"People are making this out to be Notre Dame vs. Florida. It was not," Urban Meyer said on Dec. 4, 2004, two days after accepting Florida's head-coaching offer. It was about Notre Dame vs. Florida. And what if the Irish had won?
Fifteen years after Meyer left Utah for Florida, where he won 65 games and two national championships in six seasons, it remains one of the most talked-about and important coaching decisions in college football history. Notre Dame lost and hired Charlie Weis, who won 19 of his first 25 games before losing 21 of his final 37 and prompting a fourth head-coaching search in barely a decade.
“And I just, the bottom line, in the coaching profession is you don’t have time to build programs any more. You’d better get it going right now,” Meyer said in August. “Ron Zook was the previous head coach at Florida, I evaluated the rosters the best I could, and I felt Florida had the better roster."
What if Florida didn't have the better roster and Meyer went to Notre Dame in December 2004? What are the ripple effects?
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After firing Ron Zook, Florida was reportedly interested in, among others, Kirk Ferentz, Bob Stoops, Jeff Tedford, Bobby Petrino, and Butch Davis, though Ferentz, Stoops, and Davis reportedly declined interest. If the Gators didn't land Meyer, would they have circled back to one of those three coaches?
Let's say they can't land Stoops or another big fish and hire Tedford, who won 10 games in 2004 and had Cal ranked in the top 10 of the final AP top 25 for only the second time in the last 50 years. Cal hires Dan Hawkins away from Boise State, who promotes offensive coordinator Chris Petersen just like they did a year later when Hawkins left for Colorado. Instead of landing Hawkins a year later, Colorado hires another in-demand coach like Gary Patterson or Bronco Mendenhall, which opens either TCU or BYU.
Notre Dame doesn't hire Charlie Weis, who stays in New England until an NFL head-coaching offer comes (e.g. New York Jets in 2006 or 2009), and doesn't hire Brian Kelly five years later because Meyer is winning a lot in South Bend. Kelly stays at Cincinnati for three more seasons and takes the Ohio State job. Or Michigan hires Kelly instead of Brady Hoke in 2011, which sends Hoke to Minnesota, which keeps Jerry Kill at Northern Illinois until leaving for Kansas in 2011 or Illinois in 2012. That means Turner Gill doesn't leave Buffalo or Tim Beckman doesn't leave Toledo.
If Beckman doesn't leave Toledo, Matt Campbell isn't promoted to head coach. And if Campbell isn't promoted to Toledo head coach until 2013 or later, maybe Iowa State doesn't hire him in 2016. Instead, the Cyclones hire Dino Babers, P.J. Fleck, Rod Carey or another name believed to be on their shortlist.
Wanna keep going?
Let's say Babers goes to Iowa State. Syracuse doesn't hire Babers and instead lands Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost (who still leaves for Nebraska in late 2017). UCF hires Geoff Collins instead of Frost, and Campbell stays at Toledo before taking the Purdue job in 2017. What happens to Collins, Brohm, and others?
Those are the initial, projectable coaching ripple effects. What happens to Meyer at Notre Dame? Does Tedford win at Florida? If not, does Florida still hire Will Muschamp?
Like Nick Saban's decision to leave LSU for Alabama, Urban Meyer's decision to pick Florida over Notre Dame was one that forever altered college football.