All-business Urban Meyer out to complete 3rd championship mission

From Notre Dame gig till now, Urban Meyer's intensity has been clear.

Lou Holtz needed a receivers coach, and son Skip had a recommendation: Talk to Urban Meyer.

Holtz shook his head. He already had someone in mind for the job.

Skip Holtz kept pushing.

"I said, 'Skip, I appreciate it, but I don't wish to talk to someone else,'" Holtz recalled in a telephone interview. "After a while, I got mad. He said, 'OK, will you have lunch with me tomorrow?' "

The year was 1996, and Holtz was about to embark on his 11th season at Notre Dame.

Holtz was flying out the next afternoon from a coaches convention in New Orleans, but he agreed to meet his son for a quick bite in the lobby.

Playing matchmaker, Skip also invited Meyer.

"I introduced the two and they started talking ball," Skip told the Tribune. "It took off. Urban did it; he sold himself as he does so well."

That's how Meyer landed at Notre Dame, where he remained for five years under Holtz and then Bob Davie.

"He was a very intense individual but also great with players," said the elder Holtz, now an ESPN analyst. "He's a leader, someone with a vision and a plan to get there."

Meyer bonded with Skip Holtz after replacing Skip as the receivers coach at Colorado State in 1990. (Skip left to work for his father at Notre Dame.)

"Urban and I developed a relationship," said Skip Holtz, now the head coach at Louisiana Tech. "We'd talk ball, get in the room and draw up routes, meet up at conventions. Football joins us."

I first met Meyer, whose Ohio State Buckeyes will take on Oregon in Monday's national title game, at a Notre Dame preseason golf outing in 1996. We were paired with two other media members.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Teddy Greenstein. I cover you guys for the Chicago Tribune."

"You for us or against us?" he shot back.

Years later, when I went to Salt Lake City to do a piece on his undefeated Utah team, Meyer greeted me with this: "How much time do you need?"

No, he's not much for pleasantries, though he's more relaxed following the 2009 chest pains that sent him to the hospital and made him re-evaluate his obsessive work habits.

"I'm so excited for him," Skip Holtz said. "To see him back on his feet, healthy, with some balance in his life … he has great charisma that comes across in recruiting, a knowledge of X's and O's and he's a student of the game. He's concerned with the development and togetherness of the players. He does a great job of managing the corporation, so to speak."

Meyer will vie for his third national title Monday after hoisting the crystal trophy at Florida after the 2006 and 2008 seasons.

After a reporter at Saturday's media day in Dallas asked Meyer about how loose his players seemed, he wasn't having it: "We're very business-like in our approach, not loosey-goosey in case you're going to write that. With all respect."

Football is serious stuff to Meyer, who has connected with his red-hot Buckeyes.

"He gives lot of great motivational speeches," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "I like his analogies. He says we're soldiers on a mission. What do soldiers do after they complete their mission? They celebrate and then they complete their next mission.

"Guys believe in that: Tell us what to do, and we'll take care of it."

They have one mission remaining.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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