Pete Thamel of the Times reported Tuesday that ESPN football analyst Urban Meyer met with Arizona AD Greg Byrne last week about the Wildcats’ head coach opening. Even though everyone thinks Meyer is going to return to coaching in 2012 – Ohio State! – the meeting caught everyone off guard. Byrne was almost universally praised for aiming high, even though the Wildcats had zero chance at landing the former Florida coach.
Now, some backstory: Byrne is a popular athletic director. He’s young, genial, and his father is a longtime AD (Texas A&M, Nebraska). How did Byrne coax Meyer in for an interview? Well, Byrne used to be at Mississippi State where he hired … Dan Mullen to be the Bulldogs’ head coach. Guess where Dan Mullen was before that? Florida. With … Urban Meyer.
So before any Arizona fans go thinking Urban Meyer was in play for the Wildcats, this seems to be a case of two guys just helping each other out.
Do I think this Byrne/Meyer news leaking out – if you’ve followed Thamel’s reporting, it’s obvious he’s friendly with Meyer – is beneficial to both parties? Absolutely. Byrne is trying to replace Mike Stoops. Arizona is a good, but not a great job opening, and with schools like UCLA, Ohio State, North Carolina and Penn State all (likely) looking for a coach, Arizona would have to wait for some dominoes to fall before getting their man.
When Arizona booted Stoops, all signs pointed to the Wildcats going for a hot shot coordinator (Alabama’s Kirby Smart? Oklahoma’s Brent Venables?) or upstart mid-major (Houston’s Kevin Sumlin? Southern Mississippi’s Larry Fedora?) but unable to reel in a big fish (Chris Petersen, Urban Meyer). If Byrne can hit another home run (Mullen got the Bulldogs to a New Year’s Day bowl last season), he could be setting himself up for a big-time job in a few years. Securing a meeting with Meyer is a huge PR coup.
Meyer, of course, could use a safe “interview” pop, too. The leak officially puts out the word that he’s in play for a job, even though it had been rumored since the day he quit. It might as well have been a smoke signal to UCLA, Penn State or anyone else that wants to make a play for Meyer: It’s mid-November … you’ve got 7-8 weeks to decide what you want to offer me. It makes Meyer’s exquisitely-worded denials in recent weeks all the more laughable.
According to a source, Meyer is in a helping mood these days – he recently helped the University of Cincinnati hire its new athletic director, Whit Babcock. You can see why Meyer want to help the Bearcats – he played football at Cincinnati and his sister, Gigi Escoe, works at the school.