TAMPA, Fla. – Joe Paterno and Urban Meyer met at midfield for a postgame handshake and hug, the 84-year-old Penn State coach looking forward to next season, the 46-year-old Florida coach heading toward some time away from the game.
Meyer closed out a highly successful six-year run that included a pair of national championships by leading the Gators back from a second-half deficit to beat JoePa’s Nittany Lions 37-24 in the Outback Bowl on Saturday.
“I’m at full peace because I saw a bunch of smiles in that locker room,” said Meyer, who announced his resignation last month. “Locker rooms really aren’t very much fun when there’s … a pain in your stomach and your chest and everything else. There was a lot of fun in there. A lot of fun.”
Omarius Hines and Mike Gillislee ran for touchdowns, Chas Henry kicked three second-half field goals, and Ahmad Black sealed the win with an 80-yard interception return TD to help Florida (8-5) send Meyer out with a smile of his own.
Meyer said he was stepping away from coaching because of health concerns and to spend more time with his family. As for Paterno, he – and his wife and Penn State officials – spent the week leading up to the game repeatedly shooting down rumors that the Outback Bowl could be his last.
“He said, ‘I love you, kid,’ ” Meyer said about his quick postgame meeting on the field with Paterno. “He’s the only one who calls me kid. And I love him, too.”
All week long, Meyer paid tribute to Paterno, the all-time bowl wins leader with 24. He continued to talk about admiration for the Hall of Famer during his postgame news conference.
“He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game. Every young coach, in my opinion, can take a lesson from him,” Meyer said.
Paterno expects to be back for a 46th season with Penn State (7-6).
Paterno hoped the Nittany Lions’ record 37th bowl trip under him would set a nice tone for next season. The six losses are the most Penn State’s had since going 4-7 in 2004, and the veteran coach is confident the team is headed in the right direction.
“As I told them, keep their heads up. … Go home and take it easy for a couple weeks, and then we’ll start thinking about all we’ll get done in spring football,” Paterno said. “We’re obviously way ahead of where we were at this stage a year ago.”
The Gators have hired former Texas head coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp as Meyer’s replacement.
He’ll inherit a talented team that continued to make the type of mistakes that contributed to their worst record in six seasons under Meyer
Meyer improved to 5-1 in bowl games with Florida, and he was especially to end with a win to avoid finishing with a two-game slide.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin threw five interceptions after only being picked off four times in 174 passing attempts during the regular season.