Urban Meyer is back in football, but entering a whole new world for which he says he and his new team are well prepared.
The Jacksonville Jaguars introduced Meyer as the franchise’s new head coach on Friday in the culmination of what Meyer described as a courting — or at least a friendship — that began around the time of Super Bowl LIV. What Meyer saw from a distance became a close examination as the 2020 regular season wound down, and by the time a formal pursuit arrived, Meyer was convinced.
“Huge,” Meyer said of Jacksonville’s capital situation and its influence on his decision. “I think (owner) Shad (Khan) and the organization is positioned, and it’s not by accident. Shad got very involved in the entire roster, etc. And I think it’s primed. l think it’s primed to put together a good team. People that know me, I’m not going to jump into a situation where I don’t believe we can win. I won’t do that. I think everything is here. First of all, I have to get a great staff. Not a good staff, a great staff.”
Jacksonville has yet to find a general manager, but it became clear during his introductory presser this will be a team shaped by Meyer’s philosophy and direction, with the coach working with the owner to decide on a GM. Though he has no NFL experience with roster construction/management or salary cap management — Meyer admitted as much Friday, saying he’s spent some time studying the two — the Jaguars will proceed with Meyer’s vision as its blueprint.
“The issue of roster control is more technical or symbolic,” said Khan, who will maintain roster control. “My whole aspect, and this started really about 15 months ago, is that we need to be a coach-centric team and organization, where the head coach has to lead the kinds of players he wants, the kind of team we need to be. And the general manager and myself, we have to support that vision. Somehow, someway that had been lost.”
Meyer’s vision for the Jaguars begins, of course, at quarterback. Jacksonville owns the No. 1 pick in April’s draft and is expected to pick from a group of quarterbacks headlined by Trevor Lawrence (the presumed favorite) and Justin Fields, who has yet to declare for the draft. The latter has a tie to Meyer only in the fact they both came from Ohio State, though Fields only played for Meyer’s successor, Ryan Day, not Meyer.
While some have seen the connection and jumped to the conclusion that Meyer will want a former Buckeye to lead his team’s turnaround under center, that might end up being far-fetched. Regardless, Meyer noted the significance of his first offseason in the NFL.
“You see Trevor, you see Justin, you see (BYU quarterback) Zach (Wilson), this is going to be, as Shad said, this is a monumental moment for this franchise,” Meyer said. “We’ve seen some franchises explode and we’ve seen others fail. I’ve said this many times throughout my career. When the NFL says it’s a quarterback league, well, so is college, so is high school, so is Pop Warner. It’s a quarterback sport.
“So whoever takes that snap, we’ve got to be right on. Who we pick at that quarterback spot, that’s going to be one of the most important decisions I’ve made in my lifetime, along with the partnership of our owner and our general manager. And the ones that are out there, my initial study, because I have been studying a lot, I like to use the term elite, I see some elite quarterbacks out there right now.”
Once Meyer and Co. get past the offseason tasks (staff assembly, free agency, draft, etc.) it’ll be time to do what Meyer was hired to actually execute: coach. While Meyer’s best programs were built with top-notch prospects assembled by one of the best recruiters of his time, his innovative offensive schemes are what propelled him from Bowling Green to Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Even if his team is built differently at the pro level, it’s still very much a similar task for the coach.
“Between the white lines, I don’t see a lot of difference,” Meyer said.
The two biggest remaining questions for Meyer are valid: How can he handle the losses that are part of any NFL season, and how will it affect his already uncertain health?
Winning won’t come as frequently in an NFL that thrives on parity. Meyer said Friday he’s aware he’ll have to learn how to handle multiple losses in a season better than he’d taken a single defeat during his days at Florida and Ohio State (see: sad pizza photo), and knows he’s entering a league “built to be .500.”
More importantly, Meyer will have to be sure to manage his health, which brought an unexpected end to his stints at both Florida and Ohio State, with each near the peak of their reigns. At Florida, Meyer briefly retired due to heart issues, while at Ohio State his biggest health concern was related to a cyst on his brain that caused him visible pain on the sideline.
The lack of an offseason recruiting grind that demands constant effort in order to outhustle your major Division I opponents will be a relief to Meyer, but the NFL isn’t any less scrutinized. Meyer said Friday he’ll rely on his staff, which he wants to ensure is a complete, excellent and dependable group.
“I’m older. It’s something I’m going to be more conscientious of,” Meyer said. “It’s something I’m going to watch very closely. I will be the head coach but I will hire great coaches that are going to be expected to do their job. I’m not going to be running around like a nut on the practice field. Those days are gone. I know what it’s supposed to look like, and I want to be very demanding of everyone.”
Time will be the test of just how ready Meyer is for the NFL, in which he’ll go from being expected to win 12-plus games in a season, attempt to go undefeated and win the greatest trophy possible, to one in which he’ll be asked to turn a struggling franchise into a contender. The challenge begins now.
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