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Meyer leaving Gators for the second time

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida coach Urban Meyer is stepping down after the worst season of his career, giving up one of the premier jobs in college football for the second time.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida coach Urban Meyer is stepping down after the worst season of his career, giving up one of the premier jobs in college football for the second time.

His last game will be the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Penn State.

Meyer called athletic director Jeremy Foley on Saturday to tell him he was contemplating retirement. They met Tuesday to finalize his intentions.

"He's put his heart and soul into college football," Foley said. "He's not sick. This is a totally different situation than a year ago. He just wants to take a step back and spend time with his family. He's totally at peace with his decision."

Nonetheless, Meyer's announcement caught players, fans, and the rest of college football by surprise.

Meyer called assistant coaches, many of whom were on the road recruiting, earlier this week to relay the news. Quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler told the AP he was "stunned" and that no one saw this coming.

"We'll be fine," said Loeffler, adding that Meyer was planning to meet with his staff Wednesday night. "It happens in this profession. We're just happy for him. He's doing it the right way."

The 46-year-old Meyer led Florida to two national titles but began to show the strain of his high-profile job when he briefly resigned last December, citing health concerns, but returned the next day.

He had been hospitalized with chest pains after the Gators lost to Alabama in last season's Southeastern Conference championship game.

This time he did not mention his health being an issue.

"At this time in my life, however, I fully grasp the sacrifices my 24/7 profession has demanded of me, and I know it is time to put my focus on my family and life away from the field. The decision to step down was a difficult one," he said in a statement released by the school Wednesday. "But, after spending more than two decades motivating and celebrating the young men I've been so proud to coach, I relish the opportunity to cheer for my three terrific kids as they compete in their own respective sports."

Fellow coaches were quick to praise his efforts at Florida.

"The world of college football will miss Urban," said former USC coach Pete Carroll, who like Meyer was one of the decade's best college coaches but opted to leave his job - in Carroll's case for the NFL's Seahawks. "He did a great job coaching at Florida."

Meyer was hired away from Utah by Florida after he led the Utes to an undefeated season. In his second season in Gainesville, he led the Gators to a national championship. Two seasons later he won another.

A bid for another national championship fell short in 2009, and the day after Christmas, Meyer surprisingly announced that he was giving up the job.

Less than 24 hours later, he changed his mind and decided to instead take a leave of absence.

He had esophageal spasms and was taking prescription medication.

Meyer scaled back in January - he didn't go on the road recruiting - but still worked steadily through national signing day. He returned for spring practice in March, but managed to take significant time off before and after.

But this season he had to replace Tim Tebow and several other stars who had gone on to the NFL, and the Gators struggled mightily.

Florida finished 7-5, the worst record of Meyer's 10-year head coaching career, which began at Bowling Green. It was the first time the Gators had lost five regular-season games since 1988.

The regular season ended with an embarrassing 31-7 loss to Florida State, Meyer's first loss to the rival Seminoles.

Despite this season's struggles, Meyer's resumé is one of the most impressive in college football.

He is 103-23 (.817) overall, the best winning percentage among active major college coaches with at least 10 seasons, and 64-15 (.810) at Florida.