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Coaching at CSU changed Meyer's life

April 11, 2011
By Tony Phifer

Former Florida coach Urban Meyer will be one of the capstone speakers at CSU's Business Day April 13. He credits the time he spent working with Sonny Lubick at CSU for making him a successful coach.

Urban Meyer, shown coaching at Florida, spent six seasons as an assistant coach at CSU.Urban Meyer is one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football.

The former University of Florida coach won two national championships during his six seasons with the Gators, averaging 11 wins per season. He coached numerous All-Americans, including Heisman Trophy-winning Tim Tebow, now an immensely popular quarterback for the Denver Broncos.

Capstone speaker, Business Day

That success, plus his long friendships with former CSU coach Sonny Lubick, landed him an invitation to be one of the capstone speakers at CSU’s annual Business Day, set for Wednesday. Meyer will speak about team-building and how to be successful during his 2 p.m. address at the Lory Student Center Theater.

While Meyer, currently working as an analyst for ESPN, has become synonymous success after recording 104 wins in his 10 seasons at Florida, Utah and Bowling Green, he vividly remembers when things were much different – and how his time at CSU changed his life.

“Shelley (his wife) and I have talked about this many times, and Fort Collins is still one of the top two places we have ever lived,” Meyer said Friday, taking a break from watching spring football practice at Rutgers University. “Both of our girls were born there, and we have some very special memories of that place.”

Life changed in Fort Collins

Meyer said he still can recall the day he and Shelley arrived in Fort Collins after being hired by former CSU coach Earle Bruce in 1990. After growing up in Ohio and spending most of their lives in the Midwest, neither of them had seen mountains prior to that day.

“I used to drive up the Poudre Canyon and just watch the water fall over the rocks,” he said. “It’s really a beautiful place, and we loved it there.”

Meyer arrived in time to help lead the Rams to the Freedom Bowl in 1990 – CSU’s first bowl appearance in 42 years. But when Bruce was fired following the 1992 season, Meyer’s life was at a crossroads. That’s when he met Lubick, who was named to replace Bruce as coach of the Rams.

Career crossroads

Lubick at first didn’t have any openings on his staff, so Meyer was forced to look at other options. He wanted to remain in coaching, but his only opportunity was at UTEP – one of the worst coaching destinations in college football. He even contemplated quitting coaching and going into private business.

“That was as much stress as we’ve ever had in our family,” he said. “I had a daughter (Nikki) who was 2, and Shelley was pregnant with our other daughter (Gigi). We had zero money, and our insurance was about to run out in February.

“That’s when my good friend Sonny called me and said he had a job for me.”

Meyer would spend the next three years coaching with Lubick – and changing his life. Meyer, a firebrand who had learned his coaching style watching the likes of Ohio State legend Woody Hayes, longtime Michigan coach Bo Schembechler and Bruce, had never worked for anyone like Lubick, whose easy-going style relied on positive reinforcement over the in-your-face style he had grown up with.

The Lubick influence

“Sonny saved my career,” he said. “I was headed down a path to nowhere – I really was. I was born and raised in a different way, but to see the way Sonny treated the coaches and players … I had never been around that before. Watching the way people responded to him was amazing. He made me a much better coach but, more importantly, made me a much better person.

“I really don’t believe we could have accomplished some of the things we accomplished at CSU without that influence.”

Lubick’s teams won six conference titles and played in nine bowl games in his 15 years. He now works for the College of Business as director of community leadership outreach, and will join Meyer in his presentation on Business Day.

Florida and the big time

Meyer left CSU following the 1995 season for a position at Notre Dame before embarking on his incredibly successful run as a head coach. He had two-year stops at Bowling Green and Utah before landing at Florida, where he became one of the most recognized and respected coaches in the game.

When the Gators played Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, one of the first people he called was Lubick, who joined him at the game and even spoke to the Gators prior to the game, which they won, 41-14.

A better father, husband

In many ways, it was Lubick’s influence that allowed Meyer to walk away from his lucrative position as Florida’s coach following the 2010 season. Nikki, his older daughter, plays volleyball and Georgia Tech, while Gigi is a high school senior who will play volleyball next year at Florida Gulf Coast University. He also has a son who has just started playing football.

“I miss the coaching, especially right now when it’s so fresh,” he said. “But I am so excited to spend more time with my family. I’m going to have two daughters playing Division I volleyball, and I’ve never seen them play because the volleyball season is in the fall, during football. To be able to share time with them will make it all worthwhile.

“That’s one of the things Sonny taught me, that family is everything. Because of him, I’m a better father, a better husband. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done in my life.”