Media and fans have become justifiably skeptical any time a college football coach says he isn’t interested in a particular job and professes shock and dismay that the media would even enquire about such a thing. The problem is that usually in his denials, the coach always leaves himself a little wiggle room with phrases like:
“I intend to be here the rest of my career” or
“I have the best job in college football”
or the always crowd-pleasing: “This is the only job I want.”
Urban Meyer did none of that when he returned my phone call on Wednesday. The Florida coach was emphatic:
He is not going to Notre Dame. Ever.
The speculation about the Florida coach and Notre Dame has been on a low burn under the surface for a while. The speculation was natural. There are ties there. He worked for Lou Holtz. His mother loves the place. She named him after a pope.
But that low burn was turned up to a full flame last week with an internet column from the state of Alabama that said “Urban Meyer is probably leaving Florida after the season to go to Notre Dame.”
“I got back from a family vacation and got hit with that by one of our recruits,” Meyer said. “He told me that other schools were saying it. So I knew I had to be very definite, very clear.”
Meyer was attending Pat Dooley’s (Gainesville Sun) charity golf tournament last Saturday when he stood before the crowd and said: “I’m not going to Notre Dame. Ever. I’m going to be the coach at Florida for a long time, as long as they want me.”
Then he told the media in the room to print it.
“It (the speculation) was just getting ridiculous,” Meyer told me. “I have a great deal of respect for Notre Dame but there is nothing there on either side.”
Now if Meyer wins his third national championship in four years and flies off to South Bend, then you can let him have it and he’ll deserve the wrath that comes his way. But I believe the guy and here’s why: It’s simply logical.
Like Meyer, I have a great deal of respect for Notre Dame. In fact, I’m going there this weekend for the College Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremonies. It’s a special place. But from a football standpoint, it is simply not the same place where Holtz won a national championship in 1988.
We have had a generation of players grow up with Notre Dame rarely relevant on the national stage. They have never heard of Knute Rockne or Ara Parseghian. They know Lou Holtz because he’s on television.
Yes, Notre Dame has its own television network (NBC) but now every game is on television so that it is no longer an advantage for Notre Dame. The SEC has two television networks (CBS, ESPN). Just like the schools in the Big Ten have had a tough time recruiting the great speed players from the South, so has Notre Dame. And in today’s game you are not going to win without speed.
My Georgia friends are not going to like this but it is an undeniable fact: Steve Spurrier (1990-2001) turned Florida into one of the top three jobs in all of college football. It is the state university in the state that produces a ton of Division I-A prospects. Meyer does not have to travel very far to recruit all the talent he needs. That would not be the case at Notre Dame, where you have to recruit nationally just to have a chance. There are reasons why Urban Meyer chose Florida over Notre Dame in December of 2004. Those reasons have not changed.
Now is it possible that Urban Meyer, who just turned 45 last Friday, might someday want different challenge than winning the SEC? Sure, it’s possible. Anything is possible in the crazy business of coaching.
But in my experience coaches leave because somebody offers them a better job for more money. Notre Dame, for all of its great tradition, is never going to be a better job than Florida. The world has changed too much. Meyer is making $3.25 million now and his president, Bernie Machen, is on record saying Meyer should be the highest paid coach in the SEC. LSU’s Les Miles was the league’s highest-paid coach last season at $3.751 million. Alabama’s Nick Saban will average $4 million over the life of his eight-year contract.
So Meyer is going to get paid. If he ever leaves Florida, it’s not going to be because of money. Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley stayed ahead of the curve and made Steve Spurrier the first $2 million college football coach in 1997. He is not going to let Urban Meyer walk out the door over a few million dollars.
Meyer is like any other football coach in that he has his supporters and his detractors. His supporters will almost always give him the benefit of the doubt. His detractors will not. They want him out of the SEC, just like they wanted Spurrier out when he was dominating the league. They will question the veracity of everything he says and does. That’s part of the game.
But even Meyer’s biggest critics will admit that the man is not stupid. After such a definitive statement, he knows that if he leaves for Notre Dame the fan and media backlash will make what happened to Nick (“I am not going to be the coach at Alabama”) Saban look like a walk in the park.
So I believe him. Do you?
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