College Football Rumor: Urban Meyer to Penn State, a Cautionary Tale

Derek HornerAnalyst IIOctober 12, 2011

College Football Rumor: Urban Meyer to Penn State, a Cautionary Tale

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    Urban Meyer to Penn State rumors are swirling, but Nittany Lions fans should temper their excitement, lest they end up heartbroken like fans of the past at other universities.

    Using a case study to illustrate the ups and downs of a coaching transition for the average Penn State fan who likely hasn’t endured a college football coaching change in his or her lifetime, this discussion will take a look at another major program’s pitfalls and perils—the University of Notre Dame. The Irish have seen four coaching changes in the past ten years, and none has been without its rumors and letdowns.

The Gruden Heartbreak

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    Before the George O’Leary/Ty Willingham transition, rumors flew about Jon Gruden being the next legendary coach of Notre Dame. The son of a former Irish assistant coach who often gave tours of the campus to his father’s recruits, Gruden seemed to be a perfect fit for a Notre Dame program looking to regain the prestige of the Lou Holtz era. A passionate young coach who graduated from high school in the shadows of the Golden Dome, his pedigree was birthed in South Bend and was destined to live out his days in South Bend.

    On Dec. 4, 2001, the San Francisco Gate stated the following about the 2001 Irish target:

    “Gruden already had set the talk shows abuzz on Sunday by refusing to deny, thoroughly and completely and sworn on a friend's blood, that he would ever talk to the people from South Bend, Ind.

    After the Raiders' loss to the Cardinals, he'd said he had no plans to deal with Notre Dame, but added: ‘At some point, maybe we'll have a chance to sit down and have a Coke and talk about it.’"

    Gruden, subsequently, declined the Irish in favor of moving to Tampa Bay were he won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers.

Urban Meyer Escapes

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    After Willingham was hired and disastrously led the Irish program into the ground, Notre Dame felt 100 percent confident it could lure former Holtz and Bob Davie assistant coach Urban Meyer from an undefeated Utah program he’d built. The son of an intensely Catholic mother from Ohio who’d named her son after a Pope, Meyer was certain to resurrect a program left in ruins under the arms of Touchdown Jesus. The House that Rockne built would regain its glory.

    Discussing the possibility of Urban Meyer taking the position at Notre Dame, cbssports.com wrote:

    “One coach certain to be mentioned as a possible replacement for Willingham is Utah's Urban Meyer, an Irish assistant during 1996-2000. The Utes are 11-0 and ranked No. 5 in their second year under Meyer.

    Meyer said he hadn't heard about Willingham's departure from Notre Dame until he was asked about it by the Associated Press on Tuesday.

    Asked whether he has had any contact with Notre Dame or whether he would be interested in coaching the Fighting Irish, Meyer responded: ‘I won't comment on it.’”

    Little did Notre Dame’s administration, alumni or fans know that the Florida Gators had already swooped in and grabbed the Domers’ top target, offering Meyer and his family the allure of SEC talent, warm weather, and the beach. Irish fans across the nation were distraught, especially after seeing the Gators' success.

The Chicago Sun Times Claims Stoops

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    After Charlie Weis failed to sustain a consistent return to prominence, but after managing to restock a cupboard of talent left empty by Willingham, Irish fans swore the future of the program lay with Bob Stoops, while Gruden’s name and Meyer’s name quietly echoed in the background.

    Citing an article by the Chicago Sun Times which has since been removed from the Times website, the Huffington Post, among other sources, repeats the Times rumor in a Nov. 16, 2009 post:

    “If athletic director Jack Swarbrick decides Weis' Notre Dame career is over after his fifth season, a source said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will be in the mix to replace him. The source said Stoops has told confidants he would be interested in talking to the Irish.”

    An Ohio resident seeking to reside closer to his Catholic family and speculatively frustrated with the Oklahoma administration, Stoops again seemed like the perfect candidate to shake down the thunder in Notre Dame Stadium. Yet again, the Irish were left heartbroken.

Manage Your Expectations: Ease Your Heart

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    With so many can’t-miss coaches that failed to land on Notre Dame’s sidelines, Irish fans offer their Penn State counterparts some words of advice: temper your excitement about the next “hot” coach and be careful reading the tea leaves. Courting new coaches is a long, confidential process where very few people have all, if any, of the facts. Contract negotiations are fickle and reporters are fighting to land the story or the next big lead. 

    Meanwhile, it’s you—the fan—who is agonizing over visions of National Championships with your next great coaching target while the media and rumor-mongers toy with your heart.

    From a Notre Dame fan to a Penn State fan, the absence of expectation will help you maintain your sanity over the new few months. Best of luck in your pursuit.