Michael Arace: Will Urban Meyer stick around amid 'tumult and discord' of NFL?

Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch
Urban Meyer's Jacksonville Jaguars lost their season opener 37-21 to the Houston Texans.

There has to be an over-under on the date Urban Meyer will quit the Jacksonville Jaguars. Has to be.  

Maybe LSU has a line on it. The Baton Rouge bastion of student-athletics has just entered a multi-year partnership with a new sponsor, Caesar’s Sportsbook. Reportedly, there will be no betting windows within Tiger Stadium. Amateurism! 

Whatever the over-under is, the smart bet is the under because Meyer has established that he can find a way out of tough situations.

Meyer left Florida for health reasons. Nick Saban was a problem. He just wouldn’t bend the knee. Neither would Lane Kiffin, for some reason. Also, 25 Gators were arrested, a few of them more than once, under Meyer’s watch. His Gators also racked up 251 traffic violations. He recruited speed.

Meyer left Ohio State for health reasons, as well. He re-retired after the 2018 season, during which he was suspended for three games for his handling of allegations of domestic abuse involving one of his assistants. (Defector last week published the harrowing story from the victim’s point of view. Here’s one quote: “I was on my hands and knees, going, 'Please tell the truth, Urban, please.' ”) 

Meyer was a great college football coach. He won 187 games and lost 32 with Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. He won three national titles. After doing TV for a couple years, he signed on to coach the Jaguars in January. 

It does not necessarily take a great leader of men to win in the minor leagues. It definitely takes a great recruiter. When you have the best players, you can rule with a gentle hand or an iron fist. But the big leagues are different. The players are the game, not the coach.  

The NFL is not a place to crack the whip. Mutual respect is mandatory. 

Saban, who went 6-10 with the Miami Dolphins in 2006 before he jumped to Alabama, has an idea of this. So does Bobby Petrino, who bailed on the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the 2007 season to take a job at Arkansas.  

Saban is a great college coach. Petrino is something else. Both are documented liars, but, then, all college coaches lie when it comes to their next jobs. 

Last week, the USC job opened when Clay Helton got fired. Meyer got the inevitable question and he said there was “no chance” he was leaving Jacksonville for USC. Right. 

Maybe Meyer will stick it out in the pros. The terms of his contract are undisclosed but, reportedly, he asked the Jags for $12 million per. In any case, he has a record of quitting, for health reasons. He tends to do this when things get messy. 

He has made himself a landfill down there. 

Let’s take it chronologically. 

In February, Meyer hired a “thoroughly vetted” strength coach, Chris Doyle, who’d been dismissed from his previous post, at Iowa, for allegedly making racist comments and belittling players. Doyle lasted fewer than 48 hours in Jacksonville

In May, Meyer signed Tim Tebow, a 33-year-old quarterback turned baseball player turned tight end. Tebow last played in the NFL in 2015. He didn’t make it through training camp in Jacksonville. 

In June, the Jaguars were fined $200,000 and Meyer was fined $100,000 for violating NFL non-contact rules during spring practice. That’s so college. 

In July, former Ohio State defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones was a guest on a podcast co-hosted by one of his Denver Broncos teammates, Shelby Harris. And Jones described how Meyer ran things in Columbus.  

If you weren’t a favorite pet, “(Meyer would) ridicule you. Dog you,” Jones said. “He’d do it in front of the team so bad, it’d make you want to quit.” 

There’s a lot of material in that podcast, but let’s sum it up this way: Jones does not have a whole lot of respect for Meyer and, he said, Meyer would have to make some adjustments in order to survive in the NFL. 

As Jaguars training camp warmed up in August, Meyer began alternating first-team reps between Trevor Lawrence, the rookie franchise quarterback, and Gardner Minshew, who is not Trevor Lawrence. To what point? 

This sharing lasted until the end of August, when Minshew was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional sixth-round pick. Good trade, Philly.

In September, on the eve of the regular season, veteran writer Jason La Canfora wrote a story for CBSSports.com which described a toxic atmosphere at Jags camp.  The headline: “Urban Meyer era begins amid tumult and discord, and Jaguars morale has already suffered.” 

Basically, the story describes what some college coaches, even the great ones, can look like when they transition from the minors to the bigs. 

“You can’t freak out about preseason games and belittle your coaches — on a staff you handpicked — every time things don’t go your way,” one source said. “It’s not going to work here.” 

La Canfora’s story came out Sunday, the day the Jaguars lost their season opener 37-21 to the Houston Texans. Vegas says the Texans are the worst team in the league. On Tuesday, Meyer ducked the traditional conference call with the next opponent’s media (Denver’s).  

Wednesday, Meyer said there was “no chance” he’d take the USC job. 

On Thursday, Jones, the Buckeye-turned-Bronco, was asked whether he was surprised to hear that Meyer’s tenure with the Jags has “supposedly been filled with turmoil and a disconnect with the team’s veterans.” Which accurately describes the La Canfora story. 

“I just know how he is,” Jones said. “I’m not going into great detail about it. But it doesn’t surprise me.” 

The over-under is Thanksgiving. 

marace@dispatch.com

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