Thursday, December 31, 2009

on Meyer, stress and balance

Meant to put this up a few days ago, but I'll post it now, since the Sugar Bowl is so close: with Urban Meyer's (very public) health problems and crisis of identity now coming to light, nearly every relevant writer has offered an opinion. In an effort to post something fresh, my friend Peter & I decided to come at it another way. Peter, as some of you who read this blog know, is both a pastor at Cullman FUMC , a husband and a father and someone who recently endured a very complicated brain surgery (he's doing fine now, as this post will attest). You may remember him from a 2008 post in which he explained, in chapter and verse, how evil the University of Georgia really is.
This one is slightly more serious: I asked Peter to give his thoughts, both as someone who's endured health problems and someone who would offer counseling. Feel free to read and offer your own thoughts in the commentary section.

will: Of course, by now you know as much as anybody about what's going on with Urban Meyer in Gainesville. Here, then, is my theory about what happened.
I think the health problems are legit — we know, for example, about the cyst on coach Meyer's brain (per an story) and the resulting migraines. We also know he's had some heart problems (he said so himself during his bizarre press conference Sunday). Obviously, it's tricky to speculate, but all these health problems can be caused (not to mention exacerbated) by stress. And not too many professions have a higher stress level on a day-to-day basis than a big-time head-coaching job: you're up early, stay late, spend your off hours making recruiting trips or breaking down an extra game tape (as we know, coach Saban admitted to forgetting his own anniversary a few weeks ago). My guess: he had some kind of health-related trouble over the holidays and his wife said, "Enough." (Note: since I posted this, his wife's 911 call has come to light.) So they had the heart-to-heart, and Meyer pulled the plug. Walking away. No more.
Only then he thought about it, and realized what was actually happening. A legendary control freak, Meyer realized he was, essentially, giving up control of the thing he enjoyed doing the most. And he was giving it up for good: if, say, Bob Stoops or John Gruden or Butch Davis (who must have been furious about this turn of events when he found out during his bowl game) comes walking through the door in Gainesville, you think he's handing back the reins in a year or two when coach Meyer says, "Ya know what? I think I might coach a little this year." Not a chance.
So he did the only thing he could do: change his "resignation" to a "leave of absence," put one of his weaker assistants in charge (Steve Addazio, who might as well be Lurleen Wallace at this point) and tell everybody he'll come back when he's ready. He'll be back at full speed by August and everybody knows it.

Which is why, methinks, your perspective is sorely needed here. You've suffered through a pretty traumatic year, and I'm curious about your thoughts on the balance between spirit, work and family, as it relates to your health. Is there a right time to walk away? How much control can you give up without giving up everything? And what would you tell Urban Meyer, if he came to you for counseling (aside from "run the score up on Georgia every chance you get")?

Peter: As I'm thinking about Urban, probably the best way for me to analyze it is to look at the decision-making process that I went through as someone in a public position making a pretty substantial health decision - how to balance the demands and importance of my work with the need to maintain my health, how to make a decision regarding the course of action and involve family in that decision, and how and when to share that decision with the general public.
You don't get into a job like coaching or preaching or public service without it being important to you and being something you consider significant. Because of that, it can be difficult if not impossible to let off the gas, so to speak, even when your involvement can become self-destructive. To be successful takes sacrifice, and the best leaders model that. Even when doctors say "this stress is making it worse," you'll fight back with "well, how much stress can I take? how soon can I get back to work?" I'm reminded of the story my neurosurgeon told about the lady who had epilepsy that they believe was triggered by stress who was sitting in bed, the day after brain surgery, working on her laptop. It takes something major to force you to address your health.
Although making a decision seems pretty self-explanatory, for someone in a public position you quickly learn how to separate your work life and family life. It's not unusual for spouses to feel comfortable being involved in your work on a public level (whether as a clergy spouse, a politician's spouse, or a coach's spouse). When you start having kids, though, there's some degree to which you encounter some resistance either from internal guilt (feeling like you're using your kids for your own benefit rather than letting them grow up themselves) or from the kids themselves, who want to be known as something besides "preacher's kid," "coach's kid," etc. To have a "family life" where you just don't have to talk about all the other mess going on in your job is something that people in public, high pressure positions often want.
People in public positions get advice from a wide variety of sources, some of it good and some of it bad. You learn to trust certain people who are experts in certain areas. When the area is you and your health, the temptation can be to just let the consultants be your doctors and yourself. You seek out the very best in medical care, which can sometimes mean that you get to the place where doctors aren't completely sure which of multiple options will be the best. In my case, there were two schools of thought that each had solid research backing, and it came down to who to trust. Involving your family is vital in that, and it can sometimes take some effort not to consider your family just another "stakeholder" who needs to be informed of the decision once it is made, but to actually involve them in the decision making process.
Then, once the decision is made, you have to decide when and and how to announce it. Once the "cat is out of the bag," you're going to be getting ridiculous amounts of advice from every angle. Our strategy was to make the decision as a family with medical guidance before giving indication publicly that we were considering surgery. It's hard enough to make a choice regarding major health issues (which typically involves gray areas where doctor's aren't completely certain) when it's just you, your family, and your doctors - when you add every random person on the street giving their advice, it can get nearly impossible. So, as we were thinking about it, we decided to not make an announcement until we had everything set (type of surgery, time it could happen, etc.). Maybe that was Urban's approach, maybe he's still figuring out what to do.
So, now the "cat's out of the bag" for Urban - something's going on with his health, some sort of major medical issue and they're considering options. Maybe he had a heart attack, maybe it's related to the brain cyst, who knows. He's trying to figure out how to balance the different components of his life, whether he can continue doing what he wants without whatever medical procedure they're looking at, and how wide to stretch the circle of "who's in the know." It appears he initially decided to go ahead with something health wise, throwing football out the window and dealing with his health and family. Now, he's trying to push the envelope, keeping some degree of connection with coaching by taking a "leave of absence." He also initially appeared to be involving his family intimately in his decisions, based on the "I've got my daddy back" comment I've heard attributed to his daughter and his wife's involvement in the initial stages. Now, some reports are saying he made the decision to make it a "leave" with Jeremy Foley before even consulting his family. Either he's changing his mind and wavering, or he's planned this as a way to rev up his team. If he's wavering, he's gonna have a harder time in my mind making a decision now that everybody's going to be offering advice than he had when he could ask who he wanted.
My advice for Urban? You've got to trust somebody. You became successful as a head football coach by controlling things, by making the decisions and telling people what to do. Your health and your family don't work on those parameters. If you're going to straighten things out with your health and your family, you've got to trust your family to be involved in decisions and trust your doctors when they tell you that you're killing yourself by doing what you're doing. You can succeed in football doing things the way you've done them, and you'll keep climbing the ladder and dancing on the top rung. Life ain't just football, and some day you're gonna want to make up for lost time on some of those other ladders that don't have 2 minute offenses. Those ladders require some trust and foundation, and you earn those the hard and slow way.
Oh yeah, and do run the score up on U(sic)GA. Always.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I think he Urban should think about being the first to do a new thing in college football coaching - become a coach emeritus, like a professor emeritus. Like wikipedia says "Emeritus neither implies nor denies that the person is retired from all the duties of his previous title; he or she may continue to exercise some of them." I've often thought Nick Saban might be the first to pull this off in 5 years or so - basically still hang around and do the parts of the job you love, still be around for advising on situations, but get out of the day-to-day grind. Might be impossible for control freaks like coaches, but I think worth a hot so as not to embarrass yourself and be a ghost coach like Joe Pa. And they could call it something better like "executive coach" or something, but "emeritus" is the general idea.