Meyer says Irish never made offer
SALT LAKE CITY -- Urban Meyer is leaving undefeated Utah to become coach at Florida, where he will quadruple his salary and inherit a talented team completing a frustrating season.
Meyer told his players before practice Saturday what they already knew -- that he is taking over the Gators after a two-year run at Utah that vaulted him to the top of many schools' wish lists.
"I avoided it for a long time because I didn't want to distract them and there was nothing to discuss," Meyer said.
Among the schools coveting Meyer was Notre Dame, which sent athletic director Kevin White and the school's new president to meet with the coach on Thursday night. But Meyer said Florida's seven-year, $14 million offer and the opportunity to coach in one of the top conferences in the nation were too good for the 40-year-old coach to pass on.
"People are making this out to be Notre Dame versus Florida. It was not," Meyer said.
Meyer spent five seasons as an assistant at Notre Dame and had an out clause in his contract if the head coaching job was available. But when it became available after Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham after his third season, Meyer was already leaning toward Florida.
While Florida has a replacement for Ron Zook, the Notre Dame search continues. White was at the Notre Dame-Michigan basketball game in Ann Arbor on Saturday and only shook his head when asked if he was discouraged. He said he had no comment on the coaching search.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., that Meyer's contract was for seven years and $14 million.
Meyer has been a head coach for only four years, spending two seasons at Bowling Green and now Utah, but quickly established himself as a young coach who could turn existing talent into a winning team.
Meyer is 21-2 at Utah, where he won back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles. He is moving into college football's big leagues with Florida in the Southeastern Conference.
"At the University of Florida, you have everything in place to make a run at the whole thing, and that was a factor," Meyer said. "I also recruited Florida for five years and I understand the type of talent that you're playing with."
Meyer's wide-open offensive system should be welcomed at Florida, where Zook never satisfied fans accustomed to Steve Spurrier's innovative scheme that was fun to watch and tough to stop.
"He's got a presence," Foley said of Meyer. "You walk into a room and you can tell he has a little something about him. Obviously you look at the job he's done at programs that have been less than successful. ... I think he can coach. I think he does a great job with his players and has a tremendous work ethic."
Florida scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to introduce Meyer.
The Gators settled for Zook three years ago after Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan turned down offers.
Florida went 7-4 this season, with three losses coming in the waning minutes. The Gators are scheduled to play in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. It is unclear who will coach Florida at that bowl -- Foley said Saturday it will not be Meyer, who will coach Utah at a bowl.
Utah athletic director Chris Hill confirmed that Meyer will have one last game on the Utah sideline. The Utes learn Sunday where they're headed when the Bowl Championship Series pairings are announced, making them the first BCS outsider to get one of the eight elite bowl positions.
"We want [Meyer] to coach us," defensive back Bo Nagahi said. "We started the season with him and we're going to end it with him."
The high-scoring Utes went 11-0 in their second season under Meyer, who also had success at Bowling Green before moving to Utah.
Coaching the Fighting Irish would have entailed high expectations and tough academic standards. Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham on Tuesday after three seasons, and immediately targeted Meyer -- whose contract included a clause allowing him to leave for a job at Notre Dame, Ohio State or Michigan.
Meyer will face equally high expectations with the Gators, but replacing Zook shouldn't be as difficult as following 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, in part because of their previous relationship; Machen hired Meyer at Utah.
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 champions he built at Florida.
Hill's second coaching search in two years will start with the current staff.
"As you know, I won't be sharing much about the search, but I can tell you that we will take a strong look internally," Hill said Saturday.
Defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford are the most experienced candidates on staff to take over for Meyer. The Utes said they would be pleased if either one was promoted.
Utah is not the only school that has interest in the two. UNLV has spoken with Sanford about its job and BYU has contacted Whittingham, a former Cougar player and graduate assistant, about replacing Gary Crowton who stepped down this week.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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