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Meyer can leave for ND without buyout

SALT LAKE CITY -- Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White
took off in a private jet, flying into a cold Utah night without
Urban Meyer.

The Utah coach might not be far behind, though.

The Fighting Irish officially began their pursuit of Meyer on
Thursday night when White and incoming school president The Rev.
John Jenkins spent several hours meeting with Meyer about taking
over the nation's most storied college football program.

About the only thing that appeared in Notre Dame's way was a
possible bidding war with Florida, which also reportedly sent
officials to Utah on Thursday morning.

Meyer met with his players Thursday and told them what schools
are pursuing him, but he would not be specific when asked about the
meeting.

"There's too many things involved right now to have any
comments," Meyer said after a practice at Utah's new indoor
practice field.

As Meyer was talking, White and Jenkins were approaching Salt
Lake City, where they landed around 5 p.m. MST and left about four
hours later. The jet with a big "ND" logo high on the tail was
parked on the tarmac while White and Jenkins were shuttled to and
from the plane in an SUV with tinted windows, avoiding reporters at
every stop.

The jet's presence merely confirmed what has been widely
speculated since Notre Dame abruptly fired Tyrone Willingham on
Tuesday: The Fighting Irish are interested in Meyer, who guided the
Utes to an 11-0 regular season and is 21-2 at Utah.

"I'm sure they're going to be after him," Utah quarterback
Alex Smith said. "They'd be dumb if they didn't. Who wouldn't want
him?"

The Palm Beach Post, Deseret Morning News and The Salt Lake
Tribune reported Friday that Notre Dame was the second suitor
making a pitch to Meyer in the day. The newspapers reported
representatives from Florida made a quick and quiet visit to Utah
to meet with Meyer. The Gators are still searching for a
replacement for Ron Zook, whose firing was announced in October.

A message left for Meyer at the Utah football office Friday
morning by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

Both schools can easily double Meyer's salary and give him an
opportunity to coach for a national title, something even an
unbeaten season with the Utes won't bring.

Meyer said he plans to coach Utah in its bowl game even if he
takes another job, which would be hard to decline. Notre Dame is
one of three schools listed in Meyer's contract that he can go to
without penalty.

He was an assistant on the Irish staffs of Lou Holtz and Bob
Davie and has mentioned Notre Dame as a "dream" job.

"It's an opportunity that's not going to come around often for
any coach," said Smith, a Heisman Trophy contender. "You had to
see this coming with how much success we've had this season."

Utah athletic director Chris Hill told The Associated Press the
school would attempt to keep Meyer, who took the Utes to their
highest national ranking in just two seasons.

Meyer was the receivers coach at Notre Dame during 1996-00,
leaving the school for his first head coaching job at Bowling
Green.

He quickly turned around the Falcons, going 8-3 and 9-3 before
moving to Utah in 2003. The Utes were 10-2 last season and are 11-0
this season and ranked fifth in the nation.

Willingham was fired after posting a 21-15 record in three
seasons.

Meyer received a contract extension last summer that included a
clause allowing him to leave Utah without penalty if he is hired as
head coach at Michigan, Ohio State or Notre Dame.