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Meyer making some enemies ‘down south’

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I was at BYU recently, where I was introduced to some BYU fans who brought up the subject of Utah football coach Urban Meyer.

"He's arrogant," said one. "I don't like him."

And one more thing: He's not that good.

"He's living off Ron McBride's players," added a second fan.

Shortly after, a BYU professor informed me the Ute ticket campaign was a horrible marketing mistake.

That certainly didn't represent everyone. But ask almost any avid Cougar fan. He or she will probably say something similar: Meyer is conceited, condescending and even delusional. Thanks largely to the Utes' conference title last season, and their national ranking this year, Meyer is roughly as popular in Utah County as Bill Clinton. In fact, he's probably the least popular Utah coach among BYU fans since Wayne Howard.

Which is just as Meyer would have it.

Cue the war drums.

Perhaps some history is in order. Howard is the ex-coach who openly antagonized BYU. In the late 1970s and early '80s he smoked big cigars, ran a loosey-goosey program and made a point never to befriend anyone wearing blue.

Howard didn't even try to hide his contempt for BYU. Friendly coexistence wasn't an option. When, according to Howard, the Cougars ran up the score one November afternoon, he stormed, "The hatred between Utah and BYU will continue!"

That alone wasn't a big revelation. Still, his aggressiveness didn't sit well with Cougar fans.

Don't look now, but Howard has been gone 23 years and Utah's latest coach refuses to mention BYU by name. In a move that has BYU fans seeing (what else?) red, he icily refers to the Provo school as "that team down south."

Did the temperature just drop?

It's not as though Utah and BYU were ever chummy, but there was a time when relations were at a more comfortable pitch. Although the rivalry remained intense, Utah's Ron McBride and BYU's LaVell Edwards could be seen on TV golfing and teasing one another. They even admitted to being personal friends.

Mac and LaVell, peas in a pod.

But those days are gone. Other than their annual game, the only time you'll see Meyer and BYU coach Gary Crowton in the same county is if they're at a charity event.

How Meyer rose to Howardian status is easy to understand. First, he won a championship outright. That hadn't happened in 46 years. Second, he beat BYU. Successful as McBride was against BYU, winning six of the last 10, there was always the stigma that the Utes couldn't win a title outright. Meyer did both.

But it's more than that. Meyer has rubbed Cougar fans wrong with his remarks. For example, when he lost assistant coaches to Arizona, Arizona State and Nebraska this spring, Meyer took that as a good sign.

"A lot of people want to be like Utah right now," Meyer said.

"That's the price you have to pay for success."

At the naming of the new field house, recently, he noted that opposing schools are "scared of the University of Utah, because they know what we have."

That didn't sit well with Cougar fans, either.

Concerned, yes. Respectful, maybe. But scared?

Didn't that end for BYU in the 1940s?

It isn't that Meyer has directly bad-mouthed BYU. But the lack of acknowledgement stings. McBride was a lovable teddy bear; the type some BYU fans might even consider inviting for pizza. Yes, he led the Utah band after wins over BYU. But he made up for that by making TV commercials with Edwards.

Good luck on working out something like that between Crowton and Meyer.

In addition, Meyer's commercials have him saying, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

Ute fans may love it, but BYU fans consider it boastful, considering Utah went 10-2 last season.

By nature of the job, none of Utah's coaches were, or ever will be, beloved by Cougar Nation. But before Howard, the Ute coach was Tom Lovat, a local guy who had back-to-back 1-10 years. No threat there. After Howard was Chuck Stobart, a taciturn Midwesterner who didn't win or say enough to make BYU fans too mad, either. Then it was on to Jim Fassel, a polished communicator who talked about the rivalry but never made it personal.

That isn't necessarily the case with Meyer. He's more polished, but less warm and fuzzy than McBride. He's more blunt than Fassel and more outspoken than Stobart. And he's more successful than any of them.

Hence, the anti-Urban league. A Web site is already under construction (fireurbanmeyer.com), rumored to be a lightning rod for some of Meyer's bold statements.

But there's yet another, more obscure reason BYU fans might dislike Meyer. In the Utah weight room is a clock that lists the months, days, hours and minutes until the teams meet on Nov. 20.

Around the clock it says, "Countdown until we beat the team down south."

No mention of BYU there, either.

Which means a game day brunch with the Cougar Club is probably out of the question.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com