BOWLING GREEN - It would be fair to say yesterday was bittersweet for Urban Meyer. While he was cheered and lauded in Salt Lake City where he was introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Utah, two time zones away there were still feelings of disappointment, surprise and resentment over his abrupt departure from Bowling Green State University.
Meyer, who led the Falcons to a 17-6 record in his two seasons here, had said as recently as 10 days ago that he was happy in Bowling Green and not pursuing other coaching jobs. Reassured by those comments, many of the BG players and followers of the Falcons were stunned by the announcement on Wednesday that the Meyer era was over.
Yesterday, about two hours after he was introduced by Utah athletic director Chris Hill to the cheers of supporters of the Utes, Meyer addressed the issues most on the minds of the Bowling Green faithful.
He said the Utah deal came together quickly, that he did not go looking for another job, and that leaving Bowling Green was very difficult.
“When I made those comments, I had every intention of staying there,” Meyer said. “I did not expect to be leaving Bowling Green. There were no calls made on my part at any time to chase after a job.”
Meyer first met with Hill on Dec. 4, the day after his statements about staying put, but said he did not know what might come of that interview at the Denver airport. After the two talked on the phone on Sunday, Meyer flew to Salt Lake this past Monday for a second meeting and a look at the Utah facilities.
Hill offered Meyer the job, and Meyer flew home on Tuesday to think it over and discuss it with his wife, Shelley. As late as 2 a.m. on Wednesday Meyer was convinced he should not make the move, but he said that over the next 90 minutes he and his wife tried to separate their strong feelings for Bowling Green from the other issues and decide what was the best long-term decision for their family.
“We agonized over it, and it was much, much harder than I thought to come to a decision,” Meyer said. “I was going to do what was best for my family. For so long in my career I had put my family second, and now I was going to put them first. My oldest daughter is 12 now, and if you're going to move you have to do it now - and then stay.”
Meyer said he and his wife developed a love of the mountains and the West while he was an assistant coach for six years at Colorado State. He said they were anxious to return to that part of the country, if the right opportunity came up. Meyer said he found Salt Lake City to be “safe, clean, and a place where people care about you” - the same qualities he found in Bowling Green.
“This is the toughest thing I've ever been through in coaching,” Meyer said. “But it's part of this business that you look at opportunities when they present themselves, and you look first at what is best for your family. “
Meyer said he made a brief statement to his players early Wednesday morning, then returned to his office upstairs in Perry Stadium after telling them they were welcome to speak with him individually about his decision to leave.
“About 70 percent of them came up and we visited and I explained things and I think there was a certain degree of closure and understanding,” Meyer said. “I know some of them are hurt and I hate that.”
Meyer put life in a program that barely had a pulse when he arrived in Bowling Green just over two years ago.
After enjoying spectacular success in his first four seasons, Gary Blackney had coached the Falcons to six straight losing seasons before Meyer arrived. Blackney's legacy - the fact he did not leave while he was on top - haunted Meyer a bit.
“From the day I got there, the thing that kept being thrown at me was `when are you going to leave'. The Blackney thing kept coming up,” Meyer said. “People said that if you stay too long, things will go downhill. They said if you want to move on, you have to win and then move on.”
Meyer received a five-year contract at Utah worth about $400,000 per year. His Bowling Green deal was worth $133,000 per year, plus incentives, and a new package with a raise was in place when he departed.
“We had two successful years at a great school, and we had to say good-bye to some people who mean a lot to me. There is still a very distressed feeling in my heart from what went on,” Meyer said. “Time will heal any wounds, and I hope that [Bowling Green] is a community that I can come back to and visit. I love those kids. There's two teams that I want to win every game - and that's Utah and Bowling Green. I know the players will understand all of this. I hope the other people will too.”