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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Gators get what they want in Utah coach
Florida's championship opportunities coax Urban Meyer away from his Notre Dame dream job.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published December 4, 2004
Utah coach Urban Meyer yells to his players during the third quarter against Brigham Young University on Nov. 20 in Salt Lake City. Utah went on to win the game, sealing an undefeated regular season. In 2003, Meyer's first season, Utah was 10-2, which tied the school's best record.
Florida vs. Notre Dame.
When it came down to making a decision between the Notre Dame job he had often dreamed about and what could become his dream job in Gainesville, University of Utah football coach Urban Meyer turned to his father for advice.
"I told him, if you are drawn into the magnitude and aura of Notre Dame and looking at it as some kind of religious crusade, then go there and try to win some games," Urban "Bud" Meyer said Friday. "But if you're just going to be a coach, then go to Florida and win a national championship."
Meyer, 40, the hottest up-and-coming coach in America, is coming to Florida. He agreed to a contract on Friday said to be worth $14-million over the next seven years. He earned $500,000 a year in Salt Lake City. Florida will have to pay $250,000 to buy out the remaining six seasons on his Utah contract.
"When I talked to him this morning, he was about to have a phone conversation with Florida," Bud Meyer said. "All the reports that are out there about him taking the job are correct."
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley traveled to Utah Thursday to meet with Meyer, then the two had a phone interview set up for early Friday afternoon, at which time Meyer accepted the offer. Foley was expected to return to Gainesville Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Florida athletic department officials are not expected to make an announcement until early next week.
Meyer's star has risen over the past few months, thanks to his turnaround of the Utah program. The Utes are ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press media poll, finished the regular season 11-0 and are headed to a Bowl Championship Series game, a first for a school outside of a major conference. He received the 11th annual Home Depot Coach of the Year Award as selected by ESPN and ABC college football analysts.
In the three years before Meyer arrived in 2003, the Utes were 4-7, 8-4, 5-6. In his first season, Utah was 10-2, which tied for the best record in school history. Utah won its first conference title in 46 seasons, the Mountain West, and finished the season ranked No. 21 in the nation.
The news that Meyer had chosen Florida over the Fighting Irish came as a shock to many in Gainesville and South Bend, Ind. He had been a favorite for the Florida job since coach Ron Zook was fired on Oct. 25 after going 23-14 in three seasons. But when Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham on Monday, everything seemed to change.
Meyer, a Catholic, was wide receivers coach at Notre Dame from 1996 to 2000 and many thought he would return. He had a clause in his Utah contract that allowed him to leave for Notre Dame without penalty. But he said this week that people were reading too much into the buyout in terms of assuming he'd take the Notre Dame job. He received an offer from Notre Dame on Thursday, reportedly half of what Florida promised.
Bud Meyer said his son's decision was "heavily family-oriented."
"His two sisters and I met (Wednesday) and we all talked with him about the decision of whether to stay or go to one of the other schools (Notre Dame or Florida)," Bud Meyer said. "The consensus was that he had to leave Utah because they just can't match, not just the money, but the bowls (automatic tie-ins), facilities and everything else. But it was never just about money."
Meyer remains close to former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, but Bud Meyer said his son hadn't spoken recently to Holtz as of Friday morning, although he greatly respects his opinion. When Bud Meyer told his son he thought Florida presented the best opportunity to win championships, he said Meyer responded, "That's what all the coaches are saying, too," referring to those from whom he had sought opinions.
Meyer has at least one strong connection to Florida. School president Bernie Machen hired Meyer two years ago when he was president at Utah, and their wives are friends. Machen would not comment on the hiring Friday, and Meyer could not be reached. Although Meyer has been away from the area in his past two coaching jobs, as an assistant at Notre Dame he often recruited in Florida and is well-respected by many high school coaches in the state.
"If Urban Meyer comes to Florida, I'd put my paycheck on him doing well," said Verlon Dorminey, coach at Jacksonville Trinity Christian. "Because I'm telling you, he knows the game, and he's got people that help him that know the game well, too. He's got good people around him."
Meyer's arrival could signal a return to the days of high-powered offense, reminiscent of Steve Spurrier. At Utah and Bowling Green, Meyer created what Mountain West coaches call one of the most innovative and difficult to defend offenses in the nation. Utah is third in the nation in scoring and total offense.
That's what he brings to the Gators. What they give in return is what Meyer wants most: the best chance to compete and win.
"He doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of Holtz, writing books and speaking for $30,000," Bud Meyer said, referring to Holtz's off-the-field ventures. "He just wants to coach, win games and teach his son to play T-ball. He thinks Gainesville is going to be the better place for him to do what he loves and what's best for his family."