University of Utah football coach Urban Meyer is a wanted man, and a fight for his services has broken out between two of college football's most imposing heavyweights.
School officials from Notre Dame and Florida spent time in Salt Lake City on Thursday, meeting with Meyer and trying to persuade him to be their next coach.
According to one source close to Meyer, it's "50-50" whether he will take the job at Notre Dame or Florida, but Meyer himself always made it clear that Notre Dame was his "dream job" and the college football community continued to expect Meyer to end up with the Fighting Irish. Meyer has a clause in his contract that allows him to accept the post without penalty.
Irish athletic director Kevin White abruptly fired Tyrone Willingham on Monday, and speculation regarding his successor immediately centered on Meyer.
But on Wednesday night, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops turned down a $3.5 million per year offer to coach the Gators, who had previously been rebuffed by Steve Spurrier.
Florida officials immediately flew to Utah and met with Meyer on Thursday morning, hoping their formidable war chest might persuade him to turn his back on Notre Dame, where he was an assistant from 1996 to 2000.
"Don't underestimate the financial resources of the Florida community," a source told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Meyer was not expected to command the kind of money that Florida offered Stoops, but he may now benefit from Notre Dame's entry into the chase.
In any event, another source close to Meyer said it is "inevitable" that he will be leaving Utah after two seasons as head coach of the Utes.
Notre Dame officials, including White, flew on the school's private jet to Salt Lake City on Thursday afternoon around 5 p.m. and met with Meyer at the downtown Grand America Hotel. They left about 9 p.m. on the same jet, and Meyer returned to his home in Sandy.
At this point, the most logical scenario involving Utah football includes Meyer taking the job at Notre Dame or Florida and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford being named the Utes' new head coach. Defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham may also be a candidate, but sources believe he is more likely to become the head coach at BYU or follow Meyer to his new destination.
Athletic director Chris Hill has declined comment on the situation.
Meyer denied reports he already had been offered the job at Notre Dame earlier in the day - ''There are too many things going on to have any comments,'' he said - and he declined to comment further when contacted at his home late Thursday night.
Meyer acknowledged talking to his players about his status as their coach. Sources said he asked the seniors on his team for their permission to coach the Utes in their upcoming bowl game - obviously indicating he believes he is leaving Utah. The seniors agreed.
"I've been avoiding some things," Meyer said. "But I came into the office today and thought they deserved to know what was going on."
"He let us know as much as we need to know," junior quarterback Alex Smith said. "He's handling it just right."
Meyer's message was well-received.
"He came, he saw and he conquered," said senior defensive back Bo Nagahi. "We're behind him 100 percent."
"He's had so much success and he's such a great coach, who wouldn't want him?" said Smith.
Asked specifically about Meyer leaving for Notre Dame, Smith said: "An opportunity like that isn't going to come around very often. He'd be stupid if he didn't at least take a look at it."
In two seasons, Meyer has guided the Utes to a 21-2 record, including 11-0 this year. Utah is headed to a BCS bowl game - probably the Fiesta on Jan. 1 against Pittsburgh.
By that time, Notre Dame or Florida will almost certainly have Meyer in place as its new coach.
"I'm the head coach at Utah and I anticipate coaching in the bowl game," Meyer said. "If something happens and I'm not, I still anticipate coaching."
According to one of his players, Meyer should "definitely" guide the Utes in the bowl game.
''If he doesn't,'' Nagahi said, ''he'll be hearing from me.''
Urban Meyer's Thursday
* 8 a.m. (approximately) - Meyer meets with officials from Florida who fly across the country to meet with him.
* 11 a.m. - Meyer participates in a one-hour availability session for the national media, although he is a little late.
* Noon - Meyer meets with Utah players and assistant coaches and tells them he has some options regarding his future.
* 2 p.m. - Meyer oversees a two-hour practice.
* 4 p.m. - Meyer meets briefly with local reporters, but offers a "no comment" when asked about the jobs at Notre Dame or Florida. Instead, he praises his players for their effort despite the distractions swirling around them.
* 4:15 p.m. - Meyer leaves the practice facility.
* 6 p.m. (approximately) - Meyer meets with officials from Notre Dame, who arrive on a private plane about an hour earlier and dodge a handful of media members who met the flight.
* 9 p.m. - Notre Dame officials leave Salt Lake City in the same private plane, and Meyer is not on board.
* 9:30 p.m. - Meyer is at his home in Sandy.