SALT LAKE CITY Notre Dame began its pursuit of Utah's Urban Meyer, spending several hours in town Thursday to meet with him about becoming the coach of college football's most glamorous program.
A private jet with the Notre Dame logo on its tail carrying athletic director Kevin White and other school officials landed in Salt Lake City around 5 p.m. They were taken in a sport-utility vehicle to a downtown hotel.
It was not clear where Meyer met to discuss the opening created by Tuesday's firing of Tyrone Willingham.
The Notre Dame party returned to the airport, in the big, black SUV with tinted windows, went through a security gate and boarded the small jet without comment. Meyer didn't appear to be with the Notre Dame officials when they boarded and he did not immediately return a cell phone call for comment.
It was no surprise Notre Dame was coming after Meyer so quickly.
''I'm sure they're going to be after him,'' Utah quarterback Alex Smith said. ''They'd be dumb if they didn't. Who wouldn't want him?''
Earlier in the day, Meyer would not directly comment on reports that the Fighting Irish were courting him, but players said their coach acknowledged that Notre Dame and other schools were interested.
''It was nice to hear from him and we appreciate it. Whatever happens with him, we're behind him,'' defensive back Bo Nagahi said. ''He's a great coach and he deserves what he's getting.''
After practice at the Utes' new indoor facility, Meyer said he plans to coach Utah in its bowl game even if he takes another job. The Utes are all but set to become the first team from a mid-major conference to crack the Bowl Championship Series.
Smith said the players all understand what's at stake for Meyer, a former Notre Dame assistant who has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for the Fighting Irish job without penalty.
''It's an opportunity that's not going to come around often for any coach,'' Smith, a Heisman Trophy contender, said. ''You had to see this coming with how much success we've had this season.''
Utah athletic director Chris Hill told The Associated Press the school would attempt to keep Meyer, who helped make the Utes a high-profile team in just two seasons.
''There's a lot of things we can do, and we'll do everything we can to make this right for Urban, Shelley and their family,'' he said.
Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, a candidate for the job when Meyer was hired two years ago and a possible replacement, said Meyer had not mentioned a Notre Dame meeting to his assistants, many of whom were on the road recruiting.
''I just know Urban Meyer is one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country right now. We'll see where he is when the dust settles,'' said Whittingham, who could also be a candidate for the coaching vacancy at BYU.
Meyer was the receivers coach at Notre Dame during 1996-00, leaving the school for his first head coaching job at Bowling Green.
He quickly turned around the Falcons, going 8-3 and 9-3 before moving to Utah in 2003. The Utes were 10-2 last season and are 11-0 this season and ranked fifth in the nation.
Willingham was fired after posting a 21-15 record in three seasons.
Meyer received a contract extension last summer that included a clause allowing him to leave Utah without penalty if he is hired as head coach at Michigan, Ohio State or Notre Dame.
AP Correspondent Tom Coyne contributed to this story from South Bend, Ind.
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