Opinion: Urban Meyer is intriguing coaching candidate for Jaguars, but he brings plenty of baggage
It’s understandable that Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan and one of college football’s most wildly successful coaches, Urban Meyer, might have a mutual interest in a merger.
One is desperate to find a leader who has a consistent history of sustained success. The other likely sees an ideal, and maybe last, scenario to guide an NFL franchise from rock bottom to the mountaintop.
A tweet last week from ESPN’s Adam Schefter said that “at least two NFL teams” have reached out to Meyer to inquire if he’s interested in finally taking the pro football plunge. One thing is undoubtedly true: reports like this don’t surface about a team possibly kicking the tires on Meyer, or the coach exploring a return to the sidelines, without Urban wanting his name out there as the hiring process heats up.
It’s certainly plausible Meyer – who coached Florida to two national titles (2006, ’08) during his six-year tenure and also attained the feat at Ohio State (2014) in seven seasons there – has given NFL teams the green light to pursue his services. Or maybe, as the Toledo Blade reported, Meyer, 56, had some type of informal talks with the Jaguars about a potential job opening through an intermediary.
None of this would surprise anybody, given that Khan is expected to dismiss head coach Doug Marrone at some point after Sunday’s season finale against the Indianapolis Colts. And also because a Jaguars’ coaching vacancy, which includes the chance to have presumptive No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence as the franchise quarterback, looks like an opportunity Meyer would find most appealing.
But since Meyer is one of the most polarizing figures in coaching, it’s impossible to not debate the worthiness of his potential hire by the Jaguars, even if it turns out to be nothing more than a brief flirtation.
Only two words are necessary for Khan on chasing after Meyer: buyer beware. This would be the epitome of a boom-or-bust hire.
For starters, wherever Meyer has been the last 15 years in his two stops at Ohio State and Florida, a three-alarm fire or smoldering ashes of controversy were always hovering.
Critics called him 'Urban Liar'
Whether it was being in denial about what he knew about former Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith allegedly abusing his ex-wife, Courtney, or the 31 players arrested during his UF tenure, suspicion about the way Meyer runs his program tends to be a constant thing. At Florida, he had a reputation as being one of the most disingenuous coaches in the business, thus earning the derisive moniker of “Urban Liar” among critics.
But as long as squeaky-clean, All-America quarterback Tim Tebow was around to scrub the stains off a program where too many character-marred players were given second and third chances, and the Gators were winning, Meyer got a free pass. That is, until it all fell apart after UF lost the 2009 SEC Championship game to Alabama, prompting him to quit and then retract the resignation the next day.
Meyer retired from Florida on two different occasions, citing health concerns related to stress. He said he wanted to spend more time with family, then jumped right back into coaching the Buckeyes after a one-year stint with ESPN.
Three years after winning his only national title with Ohio State, the administration placed him on administrative leave while investigating Courtney Smith’s allegations that she told Meyer’s wife, Shelley, about the abuse allegations. After the Board of Trustees found he didn’t uphold OSU’s values, the university suspended Meyer for the first three games of the 2018 season.
Courtney Smith also chastised Urban in an interview for not being more responsive, saying: “They have a duty to do something to help, instead of worrying about winning games.”
Nobody disputes Meyer is a brilliant coach, and his 17-year record of 187-32 (.853) at four different stops is testament to that. But there has unquestionably been a price paid for his win-at-all-costs ambition, including his on-again, off-again health issues.
Meyer also admitted to HBO’s Andrea Kremer back in 2014, his third season with Ohio State, that he didn’t handle the disciplinary aspect of coaching well during his time at Florida.
“If I look back now, the biggest mistake, I probably gave second and third chances to some people that maybe [I] shouldn’t,” Meyer said. “But this is someone’s son. I know in my soul we’re doing right, doing the best we can. Did we make mistakes? We make mistakes.”
How would Meyer handle double-digit losses?
So how does all this stuff in Meyer’s recent/distant past impact whether Khan should consider hiring him? Just this: you have to wonder if the Jaguars can trust a 56-year-old coach, who has twice quit ultra-successful college programs at a relatively young age, to not bail on them.
Remember, Meyer went 83-9 in seven seasons with the Buckeyes and ended up quitting for health reasons. That kind of dominance doesn’t happen in the NFL. Coaches are lucky if they win 50% of their games.
In his first year with the Jaguars – even with Lawrence as his quarterback and the team flush with cap space and 11 draft picks – Meyer could easily lose nine or more games. How would he handle going 6-10 and 8-8 in his first two years and not sniffing the playoffs? What kind of coaching staff can he put together with all the strained relationships his hard-driving regimen has fostered?
These are fair questions that Khan and Jaguars’ president Mark Lamping, who will have more input on the hiring process than he did when Gus Bradley and Marrone were brought aboard, must address before giving Meyer any strong consideration.
It’s impossible to know for certain how a Jaguars-Meyer merger might turn out. No doubt, with all the health turmoil in his coaching life, you would think Meyer has to be convinced he can withstand the NFL grind without putting himself in harm’s way. But if Khan is that hell-bent on hiring a proven college coach, wouldn't he be better off throwing a Brink's truck at Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney? No burnout worries there.
Truthfully, it’s hard not to be intrigued about the Jaguars possibly hiring Urban Meyer, but they also have good reason to be wary. As history tells us, he always comes with a lot of baggage.