Rob Oller | Surprise -- Not! -- Urban Meyer is back in the coaching saddle
As shockers go, Urban Meyer returning to coaching is less surprising than the sun rising.
There are questions, of course. Those persistent headaches that drove him from coaching? Forget about them. He apparently has. The brain cyst that contributed to Meyer resigning as Ohio State’s football coach after the 2018 season either is no longer debilitating or can be more successfully managed.
Whether that constitutes a medical miracle or cagey career move I cannot say, but it is fair to wonder whether Meyer used his health issues as an escape hatch out of coaching the Buckeyes. Ask Florida fans about that.
Passion, pride fuel return
Regardless, the only blood work necessary in diagnosing why Meyer would return — his hiring by the Jacksonville Jaguars was announced Thursday evening — should be tapped from his heart, where passion, pride and a need for approval made his eventual return to coaching a certainty.
This is a man ranking in the 98th percentile of competitive fire, who needs to prove that his success is not limited to college. Meyer also is arrogant enough to seek the limelight, which manifests in his need to be acknowledged for a job well done.
Meyer’s star turn as a pregame analyst at Fox was a smashing success, but TV love is a fleeting flavor-of-the-month experience. Meyer’s rave reviews eventually would have turned ho-hum, which is why I never thought for a second that diagramming offenses for Fox and the Big Ten Network would satisfy his thirst to be first.
That he chose Jacksonville for his red carpet return is hardly stunning. The NFL offers a clean slate — unlike the Texas Longhorns job he was linked to a few weeks ago — as well as a new challenge and an escape from recruiting, which few college coaches enjoy, no matter what they say. Drafting men is much easier than recruiting boys, especially when you have the No. 1 pick, as the Jags do.
Meyer, though, was particularly adept at getting high school players to commit to his programs. It was his hammer against the competition. He joins the Jaguars with little need of that trusty tool. Might that be a problem?
Then again, recruiting is about to experience a sea change as the NCAA navigates the name, image and likeness (NIL) waters soon to flow into college sports. It is one thing to woo a recruit and his parents, but add an agent into that living room and suddenly marketing dollars become the third rail.
Toss in pending NCAA legislation that would allow transfers to gain immediate eligibility and college recruiting/coaching just got that much more difficult.
Jacksonville makes perfect sense in other ways. Meyer is smart enough to distinguish a reclamation project from a disaster site. The Jaguars somewhat resemble the situations he stepped into at Florida and Ohio State, where existing solid foundations only needed a new contractor.
He likely will have No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence to work with — unless Justin Fields tickles his fancy — as well as nearly $100 million in salary-cap space, 11 draft picks, including four among the top 45, with which to build a playoff contender.
Taking staff with him?
What does not make sense, at least to those who consider Meyer a loyal Buckeye who never would do anything to hurt the program he helped turn into a perennial playoff candidate, are reports of his taking members of the current Ohio State coaching staff with him.
Meyer has every right to raid the Buckeyes’ coaching cupboard if he thinks it will help him in Jacksonville, where his allegiances now fully lie. But let’s be clear: raiding OSU staff would negatively impact the program.
Spin it however you want and it still comes back that several key — some might say essential — staffers could be on the move. Among the possible departures being mentioned is recruiting coordinator Mark Pantoni, who hails from Sarasota, Florida. Pantoni, considered the brains of the Buckeyes’ recruiting operation, which is the lifeblood of college football. Losing Pantoni would be a significant hit.
Even not knowing specific names of coaches and staffers who might leave, the majority of Buckeye Nation made it clear they would not be happy with Meyer meddling. A Dispatch Twitter survey saw 55% agreeing they would be “mad if he raids the cupboard,” while 38% would have “no problem.” Another 7% voted for “Urban who?”
Will Meyer succeed? Depends how one defines success. Getting the Jaguars, 1-15 this season, to the NFL playoffs within the next three years would qualify. The safer answer is that I doubt he flops. He is too good at aligning people to his way of doing things not to get Jacksonville to .500 sooner than later.
But is 8-8 good enough for Meyer; can his stomach, heart and, yes, head suffer the losing that is a natural part of NFL coaching?
Prediction: however it goes, Meyer won’t be with the Jags much more than five seasons. He is a pioneer, not a settler. It remains to be seen if he is a pirate, but Ryan Day might want to ready the cannons.