TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — 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 “If I ever start a coaching school, I’m going to make everybody do a book report on Joe Paterno, and say that’s the way you should act in coaching because that’s college football. … You just don’t want to lose that man or lose what college football is. That was college football out there today.”
Paterno expects to be back for a 46th season with Penn State (7-6). At one point, he called the speculation about his future — including reports that he might be in poor health and had been hospitalized — “ridiculous.” He reiterated Friday that he has no plans to retire.
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 legendary 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.”
Senior receiver Brett Brackett said none of the Nittany Lions brought up the subject of Paterno’s future after the game.
“Nobody, but I’m sure it’s still on people’s minds,” Brackett said. “In my mind, there’s no doubt coach is the man. If coach coaches 20 more years, I won’t be surprised.”
Meyer initially resigned in December 2009 only to change his mind the following day, returning for what turned out to be a disappointing year for a program he guided to national championships two of the past four seasons.
He sent shockwaves through college football again on Dec. 8 when stepped down again.
There have been indications that he could be headed for a broadcasting job.
The Gators already have hired former Texas head coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp as Meyer’s replacement.
He’ll inherit a talented team that on Saturday continued to make the type of mistakes that contributed to their worst record in six seasons under Meyer, who won Southeastern Conference championships and national titles in 2006 and 2008.
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. The Gators lost their regular season finale 31-7 at archrival Florida State.
“Will Muschamp’s getting a football team that’s going to have some bright eyes and ready to get to work and go get a little better next year, get back to where we need to be,” Meyer said.
John Brantley threw an interception on Florida’s first play from scrimmage, Andre Debose mishandled a kickoff leading to the Gators starting their second possessions from their own 6 and Trey Burton — one of three quarterbacks Meyer used — cost his team when he fumbled into the end zone after a short run to the Penn State 1.
Matt McGloin turned Brantley’s interception into a 5-yard TD pass to Derek Moye for a 7-0 Nittany Lions lead. Cornerback D’ Anton Lynn recovered Burton’s fumble for a touchback that helped Penn State stay ahead until Florida’s Hines scored on a 16-yard end around set up by an interception — the Gators’ second off McGloin.
Lerentee McCray returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown that gave Florida a brief 14-7 lead. McGloin’s 44-yard completion to Moye positioned Penn State for Michael Zordich’s 1-yard TD run, and the Nittany Lions took advantage of a short punt to go up 17-14 at the half on Collin Wagner’s 20-yard field goal.
Henry kicked field goals of 30, 47 and 20 yards, the latter giving Florida a 30-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Penn State led 24-17 after McGloin scored on a 2-yard run set up when Henry, who’s also Florida’s punter, was stopped short of a first down on a fake punt play.
The Nittany Lions quarterback threw five interceptions after only being picked off four times in 174 passing attempts during the regular season. He finished 17 of 41 for 211 yards and one touchdown.
Florida’s fourth interception — Black’s second of the day — stopped a potential game-winning drive after McGloin marched the Nittany Lions to the Gators 26 with under two minutes to go.
“It hurts. It happens,” McGloin said. “I’ll be upset today, but come tomorrow I’ll be getting ready for next year.”
Black cut in front of intended receiver Kevin Haplea and headed up the sideline in front of Penn State bench.
After the safety reached the end zone, Meyer received a Gatorade bath and Florida faithful among the announced crowd of 60,574 began chanting “Urban Meyer, Urban Meyer.”
“It means a lot. It’s been a long season, a rough season,” Black said. “A lot of ups, a lot of downs, and I’m just glad we could send Coach out on top, the senior class out on top.”
Paterno called Meyer a “great guy” who was good for the game.
“I’m genuinely sorry to see him leave college. He’s done a great job,” Paterno said. “It’s one of those things. You don’t like to lose, but it’s the way it goes. … He’s really a credit to his family, the University of Florida and college football.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)