AN URBAN REVIVAL IN JAX?
The Jaguars made the splash of the 2021 coaching cycle, luring in legendary college coach Urban Meyer to lead Jacksonville into the future. While some question his integrity, the only earnest blemishes on Meyer's coaching resume are his past health scares and complete lack of NFL experience.
Meyer has proven his brilliance, work ethic, attention to detail, and leadership time and time again. With 187 victories at four different schools and three national titles in 17 seasons as a college head coach, few have done it better than Urban Meyer at any level of any sport.
At Bowling Green, Meyer's first gig as a head coach, he won 17 of 23 games in two seasons and quickly became one of the hot young coaches in the college ranks.
He swiftly moved on to Utah, where he coached the Utes to 22 wins and just two losses in two seasons and helped his QB, Alex Smith, get selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Then the big boys came a-knockin'.
Meyer accepted Florida's offer to replace Ron Zook and quickly took the Gators to new levels, winning a national title in just his second year in Gainesville. Meyer won 65 of 80 games in six seasons at Florida, bringing home two national championship trophies along the way. But Meyer stepped away from the game due to health reasons in 2010. In his wake, Meyer left the program that he built in shambles, along with a laundry list of arrested student-athletes. Meyer was heavily criticized for the amount of and level of crime committed by players under his watch.
But Urban still had the itch. And when the Ohio State job became available, it was too much for him to pass on. As he had done so many times before, Meyer rapidly changed the culture, leading the Buckeyes to an undefeated season in 2012. Still, due to a post-season ban (punishment for the past regime's sins), the team was not eligible to compete for their conference crown or the national title. Just two years later, however, Meyer did lead Ohio State to a national championship victory. Urban's level of dominance as the head coach at OSU was something to behold. His record of 83-9 over seven seasons is staggering. More questions about his moral compass were raised during the Zach Smith scandal. For his involvement, Ohio State placed Meyer on administrative leave in August of 2018 and then suspended him for the first three games of the season.
This was not Urban's finest hour. Meyer again cited health reasons for an unexpected retirement in 2018, but it's hard to believe his part in the Zach Smith scandal didn't have an impact on the decision to step away from football yet again.
While Urban Meyer's health issues and controversies off the field lingered, it was always hard to overlook just how dominant he was. He excelled at creating a winning culture based on trust, discipline, and hard work. Meyer's team's played fast, smart football and were easily identifiable by those core traits.
Since his retirement from Ohio State, various jobs have popped up on Urban Meyer's radar both professionally and collegiately.
But only one has been enough for Urban to get back to grind: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan and Urban Meyer met at the Super Bowl in Miami in early 2020.
"I first met Shad back at the Super Bowl," said Meyer. "He's an Illinois grad, so we kind of gave each other a hard time about the Big Ten. But something I started last year, I interviewed a bunch of our players, former players that were in the NFL or recently out, and I took notes. I was just intrigued—why does this organization win? Why does it not? Or why do they fail to win? The research was very strong; it was something that I was not surprised at the results. Because the players will tell you, players know. Sometimes you talk to coaches, and I'm not sure they all know—I don't know. But players are the ones that play the game, and I really value the guys that I have in the NFL. And we spent, I mean, hours upon hours, I did work on this. And I spoke to Shad about that, and that was our conversation at the Super Bowl—we really had a nice conversation at the Super Bowl a year ago, I believe it was in Miami. And then we just recently had a very in-depth conversation, for many, many hours."
That conversation at the Super Bowl planted a seed in Urban Meyer's brain. Could Jacksonville be the right job? And as the 2021 NFL landscape became more transparent, with the Jaguars offloading some pricey veterans and losing all the way to the number one pick, Meyer no doubt continued to keep tabs. The final domino was the expected but vital decision from Trevor Lawrence to enter the 2021 NFL Draft.
Only a week after Lawrence said his goodbyes to Clemson University, Urban Meyer accepted the Jaguars' head coaching job. Coincidence? I think not.
Now, with a treasure trove of salary cap space and draft capital, a core group of talented youngsters — James Robinson, DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, Brandon Linder, Jawaan Taylor, Josh Allen, DaVon Hamilton, K'Lavon Chaisson, Myles Jack, CJ Henderson, Logan Cooke, and Josh Lambo — already among his ranks, and a limitless checkbook thanks to Shad Khan, what will stop Urban Meyer from finding success at the next level?
It's true; many more college head coaches fail than succeed in the NFL. But that can be said of pro head coaches in general — not many find the success they desire at the highest level of football. Some of the most revered college coaches of all time have failed at the NFL level. The list goes on and on. But who has found success? And why? Jimmy Johnson, Pete Carroll, and even Jim Harbaugh, for a stretch, achieved great heights as NFL head coaches.
There are several core beliefs that have allowed the coaches to continue producing results at the pro level. One is trust. These coaches established relationships with their players outside of the Xs and Os. They created a culture of accountability. They worked their asses off and demanded that their players did the same.
Meyer will have one legendary college coach turned pro coach in his corner. "Jimmy Johnson has been a very good friend over the years and our time at FOX together—he was a guy that I leaned on very heavily during television for the last two years," Meyer told the Jacksonville media. "But then I had a few phone calls with him recently. He will be a resource for me; he will be a guy that I'll speak to quite frequently. And I think there is a perception out there; he told me that you have to be much different when you're in college than you have to be in professional football. But he made clear that players want to win. Players, they want to win, they understand their value, their brand—and their lifestyle proves that you win, and they want to be around winners. So I'm very enthusiastic after speaking with him. I've also spoken to several of my very close friends that are head coaches in the NFL. But Jimmy Johnson was fantastic, and he'll be a guy that I'll lean on quite frequently."
And Meyer will hastily work to establish the same kind of culture and program that he did during his days as a college head coach. One way Meyer will do that, as he's done in the past, is to surround himself with good football people. Darrell Bevell, Joe Cullen, and Brian Schneider are all on their way to Duval as you read this. And Meyer already plucked a trusty aid in Ryan Stamper to be the director of player assessment.
We haven't even talked about his understanding of how the pro game works and if schemes will translate. Rest assured, it will. Much of what's happening in the pro game right now, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, has been directly impacted by what Meyer did at Utah, Florida, and Ohio State. He was one of the originators of the pro-style spread and should have no problem running his offense in the NFL today. Meyer's offense in Jacksonville will be balanced between run and pass. He'll employ zone rushing concepts that allow the QB and offensive tackle to read the defense. Meyer won't overcomplicate the offense; instead, he'll demand execution of key concepts.
On the field, Meyer believes in speed. Now, that's not necessarily having the fastest players — although that helps, too — but having players that play fast. Four to six, A to B, is how Meyer describes his philosophy of speed. Four to six is the length of the play, and A to B is the start point and endpoint of a play. For those four to six seconds, from start to finish, you have to give it everything you've got. You have to know where you're going, what you're doing, and explode. "One way to take a great player and slow him down is to be too complicated," Meyer explained. "And that, I can assure you, that will not happen, and if it will, I'll step in. So, four to six, that's the length of a play. The only demand that I'll have is you give everything you've got. If you make a mistake, we have to coach you through that, and that's on the coaching staff. Point A to B is there's a starting point A and a finish point B, and that's easy to evaluate on film. Between A to B, it better be everything you've got. And that's going to be the expectation of our organization. So other than that, whether we run or throw it, I think you know the history; it's very adaptable."
And Meyer believes in alignment within his ranks.
When the Jaguars introduced Trent Baalke as their general manager last week, Meyer explained his thoughts on alignment. "With Trent, we've been really impressed, and alignment is going to be a big word that our owner, Shad, is going to use, and Trent and myself. It's going to be a partnership, and we're going to be aligned."
Baalke offered the same sentiment. "So, if you're not aligned, and you don't think the same, and you don't have the same vision, I think regardless of whether you've been here or not been here, you're going to run into problems. The thing that I am very confident in is Coach Meyer and the vision he brings to this organization, as well as ownership. And I think the results will speak for themselves, but we have a lot of work ahead of us."
With a clear vision in place among the top decision-makers in Duval, Meyer's tireless work ethic and brilliant mind, Trevor Lawrence on the way, plenty of freedom in the Jaguars' roster construction, and an owner willing to spare no expense, it appears the deck is severely stacked in Meyer's favor.
How could this possibly go wrong? Outside of further health concerns, it's hard to envision a reality in which Meyer doesn't win at a high level in Jacksonville.
Perhaps Baalke and Meyer's relationship could sour; there's certainly precedence for that to happen on Baalke's end. But then that wouldn't likely be a drawn-out issue. Any disagreements on philosophy or vision will end in one way. This is Meyer's program. Khan practically spelled it out when introducing his new head coach for the first time. "And I'm really gratified, and I'm delighted, obviously, that Urban is on board," Khan giddily explained. "But moving forward, I think the issue of roster control, it's more technical or symbolic. My whole aspect—and this started really about 15 months ago—that we need to be a coach-centric team and organization, where the head coach really has to lead the kind of players he wants, the kind of team we need to be. And the general manager, myself, we have to support that mission."
Trevor Lawrence could be an all-time bust, but who are we kidding? With his level of talent, motivation, and humble nature, that would be one of the most shocking sports stories of a generation. Not only is Lawrence an unbelievable prospect, but Urban Meyer always seems to squeeze the very most out of his starting quarterbacks.
It's also possible that the Jaguars miss — as this organization has done so many times in the past — on too many of their free-agent acquisitions and draft picks. But even then, with Trevor Lawrence on board, and a steady base of young talent already in Jacksonville, it would take an astounding number of whiffs in talent acquisition to derail Meyer's program in Jacksonville.
BOTTOM LINE: Urban Meyer will find success in the NFL as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars as long as he continues to employ the same tenets of coaching he always has AND as long as he and Trevor Lawrence establish a strong connection on and off the field. Outside of his health, Meyer will fail if only if Lawrence can't get the job done at the next level.
I'm not betting against this Urban Revival. Meyer is too talented and hard-working and has far too much going in his favor. Even if it's a short-lived three-four year run, Meyer will get the most out of Trevor and surround himself with enough quality coaches and scouts to return the Jaguars to the ranks of contenders.
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