We Here at Coaches Hot Seat Were Not Surprised At All That Urban Meyer Would Need a Break From the Game – The Pressures That Meyer Places on Himself Are Almost Unprecedented – Sports Illustrated Story – What Urban Meyer Should Give Long Thought To…..And What Urban Meyer Could Learn From the Great Jack Nicklaus – The Balance Between Work and Family Life and How to React to and Learn From Losing Is What Meyer Should Work On….Not “Learning to Relax”
When the news first broke over the weekend that Urban Meyer was stepping down as the head coach at Florida Coaches Hot Seat members were deep into a pool tournament on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The first sign was that slow crawl across the bottom of the screen that seemed to say…”Urban Meyer resigning from Florida” was followed up by ESPN breaking into a football game to tell the world that Meyer was done in Gainesville. Everyone here at Coaches Hot Seat that has followed Urban Meyer since he first came onto our radar at Utah certainly was not surprised that the intense pressure that Meyer puts himself under had finally forced him to step away from the game, but many of us also thought on Saturday that there was little chance he would be away from the game for long.
Then came Sunday morning and the report that Meyer was not resigning, but taking a “leave of absence” from the Florida football team and then the Sunday news conference with a clearly still shaken and confused Urban Meyer and Florida AD Jeremy Foley working through what was actually going to happen with Meyer in the coming months live on television for all to see in real time. As we here at Coaches Hot Seat thought on Saturday and only confirmed to us on Sunday, we all knew that Urban Meyer was going to reach a point where his physical and mental health would not allow him to go forward and we are still not sure at this point if Meyer will be on the sidelines when Florida kicks off the 2010 season and we are very confident that Meyer doesn’t know that either.
There have been so many warning signs about Meyer through the years, from some of the stories we first heard when Meyer was the head coach Utah about his days as an assistant at Colorado State and Notre Dame, to Buddy Martin’s book Urban’s Way: Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators, and His Plan to Win, to the Sports Illustrated article in early December that detailed Meyer’s upbringing in Ohio, all are pieces of the story that led to Meyer having to take considerable stock of his life after the SEC Championship Game when he experienced another physical episode that rightfully caused him to question his mortality.
In so many ways, even though Urban Meyer is only 45 years old, he and his upbringing are a throwback to the generation that preceded him where parents, especially Dads, were very demanding on their sons. As one looks around college football today some of the best coaches were raised by fathers that were not all that different than what Meyer experienced growing up and we think that particular demanding upbringing is often a defining trait of a successful head coach. The Stoops brothers, Bob, Mike, Mark, Bo Pelini, Nick Saban, and many other very successful head coaches come to mind that had fathers that were demanding of their sons in childhood, but Meyer’s father may have taken it to another level, or least to a level that is rarely seen in America anymore. Below is an excerpt from the early December Sports Illustrated story on Urban Meyer and his father:
“Still, Dad was no absentminded professor. His expectations were “almost unachievable,” Urban says: The kids were to get straight A’s, skip grades, be impeccable. Any success was greeted with the barest of praise, and any failure, any transgression, with the command to run hundreds of laps around the house or play fierce games of pepper.
Although Urban (Bud) Meyer Jr. was named, like his father and son, for a pope, and spent three years at seminary and would remain a staunch pre–Vatican II Catholic, he cursed like a stevedore. His idol was Woody Hayes. “Some kids in Ashtabula were scared of him because he’s no-bulls—,” says Gigi, a former economics professor who is a vice provost at the University of Cincinnati.
“He’s a nasty ass,” says former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, Hayes’s successor and an unrepentant hard-liner, who chuckles as he speaks of Bud. “That’s what I like about him.”
There’s a reason, during games, that Florida players rarely find themselves awash in praise. “I tell our coaches all the time, ‘Let’s not act surprised,’” Meyer says. “These guys are gifted athletes; that’s their job. I don’t want every four-yard play to be, Ohmygod!”
And why should it? When Meyer won his first national title, after the 2006 season, it was as clear a moment of arrival as football had seen in years. Meyer had grown up worshipping Ohio State, wearing number 45 in honor of Archie Griffin; he had teared up the first time he touched a Buckeyes jersey. Now, on a perfect January night in Phoenix, this son of Ohio had just crushed Woody’s old school 41–14. Meyer was 42 years old, in just his sixth year as a head coach. He shook hands with Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel at midfield, walked to the sideline and found his father was waiting.
“Well,” Bud said. “It’s about time you did that.””
We can only imagine that most parents raising kids in America in 2009 would either shake their heads or scream with horror at the way Urban Meyer’s father raised and even today interacts with his adult son and to a great extent they would be right to be concerned that something is just not right here, because something is just not right here. If Urban Meyer really wants to completely understand why he. and so many other football coaches put so much pressure on themselves for that matter, he can give a lot of thought about the way he was raised and how that upbringing affects the way he coaches and more importantly the direct impact the results of his success or failures when coaching affects him and his family’s life.
The very simple answer is that Urban Meyer was raised by a very demanding father which is a figure that for the most part has disappeared from the American scene in the last 30 years and the internal pressure that Meyer places on himself are directly related to the way that he was raised. For a whole host of reasons, more education, more affluence, parents working harder and with much less time to spend with their kids, cultural norms changing, etc., parents for the most part have swung in the entire opposite direction from being very demanding to being very accepting of almost anything their children do, in life or on the sports field. Now, we here at Coaches Hot Seat believe that the pendulum has swung to far to the Candy Ass “Everyone is a Winner!” view of raising children, but we also believe that the norm in raising children from 30 to 50 years go, especially sons, wasn’t right either.
If Urban Meyer really wants to get at his problems then he would be wise to give a lot of thought to how his father’s upbringing is still affecting him today and how that upbringing even today is placing a lot of pressure on Meyer to both coach and have his teams perform at a high level and especially how losing games affects his life mentally and physically. It has been widely reported in the press that Meyer is deeply impacted by losing football games and that one of the main drivers in his life is to avoid at all costs “losing,” because it looks to us that “losing” a football game places on Meyer a mental burden that in many ways overwhelms the man. We have no doubt that Urban Meyer puts tremendous pressure on himself, which in itself is not bad and is a trait of almost all successful people in the world today, but that pressure has gotten to such a level now with Meyer that it is affecting him mentally and it also seems putting his life in danger. Now Meyer doesn’t have to descend into psycho-babble of how his Dad was mean and too demanding of him growing up because Meyer is now an adult and he can choose the way he lives his life and fundamentally change the way he thinks, coaches and interacts with his family and players. As the American philosopher William James said:
“The greatest discover of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
No, Urban Meyer doesn’t need to see a psychiatrist to figure out that his Dad was very demanding on him and that Meyer now puts a lot of pressure on himself to both live up to his Dad’s and his own standards, but Meyer must also realize that at the core of his problems is the reality that he has the wrong mental approach when it comes to the importance of football, wins and losses, and how football fits with his life and thus the life of his family and players
If Urban Meyer really wants to understand a different and much more healthy way of thinking about how his job as the head football coach at Florida, football, winning and losing and all that comes with modern college athletics can all fit into a healthy way of living, he can look to another man that was raised in Ohio and has called the state of Florida home for almost 40 years. We are talking about a man that is we believe the greatest winner in any sport over the past 50 years and possibly the greatest winner in the history of American sport, and that man is Jack Nicklaus.
What should be intriguing to Urban Meyer to look into the way that Jack Nicklaus has lived his life is that Nicklaus was raised in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio by a father (Charlie) that was also very demanding upon his son, but in much different way than the way many young men that went onto great things in the world of sports that were raised in America in the last 50 years. Charlie Nicklaus was a pharmacist and ran a few drug stores in the Columbus area so he did not have an unlimited amount of time to spend with his son Jack, but in that small amount of time that Charlie did spend with his son he raised not only man that become one of the great winners of all time, but also a man that has his life in balance and most importantly for Urban Meyer a man that has a very healthy view of competing, winning, and most importantly…losing.
If Urban Meyer asked for our advice on his current predicament, we would advise him to go right to the horse’s mouth and call Jack Nicklaus down in West Palm Beach, Florida to see if he and his family could come down and spend a few days with the Nicklaus family. What Urban Meyer and his family would find with the Jack Nicklaus and his family is a man that found a way to be one of the greatest winners of all time and a man that by all accounts has been one of the greatest fathers as well (the same can be said for Jack’s wife Barbara, another Ohioan who is one of the classiest people on the Earth today). In Jack Nicklaus’ great book on the mental side of golf and life, Jack Nicklaus’ Playing Lessons, Nicklaus discusses the things that have driven him during his career, and here Urban Meyer will find much familiarity:
“The two things that motivate me most are closely allied. They are failure and a desire for self-improvement.”
By failure, I don’t necessarily mean getting beat, although that’s often the end result and in itself is a strong motivation to go to work. The kind of failing I’m talking about is failing to measure up to the standards I’ve set for myself personally. When that happens, I get an irresistible urge – almost a compulsion – to improve. Whatever effort is necessary to prevent another failure, I just have to make it. Like now. Today.
Frankly, I believe this, more than anything else, is the reason I am where I am today. I’m not an easily satisfied person. Sure I take a lot of satisfaction in what I’ve achieved. But life doesn’t stand still. Every satisfaction wanes after a while, so if you’re like me you don’t sit around looking backwards. You try to move on, to look for something that gives you another satisfaction and, at the same time, hopefully adds a little more to your life.”
We are quite confident that Urban Meyer, as would every successful head football coach, identify with Jack Nicklaus on the above quote. Nicklaus goes on:
“Motivationally, this urge for self-improvement has very little to do with winning, and nothing at all to do with making money or other materialistic factors. I’ve always believed that performance takes care of those things.
Anytime there’s a cooling off in this impulse to improve, one emotion above all others will get a good blaze going again. It’s embarrassment. I am extremely easily embarrassed by myself. No single emotion is more responsible for whatever I’ve achieved.”
Yes, the above quotes from Jack Nicklaus are right in line with the way almost all successful head coaches, and folks in all walks of life that are successful in their chosen line of work, view themselves, but Jack Nicklaus’ life has not just been about winning golf tournaments and championships. As big of a winner that Jack Nicklaus was in golf he is equally of a big winner in his family life and the way that Nicklaus has lived should be a great lesson to all football coaches as well. Nicklaus goes on in Playing Lessons:
“I sometimes get criticism from people who do know me well that other aspects of my life are so debilitating that they detract from golf. Generally they are talking about the amount of extra traveling I do to be at home as much as possible, and the amount of time and energy I spend doing things with the kids, and the effort I make to play and watch other sports – in short, to live as full a family life as possible. Here again, I don’t think I’d have been any more successful at golf if I’d adopted a different life style.
I think there are three reasons why this busy and varied life style works for me.
The first is that I am temperamentally unsuited to a one-track life. Golf is my love and my career, but never has been a never could be everything. As a result, I have always tried a lot of other things, and as time has passed I have been fortunate enough to find that the four main activities that have evolved each fulfills a basic need.
First, of course, there is my family, which fulfills my strongest emotional needs. Next, there is golf course design, which supplies an outlet for my creativity. Then there is business, which poses intellectual and competitive challenges totally different from those of golf. Finally, there are other sports, which provide both physical exercise and mental relaxation.”
All of these things in sum provide one further ingredient, which is absolutely essential to my mental attitude as a golfer. That fifth ingredient is the stimulus – really, the constant refreshing – of my desire to play tournament golf. In other words, after an intensive effort in any or all of these other areas, I am always eager to get back to actually playing golf – just like the weekend golfer who can’t wait to get to the course on Saturday morning, after a week of living his “other” lives.”
Jack Nicklaus goes on in Playing Lessons to make many other salient points about how he approaches playing tournament golf and how he balances the very important factors of family and life outside of golf, but to the point of Urban Meyer and other college coaches that find themselves driven to the point of exhaustion by all that goes into coaching in the college game today, Jack Nicklaus found a formula in where he was able to balance the demands of golf, family, interests outside of golf, etc, and still be one of the greatest winners of all time and college head coaches would be wise as well to carve out time even during the season so that live a more balanced life as well.
One of the things that we have heard in recent days from Urban Meyer and from people around him is that Urban needs to find a way “to relax more.” Sorry, Urban Meyer finding ways to “relax more” will not solve his problem when it comes to how hard mentally it is on Meyer to meet the demands he places on himself and how losing football games drains him so much mentally and physically. What Urban Meyer must address if he wants to return to coaching for even 5 more years is the hard wiring that is in his brain that tells him that losing football games will define who he is as a person. Yes, people on the outside in the press might write that Meyer and the Gators losing a football game is “Meyer’s fault” or something similar but Meyer needs to find a way to turn the large amount of internal and external pressure into a positive so that it does not continue to lap over into negatives that impact him so much mentally and physically. Yes, winning football games is very important, but have winning and losing in perspective and being able to find the positives in losing and turning the lessons learned when losing into something that makes Meyer and his football team better for the next game or season is where Meyer’s energies should be channeled, because that is the precise point that divides the healthy life of Jack Nicklaus and the unhealthy life of Urban Meyer.
As Jack Nicklaus wrote in Playing Lessons:
“Golf is my love and my career, but never has been a never could be everything.”
Golf is not everything to Jack Nicklaus and football and what happens on the football field, and especially how Meyer reacts mentally and thus physically to what happens on field, cannot be everything to Meyer. Urban Meyer has made a point in saying that his family and his faith are the most important things in life, and we have no reason to doubt him on that, but we do believe that the importance of winning and losing and the impact that losing has on Meyer is blown completely out of proportion by Meyer, to his great detriment, and until Meyer gets straight in his mind how both winning and losing can play constructive roles in his life and the life of his players, he will continue to struggle with the large internal demands he places on himself which we believe originate from his upbringing.
If Meyer doesn’t believe that idea, he should get Nick Saban on the phone, because Saban is another very successful head coach that was raised by a very demanding father and to a great extent Saban has been trying all his life to meet those demands and that is one of the biggest things driving Saban today. The very same thing could have been said about Paul “Bear” Bryant, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Jimmy Johnson and many other great coaches, but there are also great head coaches that were able to balance coaching and life and still be great winners: Tom Osborne, Darrell Royal, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, John Robinson, and many others.
A few of us here at Coaches Hot Seat have been lucky enough in our lives to see Jack Nicklaus play golf when he was at the tail-end of his great career, but still winning major championships and to spend a little amount of time around Mr. Nicklaus and play some golf with his sons. It is just impossible to overemphasize the incredible life that Jack Nicklaus has lived and what a great winner the man is on the golf course and in his life. One of the golf tournaments that best exemplifies just what a great winner Jack Nicklaus is, and how he can so ably deal with the pain of losing was his battle with Tom Watson at the 1977 US Open at Turnberry. Below is a video of Nicklaus and Watson playing the 18 th hole at the 1977 British Open. Watch how Nicklaus battles to the end against his good friend Tom Watson and more importantly how quickly Jack Nicklaus is able to deal with both losing and congratulating his good friend for winning the tournament.
Yes, not only is Jack Nicklaus one of the greatest champions and winners of all time, he is also one of the classiest Americans of all-time as well. Jack Nicklaus loves to win, but he does not let losing consume him and in fact far from letting losing overwhelm him Nicklaus like the greatest champions immediately forgets the loss and turns to figure out how he is going to learn from that loss and how to turn the lessons learned into a win. Jack Nicklaus rebounded from his tough loss to Tom Watson in the 1977 British Open (and The Masters earlier that year also to Watson), to win the US Open and PGA in 1980 at the age of 40 and in still the greatest major championship in golf history, to win The Masters in 1986.
So much can be learned from Jack Nicklaus on how to compete, how to win and lose with class and how to live one’s life, and not only by Urban Meyer, because all of us need to live a more balanced life between work, family, our faith and the other pursuits in our lives. If Urban Meyer is smart he will not only “try to relax” during his leave of absence, but he will also look into the reasons why losing impacts him so personally and how a healthier respect for where winning and losing fits into his and his family’s life as well.
Good Luck to you Coach Meyer.
Still, for us here at Coaches Hot Seat, there will be no excuses for Meyer if the Gators fail to show up in Sugar Bowl like Alabama did last season, so play hard Florida or your head coach might just find himself moving up the Coaches Hot Seat Rankings. See, pressure is just not internal, but external as well, and the greatest champions of all time don’t ignore that pressure but they find ways to channel it making them even greater champions. In fact, the ability to take pressure of all kinds and turn it into a positive is the one defining trait of the greatest champions. We will be watching closely to see if Meyer can get his mind right and come back as an even better husband, father and head coach.