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Better Be Very Prepared

Meyer, who calls BCS a joke, has the Utes at 13-2 (3-0 against the Pac-10) since he arrived.

September 21, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — Urban Meyer is commanding the game video with a remote control from his desk, flanked on his right by a half-empty bowl of cereal.

It's Sunday morning after a Saturday trip to Logan has produced a 48-6 dissection of rival Utah State, a victory that will raise Utah's standing to 3-0 overall and No. 14 in the national polls.

"Could you hit the light?" he says.

Meyer wants to show a visitor a version of his "spread" offense.

Only this setup involves his punt team.

Utah has the required seven men on the line of scrimmage, but they're spaced sideline to sideline, rendering the other team's punt-return team clueless.

This formation will have no bearing on the outcome of the game, yet, like everything else in the well-ordered world of what might be America's best young college coach, it serves a purpose.

"We just like to do stuff to bother people," Meyer says.

It seems to be working.

In less than two seasons, Meyer has taken Utah from relative football obscurity to national prominence with his intricate offense and firebrand frenzy.

Utah is bothering people, starting with Mountain West coaches.

After being picked to finish fifth in 2003, the Utes won their first outright conference title in 47 years.

Utah this year has a chance to become the first non-bowl championship series school to qualify for a major bowl. A non-BCS team must finish sixth or better in the final BCS standings to earn an automatic bid, 12th or better to be considered for one of two at-large spots.

Meyer is 13-2 since getting with the Utah program in December 2002 and has a better winning percentage against Pacific 10 conference foes the last two years -- he's 3-0 for 100% -- than USC's Pete Carroll, coach of the defending national co-champions.

Meyer is not only willing to take on the BCS, he is willing to meet it after school in the alley.

Blunt as a brick, Meyer calls the BCS "a joke."

He says, "There are teams across the country that haven't had a winning season in 20 years, and they're BCS?"

He coaches in the Mountain West, not among the six major conferences -- plus Notre Dame -- that make up the BCS.

Meyer says: "I'd like the commissioner from whatever [BCS] conference to tell my quarterback [Alex Smith] he doesn't have the same opportunity as his ... when my guy is a better student, a better football player and he's on a better team."

Energy?

You might be able to light Ogden just by hooking wires to Meyer's head.

He's everything you'd want to be at 40: on top of his game, happily married with three kids, well-compensated and looking to knock heads.

He arrived in Salt Lake and scared the Ute-know-what out of players returning from Ron McBride's 2002 team, which finished 5-6.

You might call Meyer Mr. Minutiae. He hired a top-shelf staff, which was assigned to keep detailed books on the players: what they liked to eat, wear, read.

Meyer and staff went to church with players, led them in weight workouts.

"He's different, very different, but in a good way," Utah's offensive coordinator Mike Stanford, a onetime assistant coach at USC and Notre Dame, says of Meyer.

Sanford says he has never worked for a coach who drives his players the way Meyer does.

Meyer explains that you can jump down a player's throat at a practice only if he knows you're also going to be there for him afterward.

Smith, the team's star junior quarterback, says getting used to Meyer took time.

"This team really found out what it was like to work when he got here," Smith said. "Work off the field and work on the field. It was work everywhere. He's a perfectionist, and he demands that. And he demands that in all areas of life. He demanded we go to class, demanded that we got good grades, he demanded everything."

As this Utah mystery continues to unfold, a lingering question remains:

How in the name of Salt Lake did Meyer end up at Utah, a school that has produced two consensus All-Americans in 110 years and only a few names you'd recognize: Lee Grosscup, Scott Mitchell, Jamal Anderson, Steve Smith, Kevin Dyson, Mike Anderson?

Utah has had five first-round NFL draft choices. The University of Miami produced six first-round picks -- last year.

Meyer confesses, "I certainly didn't wake up dreaming of Utah."

He says he was "shocked" to learn last year's conference title was the school's first outright championship since the 1950s.

"I think they thought it was a basketball school for years," he said.

Meyer was raised in startling contrast, in the small town of Ashtabula, Ohio, steeped in Catholicism and the gridiron gospel according to Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce.

When Meyer got his head-coaching break at 36, at Bowling Green in 2001, and turned the Falcons downside-up in one season, friends told Meyer to bide his time for the Notre Dame job or a Big Ten opening.

Notre Dame might have missed the boat when it bypassed Meyer, a former Irish assistant coach under Lou Holtz and Bob Davie.

And Meyer says he wasn't going to take just any Big Ten job.

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