Meyer bringing Utah to the Big Time

Urban Meyer crinkles his nose. He shakes his head. He appears lost somewhere between mystified and mad.

"I get confused when I hear what the 'big-time' is," he says. "I need someone to explain that to me."

Again, in a phone conversation a few weeks later, he starts in again. Big-time? BCS? As if someone is sharing economic theory in Pig Latin.

"I need to have someone explain it to me," Meyer says, a big old bundle of bewilderment.

Oh, make no mistake. Meyer knows big-time. He coached under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame and Earle Bruce at Ohio State. He tells stories about the
pageantry of a Buckeyes game and the Fighting Irish religion. He knows what the big-time is, and he wants it.

Thing is, for now, the hottest young coach in the land wants it at a commuter school about 1,000 miles southwest of Big Time.

"I'd much rather make Utah a place like that than go somewhere else," he said. "The pageantry, the excitement and expectations. That's the dream come true. That's what I'm hoping Utah develops, a tradition and expectation level. I think we are going to do that. But it's going to take a long time."

In Salt Lake City, they're buying it -- that the coach who instilled discipline and a spread offense and won the Utes their first outright conference title in 47 years is sticking around.

The university did its best, in fact, to buy it this winter.

Utah gave the 40-year-old coach a new six-year contract that included a $100,000 annual raise along with many achievable bonuses and a clause that extends the contract by a year each time the Utes have a winning season.

That means Meyer, who now makes $500,000 a year, could conceivably be a Ute forever.

Sure, the new contract significantly lowered his buyout, still has the out should Michigan, Notre Dame or Ohio State want to hire him and includes the ability for Meyer to alter that list of choice employers following this season. (Meyer insists he included the clause only at the insistence of mentors and advisors and says, "That was probably a mistake." Still, he didn't eliminate it.)

"There are two kinds of coaches -- those everybody wants and nobody wants," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said. "I want the coach everybody wants. I'm more than happy to have that situation. It's stressful, but I like to have it. I worry about it, but I don't want to guess about it."

Utah players fretted a bit this winter as Meyer was tabbed the new It Coach and his name was bandied about in connection with the Nebraska opening.

"Obviously, because of his success, people are going to talk to him," quarterback Alex Smith said. "He reassured us so much that this is where he wanted to be. He wasn't lying."

Meyer is 27-8 in three years as a head coach, the first two at Bowling Green and last year's 10-2 start at Utah. Impressive, for sure, but perhaps not so much until it is considered:

Seven times in eight games against teams in BCS conferences, Meyer has walked off the field smiling. His only loss was 28-26 at Texas A&M last season, when Brett Elliott was tackled two yards from the end zone on a two-point conversion with eight seconds to play. The Utes went on to beat Oregon and Cal last season. Meyer's Bowling Green teams beat Northwestern and Missouri, among others.

Meyer says he'll be happy to stay at Utah as long as the conditions are conducive to winning. (His contract also has an out should construction on a new indoor practice facility not progress rapidly.)

"I don't anticipate leaving," Meyer said. "I look forward to being here a long time. It's going to have to be a really good offer ..."

If his loaded Utes do again what they did last year -- or, as many think they might, do better -- we'll see. More schools will look to check out the Urban legend.

"If he had the chance at a big place he'd have to think about it," Smith said. "I'm sure one of his goals is go to a big-time place. But I think this is a perfect fit for him. He lets us know that. He's so much about 'Why can't we be the best? Why can't we beat Pac-10 teams? Why can't we beat Big Ten Schools?' That's his thing. It is kind of an underdog mentality. Why can't we be that good? Why can't we be big-time?"

Kevin Acee covers college football for the San Diego Union-Tribune.