BOWLING GREEN - Yesterday, Urban Meyer got aboard an airplane in South Bend, Ind., and watched the Golden Dome of Notre Dame fade in the distance behind him. When he stepped off the plane here a short time later, it was to start his first day as the head football coach at Bowling Green State University.
After he was formally introduced as the 15th head football coach in BGSU history, Meyer hustled out to spend the evening on the telephone, knocking on doors, or sitting in living rooms - selling the brown and orange to recruits.
He hit the ground running, trying to start a revival of the tradition-rich Falcon program that has suffered through six straight losing seasons and dwindling attendance.
“I'm excited to get started,” Meyer said. “I sat and thought about it for a couple of days, but there was really no question that I was going to take this job.
“We're eager to get going and you just wish spring practice was right around the corner, but we're in a bigger season right now - we're in recruiting - and if you lose this recruiting year that will set the program back. So we're going to hit the road hard and try to bring some great players in and not waste a year of recruiting.”
Meyer, 36, has been the receivers coach at Notre Dame for the past five seasons. The Toledo native who grew up in Ashtabula has coached at Colorado State, Illinois State and Ohio State, and decided this was the right time and the right situation to make the move as the head of a program.
“Growing up in Ohio, I knew that Bowling Green had a great reputation and a great football tradition,” Meyer said. “When I saw the Bowling Green job come open, and when I saw the community, met the people and saw the sincere commitment we have to fielding a winner here, I thought it was a no-brainer. I'm leaving a great situation at Notre Dame, so I wanted to make sure this was right. And there's no question in my mind this is right.”
BGSU athletic director Paul Krebs said that although Meyer had not been a head coach or an offensive or defensive coordinator, he was loaded with the intangibles Krebs had hoped to find in BG's next coach.
“Everyone I talked to told me this guy is a difference-maker,” Krebs said. “Earle Bruce said it, Lou Holtz said it. He has a way with people. He's a leader. He's got head coach written all over him. The way he acts, the way he leads. He was the guy we focused on from the beginning. He was our No. 1 candidate.”
Meyer coached under Bruce at Ohio State and Colorado State and under Holtz at Notre Dame.
“I talked at length with coach Holtz about Urban and what he brings to a program,” Krebs said. “Do you have to be a coordinator to be a successful head coach - can you lead young men, can you teach, can you motivate, are you organized and can you put together a staff? When I looked at the total package, I thought Urban had all of that. This was an attempt to find the best fit for Bowling Green State University, and in Urban Meyer we have found that. We have found the best fit.”
Meyer's five-year contract at BGSU will pay him a $125,000 annual base salary, with additional income possible from radio and television contracts and other sources.
Meyer said he is ready to devote whatever time and effort it takes to rekindle interest in the BG program.
“It seems to me, at a Midwestern school, where football is everything in the Midwest, that we should have that interest,” Meyer said. “We've got to get students in the stands, get students proud and wearing orange, really getting something going here, and I'm going to kill myself to do that.”
Tom Lichtenberg, who had to give up his job as BG's offensive coordinator midway through this past season because of health reasons, hired Meyer as a graduate assistant when Lichtenberg was on the OSU staff.
“He was really almost a full-time coach down there as a graduate assistant, and he showed the ability to get things done,” Lichtenberg said. “Intensity, he's full of, and he has the desire to have things in order. He takes care of details. And he's a family man. He'll work hard, but he'll also find time for his family. He has the balance you need in your life to be a successful coach.”
Meyer and his wife, Shelley, have two daughters, Nicole (10) and Gigi (8), and a son, Nathan (2).
Meyer will retain defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, who has been on the BG staff for three seasons. Beckman is also the recruiting coordinator for the Falcons. Meyer said the rest of his staff will be assembled over the next few weeks.
When asked if he will retain other members of Blackney's staff, he replied: “I'm going to take my time. That's the advice I've received. I know a lot of people in this profession, and I think Bowling Green deserves the best coaching staff in the Mid-American Conference, and I want to take my time with that.”
Meyer will return to Notre Dame Dec. 16 and help the Irish prepare for their appearance in the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl, but will spend the next two weeks on the job at Bowling Green.
“That was hard, to look at that Golden Dome as I was flying away today. That was real hard,” Meyer said. “But to feel the excitement as we flew into Bowling Green today, as we fly over that stadium - that's really something. Notre Dame's not me - I'm just a small part of that, but I'm a big part of this now. And my family's a big part of this, and we're actually going to influence young men's lives here at Bowling Green, and that's exciting to me.”