J PAT CARTER / AP Enlarge
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. Flanking either side of the Bowl Championship Series trophy, Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer shook hands for more than a minute yesterday afternoon as more than two dozen photographers clicked and commanded away.
Coach, over here!
Bigger smiles, coaches!
A little closer, gentlemen!
Finally, someone decided the photo op had lasted long enough, and Stoops and Meyer quickly made their way out a side door. The BCS championship game might still be four weeks away, but the hype for the matchup between Stoops Oklahoma Sooners and Meyer s Florida Gators is already starting in earnest in South Florida.
It s a four-week buildup, Meyer said. How do you insulate your team? I wish we could, but it s not going to happen.
Every other coach in major college football would love to have that problem, of course. But it ll only be Oklahoma and Florida in Miami on Jan. 8, where only one coach will be photographed next to that crystal football at night s end, and in either case that coach will be celebrating his second national title.
Florida finished the regular season ranked No. 1, one spot ahead of Oklahoma, in the final Associated Press poll, which does not factor into the BCS formula. Oklahoma was No. 1 in the final BCS rankings, with Florida No. 2.
I m just really honored and excited to be here, Stoops said. Everybody involved with this bowl game is just first-class and coming to the city of Miami is always a fantastic experience. We re excited about it ... it s exciting for the competition and challenge of it.
Stoops has recruited South Florida heavily before, although his current team has only one player from the Sunshine State.
Meanwhile, Florida has 13 players from the greater Miami area alone, and Meyer said the same number were part of high school state championship victories at Dolphin Stadium, where the BCS title will be decided this year.
I hope it s a home-field advantage, Meyer said. I d be disappointed if it wasn t a tremendous showing, but I know Oklahoma has a great tradition of traveling fans as well. In the back of our minds, even in the front of some of our minds, this was our target to get to Miami because it s our home state, because of recruiting, because of all of the above.
Even as his plane landed at the airport near Fort Lauderdale after the quick flight south from Gainesville, Meyer had his first official problem of bowl season: He s losing his offensive coordinator.
Dan Mullen was named as the new coach at Mississippi State on Wednesday. Meyer said he isn t sure what Mullen s availability for the championship game will be.
It complicates things a little bit, Meyer said.
Mullen s hiring comes as good news to Stoops. His offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, was also presumed to be very high on Mississippi State s list of potential replacements for Sylvester Croom.
So there s another tie that binds these two coaches whose hometowns are about an hour apart in Ohio.
We had to come down here to enjoy the weather, Stoops said. It s a lot better than going up to northern Ohio right now.
Stoops was Florida s choice to replace Steve Spurrier when the ol ball coach left Gainesville, but the former Gators assistant wound up declining, saying he had everything he wanted at Oklahoma.
Three years later, when Florida began courting Meyer, Stoops got another phone call.
It was Meyer, asking for an unbiased opinion of the university and the program. Meyer took the job, won a national championship in his second season, and now is looking for his second crystal football in three years.
Unfortunately, I helped get him there, Stoops said.
Ohio roots are not the only similarity with Stoops and Meyer.
Both are among the winningest active coaches, in terms of percentage, in the game. Both are leading two of the nation s power programs, and both used the phrase staying in the moment when describing how they ll ask their teams to handle a month of BCS buildup.
It s keeping your focus on this game, on the challenge of playing Florida, Stoops said. And be at your best, whether it s in practice, attention to detail in meetings, and keeping yourself in the present time as opposed to what comes next.