SMU wanted Hank Stram when he said no they turned their attention to Johnny Majors when he said no thanks they found Ron Meyer, then the coach at UNLV. Meyer took over a fractured SMU program, reeling from years of mismanagement and turned them into a national power. Were the methods, shall we say, questionable? Yes. But to keep up with what was going on in Austin and College Station, questionable was the only way to operate.
The adage goes when Texas or A&M get in trouble; the NCAA punishes SMU. Not excusing Meyer's tactics, but they tend to take the focus away from how great Meyers was a coaching ball.
In three years at UNLV Meyers took a one-win Rebel team and led them to a Division II semifinal. Resurrecting the Rebels in the desert raised interest from SMU. At SMU, Meyer inherited a 4-7 program on probation and playing in front of tons of empty seats. Meyer was 35 when he signed on to make $30,000 a year on the Hilltop. Ever the optimist Meyer promised a wide open offense and hard-hitting defense.
His first four years the Mustangs didn't exactly make good on either promise, SMU finished 16-27, but Meyer was selling. Always selling. By 1980 the Mustangs were contenders. They beat #2 Texas in 20-6 in Austin. Meyer made the controversial decision to bench quarterback Mike Ford, instead inserting freshman quarterback Lance McIlhenny into the starting lineup. The move paid huge dividends for the Mustangs, not only in 1980 but for three more seasons. The Mustangs followed that up with wins over conference heavyweights Texas A&M and Arkansas. SMU would lose in the 1980 Holiday Bowl epically to BYU, but the stage was set, and SMU was back.
The 1981 Mustangs were Meyers most talented on the Hilltop, with a young McIlhenny calling the shots and Craig James and Eric Dickerson forming the Pony Express. That '81 team was banned from TV and postseason play thanks to those questionable recruiting practices we discussed earlier. In spite of all that the Mustangs finished 10-1 in 1981, their one loss came to Texas 9-7 in Irving. SMU finished 5th in the AP poll, and their 7-1 league record would've won the SWC title.
Meyer, perhaps smelling the coming storm, left SMU in 1982, heading to the New England Patriots and later the Indianapolis Colts. After 1991, Meyers left coaching except for brief stints with the CFL's Las Vegas Posse and then with the XFL's Chicago Enforcers.
Meyer passed away at the age of 76 on Tuesday, best wishes to Meyers family, friends, and former players.