Meyers hit Gainesville running

While her husband coaches, Shelley Meyer pulls up stakes in Utah and puts down roots in Florida.

Published March 14, 2005

GAINESVILLE - There was a point in the middle of one of the past three chaotic months when Shelley Meyer thought she might not make it.

Her husband, new Florida football coach Urban Meyer, had given her approximately five weeks to close out things in Utah and get herself and their three children, Nathan, Gigi and Nicole, moved to Gainesville.

She was in Salt Lake City in December about to move for the third time in five years. She was trying to go through the family's possessions to determine what to keep and what to discard. She was trying to buy a house in Gainesville, sell one in Utah, find schools in Gainesville, plan going-away parties for her children, see friends to say goodbye, prepare for Utah's Fiesta Bowl game - and oh, yeah, get ready for Christmas.

"At one point, I thought there's no way," Shelley Meyer said. "I'm not going to be able to do all of this and get ready by the end of the third week of January. My phone wouldn't stop ringing. I almost sat down in the middle of the floor and started crying. My friend Monica was with me that day and thank gosh she was. I really didn't think I was going to make it through that day."

Three months later, she can laugh about it. The Meyers are adjusting to their new life in Gainesville.

The family has purchased a house in Haile Plantation, where they will live for one year while they build a larger house, about a mile away. The word "build" is critical if you're a Gator fan who thinks Urban Meyer is going to be great for the Florida football program. It means long-term commitment.

"Tell the Gator fans I've only built one other house and that was at Notre Dame," Shelley said. "All the other stops I wasn't even going to do that much work because I didn't know what our future was. But I have a good feeling about our future here. We are planning to stay here a long time."

Getting settled

Spring football begins Wednesday, meaning Urban Meyer is fully immersed in his job. Shelley is taking care of everything else.

It's part of the deal. Coaches' wives understand that.

"As soon as a coach takes a job, he goes," she said. "The next day they pack their bags and go. Then the wife worries about getting the house sold, then finding a school. Then I have to come and visit a couple of times to find schools, find where we're going to live. Get the house ready to sell, keep it clean as long as it's on the market, which is probably the hardest part of the deal. That's just the way it works."

In years past, Shelley and the children would stay behind until the end of the school year in June. That gave the children time to get used to the idea and say goodbye to the lives they knew.

"Urban said never again," Shelley said. "Florida-Utah was just way too far, it's about four hours flying. He just can't be alone. He just can't, he'll admit it in a second. He can't be without his kids."

So on that day he stood on the podium in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and accepted the Florida job, Urban told Shelley he wanted her settled in Gainesville by the third week of January. It was Dec.7.

"I was like, "Oh, my gosh,"' Shelley said. "And we had to go to a bowl game, which was awesome, but that took out a week that I had to prepare. So I just worked as hard as I could and as fast as I could to get somewhat organized. Luckily in a job like this, I don't have to do the packing."

She sold the house in Utah to the first people who looked at it on the first day on the market, something that's "never happened" before, Shelley said.

She and the children arrived in Gainesville on a Sunday night. Their Catholic school uniforms were waiting in the boxes they were packed in when ordered. The children tried them on for size, went to bed, then got up for school the next morning.

By Tuesday, both girls were signed up for Gainesville Juniors volleyball club teams. By Thursday, Gigi and Nate were on basketball teams. By the weekend, the girls had sleepover invitations.

"We literally jumped in and that was the best way at this point because of their ages," Shelley said. "We live on a street that has no other houses that are done yet, so if you wait until June, where do they meet their friends? And friends are so important."

Dealing with the unknown

Urban Meyer accepted the job sight unseen as far as his family was concerned.

Shelley had researched Gainesville on the Internet, and many people, including Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan and his wife Christine, had given Shelley rave reviews about family life, so she wasn't worried that maybe, just maybe, she should have visited the place before Urban accepted the job.

"I love Florida," she said. "And I had so many people tell me how much they love Gainesville that that was never a question. We've lived in a college town this size, that's what we're more used to. Salt Lake was huge compared to what we had done before. I love Florida, always have. I know about the Gators, I heard what a family-oriented town it was. I just knew that we could make it. I feel like our family can adapt and make it anywhere, so I wasn't nervous at all. The thing that most concerned me was making sure my girls were going to be okay with this once we got here."

Nathan, 6, has discovered that the family didn't actually move to Disney World as he thought, but a trip two weekends ago allowed him to see that, well, he's closer than he was in Salt Lake City.

"He knows now that it's not that far, but we don't live there," Shelley joked.

Others still in limbo

While the Meyers are settling in, several families on the new staff have yet to make the move.

Ann Mattison, wife of new co-defensive coordinator Greg, is in South Bend, Ind., trying to sell their house.

"It's winter here and it's very hard to sell a house when last week had 20 inches of snow," she said.

Meanwhile, the Mattisons are scheduled to close on a house in Gainesville on May 15, one she found in a unique way.

On a visit with the wife of new strength coach Mickey Marotti, Ann found an inventory house that was being built to be shown in the Parade of Homes. She like it and decided to buy it.

This is the 12th move Ann and Greg Mattison have made. But eight of the past 13 years were spent at Notre Dame and five at Michigan. This is the first time Ann will move without her children. Lisa, 23, is a graduate of Notre Dame who is looking into law school. Bryan, 20, is a defensive end at Iowa.

Greg and Ann have seen each other just twice since he started working in Gainesville on Jan.2, but after nearly 33 years of marriage, she says they are used to such separations.

"I'm so excited to be able to come to the University of Florida," Ann said. "Just the chance to be with Urban and Shelley again. We're so excited. Urban's the real deal."

The next chapter

The Meyers live within close proximity to many of the other coaches on the Florida staff, which is important to Shelley. The bigger house, in part, is for company - relatives from Ohio who want to visit Florida, friends from Utah who've already called to say they want to come and the players, whom the Meyers plan to host often as they did in Utah.

"We don't want to be too far from the university because it's harder for the players to get there because all of them don't drive," Shelley said. "And we want to be accessible to them a lot and to our staff.

A psychiatric nurse, Shelley hopes to work a few days a week if everything is settled by fall. For now, she's going to teach spinning and aerobics classes at Gainesville Health and Fitness, where she works out daily after taking the children to school.

She and Urban are going over the lists of charities and organizations to which they will lend their names and time. The requests have poured in, and one that is close to Shelley's heart is the PACE program for at-risk teenage girls.

"We'd love to give to everybody, but you have to narrow in on a few because the requests get overwhelming," she said. "We're so fortunate and we want to give back to the community. We want to get involved in this community because we're going to be here a long time."

Shelley has quickly discovered some things about her new home. The people are friendly, the weather is great, there are too many people for the roads in town, a car pool is a great thing - and Florida fans are, well, unique.

"I've found out there are a lot of crazy Gator fans and that's exciting for us, but that puts a little more pressure on us," she said. "They definitely have high expectations because of what Urban and the staff were able to do at Utah. That scares me a little bit because 12-0 just doesn't happen. So I'm scared that people are automatically thinking that we're going to just go 12-0. We have to be realistic. This is a harder conference, harder teams. It's going to be hard. I can already tell. I know these people want to win, and they love their Gators."