Meyer's nine-year run came with costs

In the end, everyone pays the price.

The intensity within Urban Meyer burned so fiercely you could feel the heat shimmering off of him. He pushed and he prodded and he challenged the Florida football team, and he never backed up. Coaching consumed him. Winning consumed him.

Meyer's engine revved way past the red line, yet he never eased off the pedal. He brings to mind the advertisement of a few years back, when the auto mechanic said, "You can pay me now or you can pay me later."

The bill came due. Faced with the task of rebuilding after one of the most successful five-year runs in recent history, Meyer begged off. It must kill a coach as competitive as Meyer to back away from the fight. But it might have killed him if he didn't.

Meyer told The New York Times' Pete Thamel that he lost 20 pounds in the 10 days surrounding the SEC championship game. He awoke in the wee hours after the game with chest pains and spent that morning in a Gainesville hospital.

Meyer retires with a record of 95-18 (.841). He's fourth in all-time winning percentage behind Knute Rockne (.881) and Frank Leahy (.864), both of Notre Dame, and George Woodruff (.846), who coached more than a century ago. Meyer is fourth with an asterisk; the NCAA requires a minimum of 10 seasons to be listed among its all-time coaches. If Meyer was given an 0-12 record for a 10th season, his "record" of 95-30 (.760) would still rank ahead of Woody Hayes (.759) and Red Blaik (.759).

The NCAA might be alone in failing to recognize Meyer's acumen. Any coach can win one national championship. The group that has won more than one does not include Lou Holtz, Meyer's one-time mentor, or Steve Spurrier, the former standard-setter at Florida.

Coaches are paid millions. That money comes at a price. That money costs family time and relaxation time and, in Meyer's case, health. He is not alone. In the days leading up to that same SEC championship game, the other head coach, Nick Saban of Alabama, muttered more than once, "I don't know how much longer I can do this."

"I do," said his wife, Terry, retelling on the day of the game how she cajoled her husband. "You have two houses to pay for."

It is one thing to complain beneath a crushing workload. Saban's pace has worn out many an assistant coach. Even he is beginning to ease up, at least by his standards. Saban took off Christmas Eve and Christmas -- two consecutive days! -- and maybe discovered that the world did not end.

Then again, the Sabans are empty-nesters. The pull of family is not as taut on him as it is on Meyer, who is raising teenagers. Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's oldest son, Tucker, just finished his sophomore season as a high school quarterback. Tuberville said he will take Tucker's career into account as he decides when to return to coaching.

Not that any coach works a 40-hour week, but over his nine seasons as a head coach, Meyer probably put himself through 18 years of 40-hour weeks. He won more games in nine seasons than some coaches win in 18, too.

Now he has nine years of downtime to catch up on. Meyer may not need nine years off. But at 45 he is young enough and has enough money in the bank to stay away for a long time and still return to the game for many seasons.

A year ago, on the day before the BCS National Championship Game that Florida would win, someone asked Meyer if he saw himself coaching into his 70s, like Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden. The look of horror on his face made the answer superfluous.

"There will be no chance I'll be doing this in my 70s or 80s," he said.

A few minutes later, someone asked Meyer to elaborate.

"You certainly won't see it at the same institution," he said. "People get tired of you and they want to run you out of town. You see that all the time. You're a missed field goal away from being a bum with everybody else. That's just part of the deal. All coaches know that now. … You have about two, three years to get your program going. So I don't see doing that. The wear and tear on coaching is -- I imagine it's like it's never been, with recruiting 24/7, 12 months a year. It's a tough lifestyle."

Meyer knew the charges accruing in his name. On Christmas Day, he decided to pay them.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.