Utah Utes football: Urban Meyer receives a warm welcome

Published: Thursday, March 17 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Former Utah coach Urban Meyer, left, talks with Brian Johnson during practice on Thursday.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Urban Meyer returned to the University of Utah on Thursday. After visiting the football complex and touring the expanded conditioning facility, he walked the sidelines and stepped onto the field numerous times during spring practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

By late afternoon, Meyer addressed the football team — just like he did while coaching the Utes in 2003 and 2004.

"It was great to have him back," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose program is being profiled by his former boss as part of an ESPN series of reports on spring football.

Meyer began working for the network shortly after stepping down as Florida's head coach. Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, he left the Gators following six seasons at the helm and two national championships (2006, 2008).

"I guess it's been great. I don't know. I've got a knot in my stomach right now, missing it awful bad," Meyer said of his decision to leave coaching.

One thing he won't miss, however, is being able to watch his children play sports. He has two daughters playing college volleyball.

"I promised them at some point I was going to get a chance to watch them and the time was right," Meyer said.

And so, too, was the timing for a trip back to Salt Lake City.

When ESPN asked him to pick five football programs to visit this spring, Meyer made sure Utah was one of them. Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas are the others.

"I haven't been back since the day I stepped foot on the bus to go to the Fiesta Bowl. I'm not proud of that. I just haven't been able to," Meyer said. "We had a couple of trips planned and then for whatever reason something came up."

This journey wasn't tough to sell. Meyer and Whittingham agreed that ESPN would do a good job highlighting the Utes and that it would be a "home run" for recruiting.

The future, though, took a back seat to the present.

"It's been awesome," Meyer said in the midst of his visit. He was engaging with the media and conversed with former players, colleagues, administrators and fans.

That, he explained, is what was really cool.

"How many coaches get to come back and just get along with everybody?" Meyer said. "Most coaches, it's a bad marriage and they ended up getting fired or thrown out or everybody is upset."

Meyer added that his reception in Utah was "awesome." He said he has a similar relationship with folks at Bowling Green and Florida, his other head coaching stints.

"It's nice to be able to have him see where this program has gone," said safeties coach Morgan Scalley, who was a captain on Meyer's last team at Utah.

Many of the principles that Meyer taught, he added, are still in place under Whittingham. Even the practice tempo is the same.

Scalley saw the light in Meyer's eyes during the practice and couldn't help but wonder if he'll get back into coaching someday.

"You almost expected him to start yelling and screaming, but afterwards when he spoke to the guys it was the same ol' Urban," Scalley said. "He knows what motivates. He knows what gets people to listen. It's good to have him back."

Meyer, who estimates he'll work 60-70 days a year for ESPN, took time to reminisce during his return. His first thought involved the stadium. He was glad to see more signage with "Utah" on it and called the scoreboard additions heralding the Utes' victories in the Fiesta and Sugar bowls as "first class."

Things, however, can be even better.

"Why can't this be the best stadium in college football?" Meyer asked.

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