GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer heard all the rumors. That he'd never coach another game. That he would resign immediately after National Signing Day. That Meyer told a recruit he would die happy if he died coaching that player.
It was easy for rivals to toss out innuendo, guesses and outright lies with the Gators in such turmoil. Meyer resigned, citing health reasons, on Dec. 26. He changed his mind the next day, saying he would take an indefinite leave of absence. He kept on working, and during that time, he had to replace his defensive coordinator, his secondary coach, his running backs coach and his receivers coach/recruiting coordinator.
Despite all that -- and despite Meyer staying off the road much of January -- Meyer and his staff managed to assemble one of the nation's best classes. They crossed the country to sign Rivals.com's No. 1 overall prospect, Moreno Valley, Calif., defensive end Ronald Powell. They went to the northeast to sign Philadelphia defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (No. 4 overall) and Staten Island, N.Y., defensive tackle Dominique Easley (No. 7 overall). They stayed close to home to sign West Palm Beach, Fla., safety Matt Elam (No. 25 overall), whose older brother, Abram, played for Meyer at Notre Dame.
Meyer, looking heavier and healthier Wednesday than he did in late December, said the Gators found it remarkably easy to brush away the negative chatter as he recruited the class. "When you're dealing with intelligent families and people that really understand and they hear some crazy rumor -- and I heard some -- you simply pick up the phone and say, 'Listen,' " Meyer said. "For example, Matt Elam, I've known Matt Elam for 10 years. He obviously had some concerns. I talked about an hour on the phone, and that was it. He can hear all the rumors he wants, but he's hearing this from someone he knows."
Meyer said he developed bonds early in the recruiting process with several key players, including Powell. That, he said, allowed those players to withstand the onslaught of negative recruiting and sign with Florida. "You can end the rumors like that," Meyer said, snapping his fingers. "If you have a good relationship with the kid."
Still, Meyer knows he probably couldn't have put the class together without some of the innate advantages Florida has to offer (good weather, big stadium, top-50 U.S. News & World Report ranking) or the help of Florida's current players. With so many staff members in flux, the players already on the roster turned out to be some of Florida's best recruiters. "You can walk in that locker room, and not everybody is going to be 100 percent happy," Meyer said. "But I tell you what, these kids like going to school here. ... They're the best salesmen. I've been at places before and you kind of keep [recruits] away from the players because you're dealing with some unhappy campers. Right now, we've got some guys who like to play here."
Meyer said he knows recruiting rankings shouldn't matter. "It shouldn't," he said. "But it does." And Meyer knows better than to make any bold predictions before anyone has played a college down. But just like four years ago when Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes signed with the Gators, Meyer couldn't help himself. "In certain areas," he said, "I'd have to say it's the best we've ever done."
Meyer is especially excited about Powell, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder who will primarily play defensive end but also get some reps at tight end. "He'll catch some balls," Meyer said. Elam, who briefly flirted with Florida State after Meyer's December stunner, will play mostly safety, but Meyer hasn't ruled out using the speedster -- who rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the Class 4A state title game -- as a Wildcat quarterback.
Meyer will get to coach Elam, who enrolled last month, during spring practice. At least that's the plan. Before that, Meyer will hand over day-to-day control of the team to offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. The turnover of power, Meyer said, will happen Thursday. He plans to disappear for a while. "How long's that while?" Meyer said. "I'm not sure."
But, contrary to the rumors his recruits heard for the past month, "that while" will not be forever. It may not last longer than a month. That may not be the best thing for Meyer's health, but it's his life.
When a reporter asked Wednesday how Meyer was feeling, he smiled. "I'm feeling good," he said.
After that recruiting haul, it's easy to understand why.