BOWLING GREEN - In April of 2001, on the eve of his first official workout session with the Bowling Green State University football team, Urban Meyer walked into a press conference on the ground floor of Perry Stadium - and stopped in his tracks.
The new head coach of the Falcons was eager to talk about the start of spring practice and the preparation for his baptismal sea-son as a head coach, but he seemed a bit puzzled and bewildered that no more than six members of the news media were on hand to hear what he had to say.
His days as an assistant at Notre Dame, where a legion of media covered every move the team and its coach made, had him expecting something more.
“I hope that some day, this room will be filled,'' Meyer said at the time.
Yesterday, he got his wish.
On the heels of BG's appearance in the national rankings this week for the first time in 17 years, media from around the country scrambled to find out where this place is, who this team is, and anything else they could learn about its 38-year-old head coach, and its 50-points-per-game offense.
The interview room was packed, an ESPN film crew took over the president's suite high above the stadium, and a gantlet of television cameras lined the hallways.
ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times - they were all buzzing around the Bowling Green program yesterday. A Sports Illustrated photographer shot the Falcons' game at Central Michigan this past weekend for a feature article in next week's issue. The ESPN Game Day film crew interviewed Meyer and several players for a segment that will air nationally on Saturday morning.
CBS Sportsline posted a lengthy feature on the Falcons on its website, suggesting that junior quarterback Josh Harris be given some consideration as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The Cincinnati Post sent a reporter, and the Associated Press reserved a seat in the press box for Saturday's game against Western Michigan. Meyer is scheduled to appear as a guest on ESPN's national radio show this morning, and a couple of the major television networks came calling, seeking up-linked highlights this weekend.
It is another sign of just how dramatically things have changed in the brief season-and-a-half Meyer has been coaching the Falcons. Bowling Green had been through six straight losing seasons prior to his arrival in December of 2000, and after going 8-3 last season for the top Division I-A turnaround in the country, Meyer has the Falcons off to a 5-0 start this year. BG is ranked No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, and is No. 25 in the AP poll.
“It's a great week for Bowling Green,'' Meyer said. “I've done a bunch of interviews today, and we are honored to be ranked and receive all of this attention. It's a tribute to those players and a group of coaches for the hard work they've done.''
Meyer said the best aspect of the increased exposure is that it can be a very beneficial recruiting tool. He said that although the reporter from The New York Times had never seen the Falcons or Josh Harris play, the paper's decision to do a story on Harris can only boost BG's efforts to rebuild its program.
“The New York Times doing a story on Josh Harris - and the way they did it first class - that's going to help us in recruiting,'' Meyer said. “This is all about recruiting - you wake up in the morning thinking about recruiting. The quarterback and that offensive line and our receivers are talented guys, but there's not enough of them. This is all about getting players.''
Bowling Green senior offensive lineman Jon Mazur said the national rankings and all of the surrounding hubbub are flattering, but there is not a whole lot of time to enjoy it with a critical Mid-American Conference game just a few days away.
“It is an honor and something we are very proud of, but it's also something we have to keep in perspective,'' Mazur said. “It's nice to see Bowling Green get some positive recognition, but you can't get swept up in all of this, because there's another game to prepare for right around the corner.''
Meyer said he wanted to make certain the visiting media left with an accurate picture of the school and its football tradition, not just a snapshot of the moment at hand.
“There's a whole lot of championships out there on that wall - and in the coaching world people know about Bowling Green,'' Meyer said. “In the non-coaching world you want to make sure they make out just what this program is about -it's a first-class, good bunch of kids who go to class and work extremely hard in practice and play hard on game day - that's what we are.''
“You just have to be careful,'' he said. “If I had very immature, non-bright football players I would be more concerned. But I think we're a very smart team, and we are very understanding of who we are.''