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How Urban Meyer impacted paths of Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Ohio State’s Ryan Day

Both Day and Whittingham replaced Meyer at their respective jobs

Former Utah coach Urban Meyer, right, talks with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham during a Utah practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Former Utah football coach Urban Meyer, right, talks with Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham during a Utah practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thursday, March 17, 2011.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

Coach Urban Meyer’s turbulent tenure with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars lasted less than one season with a dismal 2-11 record, but his impact on the programs at both Utah and Ohio State, and their coaches, Kyle Whittingham and Ryan Day, is undeniable.

Meyer was the head coach of the Utes from 2003-04, posting a 22-2 record and earning a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. Later, he was at the helm of the Buckeyes from 2012-18, going 83-9 with three Big Ten titles, a national championship in 2014 and a Rose Bowl berth in 2018. In between, he also won a national title at Florida in 2008.

That Rose Bowl three years ago marked Meyer’s final game as OSU’s coach and it was the same day that current coach Day took over. In an unofficial ceremony, Meyer placed a whistle around Day’s neck.

“That was a very memorable experience in 2018. It was a game against Washington. It was a well-fought game. I remember jumping out early and our guys playing strong throughout that game,” Day recalled. “Obviously afterwards, being in the locker room with coach, that ceremony meant a lot to me. That seems like about 20 years ago. I would say that I’ve aged a lot. Gray hairs popping in. That’s all part of the experience. Very memorable. I have that picture in my office in Columbus.”

Whittingham also replaced Meyer, who accepted the head coaching job at Florida in December 2004. In the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005, Whittingham and Meyer served as co-head coaches in a 35-7 victory over Pittsburgh.

University of Utah football co-coach Kyle Whittingham coaches during team practice Dec 28, 2004, at Scottsdale Community College in Scottsdale, Arizona in preparation for the Fiesta Bowl.
Utah football co-coach Kyle Whittingham coaches up his team during practice Dec 28, 2004, at Scottsdale Community College in Scottsdale, Arizona, in preparation for the Fiesta Bowl.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Prior to that, Whittingham had served as Utah’s defensive coordinator under Meyer. Whittingham credits Meyer for helping him learn how to be a head coach.

“I would echo the same sentiment that coach Day mentioned as far as shaping me as a coach. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I had not had that opportunity to work for coach Meyer for those two years,” Whittingham said. “And I had the same whistle ceremony that coach Day had, and that was a great experience as well.

“But it was interesting. I had been at Utah for eight or nine years. We had a coaching change. I thought I should be the guy. Didn’t get it. I was very disappointed. Urban got the job. Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me in my coaching career because I had a chance to spend two years with Urban and just his day-to-day way he ran a football program. And everything was mapped out. Organization is one of his strengths. And being able to see how he ran the program and being able to absorb all that knowledge and the way that he did things was invaluable to me.

“And like I said, I found out right away that I wasn’t ready for the job when I thought I was. But two years later, I learned so much from him that I felt very comfortable taking over. And that’s how it laid out.”

A few current assistants on the Utes’ coaching staff played for Meyer at Utah — defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, and defensive ends coach Lewis Powell and defensive tackles coach Sione Po’uha.

For Day, this return to the Rose Bowl is special and serves as a reminder of the time he spent with Meyer.

“This game brings up such great memories of what (Meyer) provided me and my family and the opportunity to be a grad assistant at Florida with him during his first year and then came on in 2017 at Ohio State. I would never be in this situation without him, certainly,” Day said. “You know, with this game, too, it just brings up such great memories of what he’s provided me and my family and the opportunity.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer celebrates at the end of the team’s 28-23 win over Washington during the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019 in Pasadena, Calif.
Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

“I was down there as a graduate assistant at Florida with him during his first year and then came on in ’17 at Ohio State. I never would be in this situation without him. And forever in debt for what he’s done for my family and I. And when you just think back on those times and your legacy in college football, I hope someday that there’s somebody that I’ve done the same thing for in this profession because it’s all about relationships.”

In 2018, Meyer announced his retirement from coaching after the Rose Bowl for health reasons. Meyer returned to coaching when he was hired last January as the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But Meyer was fired as the Jaguars coach on Dec. 15 amid a season filled with controversy and losses.

When asked this week about Meyer’s firing, Whittingham said, “Urban’s a close friend of mine. I wish him the best. He’s a heckuva coach. I learned a ton from him while he was here. He’ll get through this. He’s a guy that helped shape me as a coach.”