NFL Urban Meyer’s disastrous start in Jacksonville
Last week, Urban Meyer stood before the media, declared his team’s loss was “heartbreaking,” swore “there are good people in that locker room” who would stick together, then declined to fly home with them.
He apparently went out on the town instead. Photos and video have surfaced (in 2021, who could have possibly seen that coming?), and then Meyer had to apologize to his team. Just as demoralizing: He had to publicly admit he apologized to the team and apologize for being a distraction. What a sight that was: Urban Meyer, a man who has won everywhere and won’t stop to say hello to anybody who runs worse than a 4.5 forty, admitting he was a distraction for his 0–4 team. He sounded like he had just washed down a box of nails with windshield-wiper fluid.
Put aside, for a moment, whatever he appears to be doing in the photos and video. That is not the point. Meyer is four games and nine months into his Jaguars tenure, and while he has time to turn it around, it has been a debacle so far—and it is fair to wonder whether Meyer even really wants to turn it around.
Meyer is 57 with a history of health problems that are exacerbated by losing. He has never been through anything like this. If you view his time in Jacksonville on its own, and not through the prism of Meyer’s being a coaching legend who must know what he is doing, it has, objectively speaking, been a mess.
He hired a strength coach, Chris Doyle, who was forced out of Iowa after being accused of making racist statements and bullying players, defended it by saying “We did a very good job vetting that one,” then finally caved and fired Doyle. Meyer hired a general manager, Trent Baalke, with a mixed record in San Francisco. (Baalke inherited a budding contender from Scot McCloughan, improved it, and then destroyed it.) Meyer’s two most prominent offensive coaching hires, Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer, are high on the list of coaches every fan base does not want.
Meyer gave Tim Tebow, who is now 34 years old, a chance to compete for a roster spot at a position he had never played, for the simple reason that Urban Meyer loves Tim Tebow. He split training-camp reps between Lawrence and Gardner Minshew and acted like competition was ongoing when nobody, including Minshew, could possibly believe him. Then, when Lawrence “won” the job, Meyer dealt Minshew for a conditional sixth-round pick.
Jacksonville was a disorganized mess in its first regular-season game, losing 37–21 to a Texans team that has not been competitive since. The Jags then lost their next three. They have some very winnable games the rest of the way, but it is also quite possible that they are the worst team in the league. Football Outsiders gives them a 1-in-4 chance of ending up with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
This has been the performance of a man who is way too sure he knows what he is doing.
Meyer loves to say his plans or system are “infallible,” and he has an amazing ability to get college players to believe him. This is not college football anymore. He is coaching millionaires and aspiring millionaires. Hiring Doyle after the social-justice protests of last year was a stunningly tin-eared move, and for what? Meyer is coaching one of 32 NFL teams. Couldn’t he find a strength coach with a better personnel file?
You can tell the media and recruits that Tebow is a transformational figure, and they might buy it. NFL players are wiser than that. They can tell when a coach plays favorites. (This is not a criticism of Tebow, who, like most former players, just wanted to keep playing.) NFL players also know when a quarterback competition is a sham. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan hired Meyer to change the culture of his franchise. How does that look right now?
I figured Meyer would probably succeed in Jacksonville, both because he has been wildly successful everywhere he has coached and because he did what he did when he went to Florida and Ohio State: He went where the talent was. Yes, the Jaguars’ roster was bare, but he inherited the most coveted asset in the sport: a franchise quarterback talent on a rookie contract. Trevor Lawrence, one figured, would give him a huge margin for error.
There were two reasons for concern. One was that Meyer has a long history of being too sure of his own righteousness. At Florida, he told himself anybody he recruited must be a fine citizen until there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. At Ohio State, he told himself he handled the accusations against Zach Smith exactly the right way from start to finish until Smith had to go and Meyer ended up suspended. A winning college coach can get away with that. A newbie NFL coach cannot.
The other reason for concern was Meyer’s health. How would a man who averaged fewer than two losses per college season handle a genuine losing season? Would he stick around for a long rebuild when he has never had to go through one before?
Going back to the broadcast booth would be easier. Taking the USC job would be easier. Meyer surely took this job believing he was exactly the right man for it and would win like he always does. But if we’re talking about concerning videos of Meyer, let’s be honest: Every press conference he holds these days seems to produce a concerning video. He looks worn out, dejected, so unlike one of the best coaches in college football history. Meyer has coached in the NFL for four games. He has a long way to go. Or does he?
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