Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Urban Meyer is a hot item nationwide, thanks to his impressive record at the U.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If Steve Spurrier decides to coach again, it won't be at his alma mater. That increases speculation that Urban Meyer, after two wildly successful years at the University of Utah, may be heading to Florida.

Spurrier withdrew his name from consideration Thursday to replace Ron Zook, saying his time at Florida has passed.

"He said he's done his thing here and he just thinks it's better for us to go find a coach who will be here for the next 10 or 15 years," athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

The announcement opens up a coaching search that was widely considered Spurrier's to lose.

Meyer is reportedly Florida's top choice after Spurrier's decision to withdraw from consideration. For his part, Meyer has steadfastly refused to comment about this, or any other, job openings. When queried about openings elsewhere, Meyer talks only of how the Ute's must perform in their next game.

"For Florida, Spurrier's announcement shifts the coaching search to another name—Utah coach Urban Meyer," the Orlando Sentinel reported on its Web site Thursday.

The newspaper also reports that Florida president Bernie Machen, who was at Utah when Meyer was hired away from Bowling Green, wouldn't contact the Ute coach until the regular season was complete. Utah closes the campaign Nov. 20 at home against BYU.

ESPN's SportsCenter led its 4 p.m. broadcast with the Florida story. Speculation quickly turned to Meyer.

"There's no question that Urban Meyer of Utah is the leading candidate," ESPN's Chris Mortensen said.

Meyer led the Utes to a 10-2 record, a Liberty Bowl victory and their first outright conference championship since 1957 last season. This year the Utes are 8-0 and ranked No. 7 in the nation according to the Associated Press and No. 6 in the Bowl Championship Series ratings. Utah could become the first team from outside of college football's six most powerful conferences to ever play in one of the lucrative BCS bowls.

Meyer coached for two years at Bowling Green before coming to Utah, posting a 17-6 mark. He is 10-1 as a head coach in games against teams from BCS conferences, with the only loss a 28-26 setback to Texas A&M last season.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said that at this point, any talk is just speculation and that the University of Florida is in the process of gathering information.

Meyer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Cal's Jeff Tedford are considered possible candidates. ESPN also mentioned Louisville's Bobby Petrino, who, according to analyst Lee Corso, would fit in well at Florida because of his background of coaching in the South.

Stoops, who spent three seasons as Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida, has repeatedly denied any interest in the Gators job. But Stoops might reconsider with his old boss out of the mix.

Machen hired Meyer at Utah in December 2002, and Meyer's diverse offense would be welcomed in Gainesville after Zook failed with his NFL-style approach. But Meyer has no ties to Florida, which would make recruiting tough.

Tedford has spent his entire career on the West Coast, but he could be the perfect blend between Spurrier and Zook. His quarterback-tailored system has turned Cal into one of the top offenses in the nation, and his recruiting efforts match anyone else's in the country.

Florida wants to have a coach in place by mid-December — after a full-blown search-and-interview process — and the only thing that seems certain is it won't be Spurrier. Some close to the 59-year-old coach say he doesn't want his career to end on a losing note, and predict he will give the NFL another shot. It could come soon.

With Thursday's announcement there was almost immediate talk that Spurrier would end up in Miami with the Dolphins — even though Dave Wannstedt has not been fired.

"I have not been offered any coaching job by any team, and I'm not searching for one," Spurrier said.

The Gators won six Southeastern Conference championships and the 1996 national title under Spurrier. He posted 122 victories over 12 seasons, tormented opponents with his offensive flair and witty one-liners, and left town with the best winning percentage in league history.

Spurrier quit the Redskins after two losing seasons, and indicated last week he would consider a return to Gainesville.

Foley and Spurrier exchanged several phone messages, trying to set up an interview with Machen after the season.

But Spurrier's latest message ended all speculation about his return.

While some boosters were upset about the way Spurrier left the program, others figured there was a chance the coach's return would restore credibility and championships to the program.

Now, that task will fall to someone else.

While some boosters were upset about the way Spurrier left the program, others figured there was a chance his return would restore credibility and championships to the program.

Now, that task will fall to someone else.