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Urban's development

Florida's search for a new coach focuses attention to Utah, where Urban Meyer is a rising star.

ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published November 11, 2004

The hottest coach in college football started breaking down film when he was a junior in high school.

In his living room.

On television.

Urban Meyer, the Utah coach whose name is being linked to jobs from Seattle to Gainesville, used to tell his parents he wanted to be an architect, but his actions said otherwise.

"I knew exactly that he would go into coaching," said his father, Bud Meyer. "That's all he would talk about. That's what he would do on Saturday afternoons. He wouldn't look at buildings, he would watch football and tell me how the coach was mishandling the team or whatever was going on wrong. ... That's when he began to ... interpret things in the game."

Two years after taking over a Utah program that generated little interest outside of Salt Lake City, Urban Meyer's ability to interpret the game has never been better.

His Utes are 9-0, ranked No. 7 and threatening to crash the BCS party generally reserved for the big-time conference teams.

At 40, Meyer earns $500,000 per season with a contract that runs through 2009. But with a buyout clause of $250,000 and the ability to leave for Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame with penalty, the biggest question surrounding Meyer is where he'll be coaching next season.

He is considered one of the leading candidates to replace Ron Zook at Florida, particularly because he was hired at Utah by Bernie Machen, now Florida's president.

"Urban Meyer is a tremendous coach," said South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, who hired Meyer as an assistant at Notre Dame in 1996. "He's going to have all kinds of opportunities and all he has to do is decide where he wants to go or if he wants to stay at Utah."

* * *

Bud Meyer isn't surprised by his son's success. He saw it coming nearly a decade ago.

"Eight years ago, I said "You know someday you're going to be standing around with a coaching jacket on and a whistle on the middle of a football field and it's going to be your first day: Do you know what the hell you're going to do?' And he said, "I've kind of got an idea.' I think he's been building this for 10 years."

Meyer has distilled 13 years' experience as an assistant and head coach into one of the most innovative offenses in years.

His scheme has opponents baffled and the rest of the country taking note. It all starts with junior quarterback Alex Smith.

With Smith in the shotgun formation, Utah uses a three-wideout, spread offense. After the snap, where the ball goes is a mystery: Smith might pass or run, hand off to the tailback or pitch to another player.

"I think they are very, very hard to stop," UNLV coach John Robinson said. "They have the combination of a wide-open pass offense, which features their quarterback. They have a quick group of receivers and a creative passing game and a dangerous running game. It's the option offense with a good passer or it's a passing offense with an option running quarterback."

Utah is ranked No. 2 in the nation in offense (500.4 yards per game). Meyer's offense has taken the Mountain West by storm in much the way Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun shook up the SEC 15 years ago.

"I think he's got some very unique and exciting ideas that no one has come up with a really good plan on how to defend yet," New Mexico coach Rocky Long said. "Right now he's got some great ideas where he gives you stretch formations and throwing formations and is able to run option-type plays using the quarterback as an extra running back. And it puts enormous pressure on a defense, and they can outnumber you at times on certain plays and have great success.

"Right now he's got the hottest thing going."

* * *

Before Meyer arrived at Utah to coach the 2003 season, the Utes had gone 4-7, 8-4 and 5-6 the three previous years. In Meyer's first year, Utah was 10-2, which tied for the best record in school history. It won its first conference title in 46 seasons and finished the season ranked No. 21 in the nation.

It has been a long journey to this point for Meyer. He spent 13 seasons as an assistant at places like Ohio State, Illinois State and Notre Dame. He became known as a hard worker, a relentless recruiter and detail freak.

Jacksonville Trinity Christian coach Verlon Dorminey met Meyer several years ago when he was an assistant at Notre Dame recruiting safety Guss Scott.

"He was here almost every week," Dorminey said. "He spent a lot of time in my office. He saw us play in the spring jamboree when Guss was at the end of his junior year, going into his senior year. We played Bolles on a Thursday evening. On Friday morning, I walked into the office about 7:30 or 8, my phone was ringing and it was him. He said he'd like to come over and watch film. So he came over and met me at our office about 9, and he stayed until noon. He watched film of every game I had on the kids."

Meyer got his first coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001. The Falcons improved from 2-9 in 2000 to 8-3 and 9-3 in 2002.

The offers started pouring in and at the urging of his wife, Shelley, he chose to go out West, accepting the Utah job in December 2002. Shelley will be heavily involved in Meyer's next move.

"She's a coach's wife, that's what she does for a living," Bud Meyer said. "It's a big job. It's a job that she (wants) to be informed, but she does a very good job."

Every win has brought more attention. The national spotlight is shining brightly on Utah, and especially Meyer, these days. He says it's not exactly the way he wants it. When questions come about other jobs, he changes the subject, not expressing or denying interest.

Dorminey said Florida would be lucky to have Meyer as its next coach.

"Urban is a great guy," he said. "He's real down to earth, just real honest. He's got a lot of enthusiasm, you can tell he's very, very knowledgeable about the game. He has a personality that kids like and people like. You can tell he's very good with people. He does a great job. He really does. It would be great if he got that job."

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