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Meyer Goes to Fla., Not Notre Dame

Utah Coach Agrees to Seven-Year Deal

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page D03

Utah football coach Urban Meyer passed up a chance at what he once called his "dream job" at Notre Dame yesterday, and instead will take over Florida's football program after agreeing to a seven-year, $14 million contract to coach the Gators, sources close to the negotiations said last night.

Florida officials aren't expected to announce Meyer's hiring until early next week. It was unclear whether Ron Zook, fired as Florida's coach last month, will coach the Gators in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31.

Urban Meyer, 40, has guided the Utes to an 11-0 record, No. 5 ranking and a likely BCS berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Pittsburgh on Dec. 31. (Steve C. Wilson -- AP)

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Meyer, who has led the Utes to a No. 5 ranking and 11-0 record, was offered Notre Dame's coaching job Thursday night. But a source close to Meyer said the former Notre Dame assistant was convinced he could win "sooner and win a lot more" at Florida.

The Gators were 7-4 under Zook this season, beating rival Florida State, 20-13, in their regular season finale. But Zook was never accepted by Florida fans, who still yearned for the pass-happy offense of former Gators and Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier.

Securing Meyer to a long-term contract was a coup for Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, who was being criticized for not hiring Spurrier, who replaced retiring Lou Holtz at South Carolina last week.

Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops, a defensive coordinator under Spurrier at Florida, was Foley's second choice to replace Zook, but Stoops turned down the Gators for the second time in four years.

Losing Meyer to the Gators was another tremendous blow for the Fighting Irish, who fired coach Tyrone Willingham on Tuesday after three seasons. It was unclear what direction Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White will go after losing his top choice. Possible candidates include Boise State's Dan Hawkins, who was offered a five-year, $2.6 million contract extension yesterday; California's Jeff Tedford; Louisville's Bobby Petrino; Purdue's Joe Tiller; and Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

Meyer, 40, was Notre Dame's receivers coach from 1996 to 2000 and had expressed his fondness for the school several times over the last few months. It was widely assumed that he would replace Willingham because of a clause in his Utah contract that waived a buyout if he left for Michigan, Notre Dame or Ohio State, his alma mater.

But Meyer, a practicing Catholic, wasn't convinced he could turn around Notre Dame's football program, which has posted a winning record only three times in the past six seasons and hasn't won a bowl game since beating Texas A&M, 24-21, in the Cotton Bowl after the 1993 season.

The Utes are expected to receive an at-large bid into the Bowl Championship Series tomorrow and will probably play Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day in Tempe, Ariz. Meyer, who had scheduled a team meeting with Utah's players this morning, had said he hoped to coach the Utes in a bowl game, regardless of whether he took another job.

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