Meyer can leave for ND without buyout

Updated: December 3, 2004, 9:43 AM ET
Associated Press

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.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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