CHICAGO — When Big Ten Conference football coaches met here five months ago, everyone in attendance knew a confrontation was on the docket.
"It was the gorilla in the room," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Bret Bielema vs. Urban Meyer.
In the process of talking about his recruiting class on signing day Feb. 2, Bielema raised eyebrows when the University of Wisconsin coach implied Meyer employed "illegal" recruiting tactics in order to assemble his inaugural class at Ohio State.
Bielema was upset high-profile offensive line recruit Kyle Dodson, from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, changed his mind at the last minute and backed out of a commitment to UW to sign with the Buckeyes. That development came not long after Meyer, who won two national championships and two Southeastern Conference titles at Florida, came out of retirement to take over at Ohio State.
According to Bielema, he reached out to Meyer on the phone, "shared my thoughts and concerns with him, and the situation got rectified."
A week later, Meyer told a Cleveland radio station he was "very angry" with how he was portrayed by Bielema. Not only that, Meyer said he placed the call to Bielema, not the other way around.
"Whenever you use those terms — something like ‘illegal’ — that couldn’t be further from the truth," Meyer said. "I was very angry that would even be brought up, and there were fellow Big Ten (coaches) who were angry as well."
The coaches’ meeting was the first time Bielema and Meyer were in the same room since the reports. They wound up talking off to one side.
What did Bielema say?
"He just said some things were taken out of context," Meyer recalled Friday during the annual Big Ten Media Days event. "There was not very much conversation at all other than (Bielema saying) it was taken out of context and there’s nothing (more to it)."
What did Meyer say?
"The issue that was handled at the end of recruiting last year was probably a thing just between he and I," Bielema said. "It’s been discussed between he and I and now it’s over."
Fitzgerald said he doesn’t know Meyer well, but he and Bielema have a bond in part because they became Big Ten head coaches in 2006. Fitzgerald said the discussion that day between Bielema and Meyer was memorable and healthy.
"What I was impressed with was the two guys had a conversation and when it was over, it was over," Fitzgerald said. "That’s what the collegiality of this league is all about.
"I think there’s a healthy chemistry amongst the coaches in this conference. I don’t think in any way, shape or form that (conflict) derailed that. I think it was really, really healthy."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who once employed Bielema as an assistant, provided a sense of perspective.
"What we do is competitive," he said. "Recruiting and the game competition, it gets intense. As a result of that, things may happen that need to be talked about.
"I think for the most part this conference has gotten along. Guys are not afraid to talk to each other, pick up the phone and talk things out. You work through things. That’s part of the life."
Meyer said the meeting in February affirmed other Big Ten coaches don’t have a problem with how he conducts business. He also said the matter is over.
"There’s nothing there," he said. "Some things maybe were said that weren’t said — not on my end — but there’s never been an issue."