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health reasons
we're all calling in stressed
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

On the day after Christmas, Urban Meyer took the most coveted job in college football, or for that matter, academia, and one at which he had done better than any other coach at any other school in the top echelon of the top tier in college sports, and, remarkably, shoved it.

For health reasons.

Within minutes, symptoms began flying around the sports media universe like alternative uses for a golf club. "Chest pains" remains right there at the top, and any man who has reached a certain age will tell you that those two words alone convey enough information to shut you up, much the same way said demo reacts to the words "woman problems."

No one ever says, "What? Chest pains? You want a band-aid or do you just want to hike up your tutu and sit down for a while?"

No. Chest pains are the mystery X-factor that carry a prognosis somewhere between nasty-smelling burp and imminent death. You don't question it, you just nod and ask what the cardiologist thinks.

All sorts of diagnoses were being made for Urban Meyer. It was noted that he was hospitalized December 6th after the SEC championship game (one he lost, as the favorite, which hardly ever happens) with reports ranging from dehydration to chest pains and nausea. Heart attack? No heart attack. Maybe secret heart attack? There was tingling.

Tingling is not good. Call any doctor in America and mention the word "tingle," and they will scream at you to get to an ER.

Meyer's family was thrilled, relieved, and even euphoric. From all accounts, the resignation was real. This was not a Brett Favre staring-at-the-TV thing. There were no contract negotiations, no other job was available or rumored (although how quickly would Notre Dame have dumped their recent hire Brian Yesterday). This took place a scant few days before the big game, albeit the third-place game. There was not a hint, a whiff, or even an inkling of indiscretions.

So then the next day he unquit.

I totally understand this.

A little history.

Back in the olden days, when people really worked, I mean really worked, not this lethargic desk-jockeying between all-hands meetings we do today, having to step down for health reasons usually meant one was scraping one's feet on the Hello Kitty welcome mat on death's doorstep. It was likely only a matter of time before heart disease, cancer, or the vapors played out their final endgame. Or maybe some limb got caught in a wood chipper. Either way, it was usually something permanent.

Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, health reasons were sometimes discretely called upon to cover for a stint spent drying out. Now, this was still the olden days, long before not knowing when to stop pouring scotch down one's scotch hole could be classified as an actual medical malady. It's ironic that years later, this lie would indeed become the truth.

And that phenomenon peaked in the entertainment industry in the 1990s. It seemed like every other week, someone's tour or movie shoot or recording session was delayed or cut short due to the star in question taking leave for health reasons.

"Crack reasons" just doesn't carry the same gravitas, eh?

Getting back to Urban Meyer, my understanding of his career zig-zag comes from that fact that I know from whence he quit. I've never coached a major football program (unless you count that stint with the Hamburg Sea Devils), in fact, the closest I've come was three years coaching youth soccer -- the same team from five years old to eight years old. I departed that gig amicably, truth be told today, free agency was killing me.

But I have held some high-profile, high-stress, big-ramifications gigs in my career. Nobody's life was on the line in any case, but sometimes millions of dollars were at stake, enough to put it on par with, say, a Division III water polo program at a private university. So I can empathize with Mr. Meyer.

But I can also tell you that it wasn't the stress.

We all come to the table with built-in limitations on how much we can handle on a given day. These limitations are based on a combination of factors, including ignorance (this is huge, and I don't mean it in a bad way), basic genetic makeup, current physical and mental health profile, age, and sack, among others. If stress can be scored on a scale of 1 to 100, a guy like Urban Meyer has a red zone that starts at, say, 75. Mine is probably somewhere around 60. You might be able to guess yours. All doctors are probably very high.

The true mitigating circumstance is not the level of stress, especially in Meyer's case, but rather the value proposition of having to live in that red zone.

Let me put it simply. I can honestly say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that every single time I've been in that dark, smelly place where I'm not sleeping and I'm mumbling to my wife and kids and I've weighed what the stress might be doing to my psyche and my health and decided that maybe this wasn't worth it -- those times I can honestly say I absolutely, positively hated what I was doing.

Look. We live in a pocket of history where we're more sedentary, but we're also smarter. We know what the effects of constant stress can do to us. We also worry about it way more than we ever did, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of stress. It's the only condition that worsens the more you focus on it.

In those dark times, when I was driving home in the middle of night after having spent 16 hours yelling and getting yelled at and stuffing half a greasy sandwich and eight cups of coffee in my face and staring down the middle of still-too-crowded freeway with the freaking radio news arguing over who wants to explode us more -- yeah, there were chest pains.

Because I hated what I was doing.

And I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing.

And I was so stress-whacked out of my mind that I couldn't rationalize the difference between bad gas and a heart attack.

I'm speculating, but I think Urban Meyer is an amazing football coach who doesn't want to be a football coach. Who knows what it is. Maybe he wants to be a better father, maybe he wants to take up water colors, maybe he was meant to be the world's most awesome Burger King cashier.

We all know what we want to do, and in too many cases it's a matter of not being able to do it. Could be courage, could be circumstances, could be that we're just too damn good at something else and to let all those people down is just beyond our comprehension.

I probably face more of those little hiccups that send that stress index into the red zone today than I ever did. Too many things to do, too many people counting on me, too much rejection on the way to success.

But most days, I love what I do, and I'm constantly assured I'm doing it for the right reasons. So while there are the same amount of stress factors, maybe even the same amount of stress, there's no chest pains.

And I'll tell you Urban, if you had actually followed through and stayed quit and just took your millions and your championship and your legend and went on to do whatever it is that's pulling you into that ugly spiral, I for one would have cheered you on. You know it's not worth it. I know it's not worth it. And honestly, how many damn championships is enough?

On the other hand, it might just be bad gas. So, you know, it makes sense to at least wait until after the big game. Then clear your head, talk it through with your family, and figure out what it is you were meant to do.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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dirk cotton
1.1.10 @ 9:31a

I remember thinking back in ought-one that "ought" was going to catch on and that I would enjoy saying it. I understand the stress thing, but not the inability to make a decision (see Islands in the Stream of Consciousness http://www.intrepidmedia.com/column.asp?id=3809 )

Happy New Year!

joe procopio
1.9.10 @ 9:17a

In the column, I mention that Notre Dame would push heralded new coach Brian Kelly aside in a heartbeat for Urban Meyer. Looks like Seattle did just that to Jim Mora for Pete Carroll.

However, Pete Carroll is probably the penultimate college football coach, both in talent and fit. And the Seattle Seahawks, while purportedly in the NFL, seem like a step down from Carrolll's current job at USC, where dude rules California.

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