that in December 2001 ND would have hired somebody with no college head coaching experience to replace another guy who came in with no college head coaching experience.
It's common for coaching searches to focus on guys whose resumes address the perceived shortcomings of the outgoing coach. That's why the two guys they hired to replace Davie were head coaches in the ACC and the Pac-10.
Hypothetically, if Meyer was their OC in 2001, I just find it unlikely that they would have said "Yeah, let's promote our own coordinator again. Because that worked out so well last time!" When someone like Ara says that he needed all his years of experience to prepare him for the ND job, I take that seriously. Meyer wasn't ready to be a head coach at ND in 2001, he needed that experience at Bowling Green and Utah.