means he is walking away from an estimated $20 million. That is what I call putting your money where your mouth is.

There are too many men and women who sacrifice their families at the altar of career, or hobby, or addiction, or lust, with far much less at stake than Meyer. Putting family first takes a courage and a commitment that seems in short supply these days.

Urban Meyer is fortunate. He has realized, hopefully before it is too late, that family is a priceless priority. Something is priceless when it cannot be replaced and when, if you lose it, you realize your life will never be the same.

Here is hoping Meyer will invest as much time as possible in his precious wife and three children. And here is hoping that many will be inspired to follow his example and make family a priceless priority.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs