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, Saturday in the Outback Bowl.
"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 shooting down rumors the Outback Bowl could be his last.
"He said, 'I love you kid,' " Meyer said about his quick postgame meeting 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 after the game.
"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."
Meyer initially resigned in December 2009 only to change his mind the next day, returning for what turned out to be a disappointing year. He sent shockwaves through college football Dec. 8 when he stepped down again. Indications are he's headed for a broadcasting job.
The Gators already have hired former Texas coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp as Meyer's replacement. He'll inherit a team that continued to make the type of mistakes that contributed to their worst record in six seasons under Meyer, who won SEC championships and national titles in 2006 and 2008. Meyer improved to 5-1 in bowl games with Florida. "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.
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."