Florida, Notre Dame both talked to coach

Updated: December 4, 2004, 11:27 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida is getting its first choice this time.

Turned down by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan three years ago before settling on Ron Zook, the Gators lured Utah coach Urban Meyer away from his "dream job" Friday, ESPN.com has confirmed.

Meyer snubbed Notre Dame, where he worked as the receivers coach for five years, and agreed to coach the Gators, according to his sister, Gigi Escoe.

Asked whether her younger brother had taken the Florida job, she said, "Yes. It was a tough choice for him, but he's happy with his decision. He had two wonderful choices. He couldn't go wrong."

Meyer signed a seven-year deal worth $14 million, according to The Gainesville Sun.

When asked about the report, Utah athletic director Chris Hill deferred.

"My position is to let the other parties in these things -- the schools and the coach -- speak for themselves," Hill said. "Any kind of confirmation would have to come from other sources."

When pressed, Hill offered no further comment.

Meyer's wide-open offense should be welcomed at Florida, where Zook could never satisfy fans who became accustomed to Steve Spurrier's innovative system that was fun to watch and tough to stop.

Meyer will quadruple his $500,000 salary and inherit a program with plenty of talent; the Gators finished 7-4, with three losses coming in the waning minutes.

Why he chose Florida over Notre Dame was unknown.

"He didn't question his decision at all," Escoe said.

Messages left by The Associated Press on Friday at Meyer's office and the office of Utah athletic director Chris Hill were not immediately returned.

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

Officials at Florida refused to confirm the reports and said there were no immediate plans for a news conference.

"It looks like we're not going to know anything until next week," UF spokesman Steve Orlando said. "The coaching search goes on."

But Meyer's father, Bud, said his son had accepted the job.

"All the reports that are out there are correct," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "He told me this morning that he was going to tell Florida he was coming."

A cell phone message left with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley was not returned.

Meyer called a team meeting for Saturday morning, but Utah players felt like they knew what was coming.

"We kind of feel like he's leaving," offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu said Friday. "It's not bad that he's leaving. If it was you, you'd probably leave too."

The Utes went 11-0 in their second season under Meyer and were in line for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

Meyer, who also had success at Bowling Green before moving to Utah, has said he planned to coach the bowl game even if he took another job.

Most figured it would be Notre Dame, but the prospect of rebuilding the Irish amid high expectations and tough academic standards may have been daunting. The Fighting Irish fired Tyrone Willingham on Tuesday after three seasons, and immediately targeted Meyer -- whose contract included a clause allowing to leave for jobs at Notre Dame, Ohio State or Michigan.

He met with Notre Dame officials in Salt Lake City on Thursday. But Foley was also in town the last two days trying to work out a deal with the most wanted coach in the country.

The expected hiring was first reported by The Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla.

Meyer will face equally high expectations with the Gators, but replacing Zook shouldn't be as difficult as following Spurrier.

Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy at his alma mater, won six Southeastern Conference championships and the 1996 national title during 12 seasons at Florida.

Zook was 20-13 when Foley and school president Bernie Machen fired him two days after an embarrassing 38-31 loss to Mississippi State in late October.

Machen said then that Meyer would be a candidate, mostly because of their previous relationship; Machen hired Meyer at Utah.

Meyer seemed like an obvious choice, but then Spurrier showed interest in returning to Gainesville. But the Ol' Ballcoach withdrew his name from consideration when Machen and Florida officials said he would be interviewed along with others after the season.

Spurrier signed a seven-year deal worth $1.25 million a season last week at South Carolina, vowing to turn the Gamecocks into the consistent champion he built at Florida.

Utah is expected to consider offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham to replace Meyer.

Information from The Associated Press, ESPN.com's Pat Forde and ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was used in this report.

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