Urban Meyer annoyed BYU fans when he started calling the Cougars "the team down south." Ron McBride irritated them by leading the Utah pep band after a win in Provo. Kyle Whittingham offended them when he turned down an offer to coach at BYU, his alma mater.

But the Ute coach BYU fans loved to hate most was Wayne Howard, who made it no secret the feeling was reciprocal.

Howard vastly improved an abysmal Ute football program. He had only one losing season in five years at Utah, from 1977-81. He beat BYU for the first time in six years. In his final season, he coached the team to an 8-2-1 record, which today would easily qualify for a bowl game.

Oh, and one other thing: He got the "hatred" out in the open.

Then he left.

Nearly three decades later, Howard is living quietly with his wife in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

And still wondering what's so bad about hating the team down south.

Howard was clearly not a BYU guy. He wore longish hair and sideburns and sometimes smoked big, smelly cigars. His assistant coaches were a rowdy bunch of kids back then, several of whom he brought up from Long Beach State, where he had previously coached.

He was emotional and his teams were prone to emotion-driven penalties. One halftime, he got the Utes so fired up they broke down the door to the Rice Stadium locker room.

During another game, he assailed the student card section for flipping the cards incorrectly.

"Yeah, I got after the student section, except they kept throwing the cards back at me," says Howard.

He took a program that had won five games in three years and made it respectable (30-24-2). If you toss out his get-acquainted first year (3-8), he was 27-16-2. In his second season, he led the Utes to a shocking 23-22 win over BYU.

But it was the previous year (1977) when he took the BYU-Utah rivalry to a different level by bringing up the H-word. With a 38-8 lead in the waning moments, BYU coach LaVell Edwards re-inserted quarterback Marc Wilson so he could set an NCAA passing record.

Howard went pyrotechnic.

After the game he said, "The hatred between BYU and Utah is nothing compared to what it will be. It will be a crusade to beat BYU from now on."

And it was.

The feeling became mutual, in part because of Howard, and in part because Utah's program eventually became more competitive.

"I don't think the BYU fans liked me too much," says Howard. "They called into my radio program more than the Utah fans."

Some who knew Howard say he never did figure out Utah. He couldn't fathom the quirky, volatile brew of football and religion, and why there were Mormons who went to Utah, yet were fans of BYU. It drove him crazy to see the blue-clad spectators at the Utes' stadium.

He once opened a drawer in his office and told a reporter it was full of hate mail from LDS church leaders — though it's doubtful he would have known a general authority from a bank clerk.

Maybe he's mellowing. Howard says today, "I never said it was really a religious thing in the rivalry, just two teams close together."

He still doesn't offer a definitive answer as to why he left. Some believe he thought he would get the Cal job, which instead went to former NFL coach Joe Kapp. But Howard just says there were "other things I wanted to do."

"There's really no story," he says. "It wasn't that I was really unhappy or they were unhappy with me."

He adds "(I) wanted to get back into California and I wanted to try some new things, and no, I can't think of any particular thing that made me leave."

Other than maybe all that blue in the stands.

"I looked up in the stands and BYU scored the first touchdown, and I swear there was more blue in the stands than red," he says.

He coached at Long Beach City College for two years after leaving Utah, then invested in building apartments and high-end housing before retiring at 61.

Howard says he still follows the Utes. When he can't see them at home, he finds a sports grill with the right channels.

"I root very strongly for Utah," he says. "I'm a super Ute fan. When the BYU game comes, I know they're playing and we watch the game."

He says he loved it when Utah drubbed Alabama in last year's Sugar Bowl.

As for his famous "hatred" quote, Howard says it was misinterpreted.

"I had used that word before, and had other coaches use it on us," says Howard. "It doesn't mean I really want to shoot you, I just want to beat you. That word, to me, is used when you really want to beat somebody badly."

In that case, he'll be glad to know his legacy lives on.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com