Urban Meyer’s career so far: can he transform the Jaguars?

Urban Meyer career up to this point

By: Andy Davies

The Jacksonville Jaguars will go into the 2021 season with a new head coach. Urban Meyer is the new man to take charge, hoping to be the guy to change the fortunes of a franchise that has struggled for many years. After drafting the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in Trevor Lawrence this year with the number one overall pick, the Jags fans have rarely gone into a season this excited. The Jags have twice gone into a season on the back of reaching an AFC Championship game but with the addition of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, there is a real buzz around the organization and in the city of Jacksonville. However, Urban Meyer has never coached in the NFL. He is one of the most successful college head coaches of his generation. Can he translate this to the pros?

His Journey As A Player

Meyer was a walk-on in college as a defensive back for the University of Cincinnati, despite initially being drafted by Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves in 1982. Injury would deny Meyer the chance to make it as a professional player, but he showed signs of his coaching credentials whilst in college. He would go back to college, heading to Ohio State University where he studied sports administration. He would get a degree at both colleges, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Cincinnati and sports administration at Ohio State, which will have no doubt helped him massively during his time as a football coach.

He may not have made it to the NFL as a player but he showed signs of his credentials as a coach during his time in college. Meyer would often spend additional time in practice, learning how to run them and handle substitutions. These all prepared him for life as a coach. As a player, he was part of a Cincinnati team that finished 2-9, with Meyer saying that it “wasn’t a great experience. We weren’t very good”. This will help him be prepared for a Jaguars team that won just one game in 2020. His former coach in Cincinnati David Currey spoke of his coaching abilities.

“He was not a great player but you could tell he would coach for a living. He was a student of the game, always trying to learn about things”.

The Start Of Meyer’s Coaching Career

He started his coaching career in 1985 as a defensive backs coach for St Xavier High School in Ohio before becoming a graduate assistant for two seasons with Ohio State. He spent two years with Illinois State as an outside linebackers coach in 1988 and a quarterback and wide receivers coach in 1989. He would then spend eleven years as a wide receivers coach, spending six with Colorado State and then five with Notre Dame before getting his first head coaching job in 2001 with Bowling Green.

The Early Stages Of His Time As A Head Coach In College

Meyer only spent two seasons with Bowling Green but would leave the team with a 17-6 record in charge. Highlights of his time there was the 56-21 win over rivals, the University of Toledo Rockets. Whilst with Bowling Green, he transformer their fortunes. He joined with the team having gone 2-9 in 2000 to then go 8-3 in 2001 and 9-3 in 2002, before leaving for the University of Utah.

Utah hired Meyer and was an instant success, going 10-2 and winning the Liberty Bowl in 2003. They would go 12-0 and win the Fiesta Bowl in 2004. Whilst with the university, he coached safety Eric Weddle and quarterback Alex Smith, who went on to be the number one overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Smith would become an inspiration to everyone when he went on to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year during the 2020 season, returning the field after a life threatening injury in 2018.

Meyer openly claimed that he “made Utah competitive” during his time there. Morgan Scalley played as a defensive back under Meyer at Utah before going on to become a defensive coordinator with the college. He spoke of how Meyer changed everything.

“You could tell it would be different from the first session at the weight room. I never had butterflies going into a weight room and that had me going”.

Success With Florida and Ohio State

The Florida Gators then came calling in 2005, where Meyer would spend the next six seasons. He would coach notable players such as Cam Newton, Carlos Dunlap, Janoris Jenkins, Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, Tim Tebow and Trey Burton during his time in Florida as head coach. With an overall record 65-15 with the Gators, Meyer won Florida the Outback Bowl and the Sugar Bowl as well as winning two National Championships. He had a 5-1 record with Florida in Bowl games. Following a health scare, Meyer decided to leave the Gators after the 2010 seasons as he wanted to put focus on his family and “life away from the field”.

He soon returned to college football, becoming Ohio State head coach two seasons later. During his time with the team, he had an 83-9 record. He won one National Championship as well as a Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. His time there sadly ended in controversy, before leaving in 2018 due to health reasons. He spent time as a television analyst before accepting the Jacksonville head coaching position in January 2021.

His Coaching Style & The Spread Offense

Meyer is seen as someone who is competitive, fiery and resolute. His “juice” is said to fire his teams up, with his infectious personality an integral part of his head coaching success. During his time as an analyst, he often went through a breakdown of offensive systems, with one component of his style of coaching being his Spread Offense.

This is a scheme which features four receivers, resulting in the opposition defense attempting to cover these players. This system allows the run game to excel, with RPO and read option plays often used under this style of offense. In a modern day NFL, we are seeing plenty of college schemes being brought into the league. Meyer will look to bring this style of coaching into the NFL that worked so well for him in college.

Can He Transform The Jaguars?

This is not going to be an easy task for Meyer but as he showed in Utah, he is capable of turning a team around. Jacksonville has the talent on their roster but have never seemed to fulfil their potential. One of their aforementioned trips to the AFC Championship was in the 2017 season. Their defense named ‘Sacksonville” played a big part in their journey, where they had a ten point lead and were nine minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl. They would end up losing 24-20 in agonizing fashion.

The components of Sacksonville would slowly fall apart. Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue all left in 2019, with both A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell leaving in 2020. Quarterback Blake Bortles was seen as the player holding back the team, being released in March 2019 as the Jaguars looked to Nick Foles, who won Super Bowl 52 MVP just a year earlier. He was seen as the missing piece in the jigsaw but only lasted one season in a disappointing spell with the franchise.

Head coach Doug Marrone guided Jacksonville to the AFC Championship and a 10-6 record in his first full season as head coach of the franchise. Despite this, he couldn’t guide them to more than six wins in any of the three seasons that followed before being fired in January 2021. Issues off the field started to develop, with the players arrested on their annual trip to London in 2018 after an unpaid £50,000 drinks bill. Meyer won’t stand for any negative behaviour with his aforementioned fiery, competitive and infectious personality is likely to keep the players in check.

And then of course, there is Lawrence. One of the best college prospects in many years, he brings a lot of expectation with Jags fans pinning their hopes on him being the man to bring the good times to this franchise. He had not lost a regular season game since high school and reached the National Championship in two of his three seasons with the Clemson Tigers, winning one of those two.

He played 40 games in college and threw for 758 out of his 1,138 throws, giving him a 66.6 completion percentage. Across his time with Clemson, he threw for 90 touchdowns and 10,098 yards. Jacksonville have a real talent on their hands and they need to do everything they can to ensure he fulfils his tremendous potential.

Along with Lawrence, they have reunited their number one overall pick with his Clemson team-mate in running back Travis Etienne, who recorded 70 rushing touchdowns and 4,952 rushing yards during his four seasons in the ACC. He will join a running back room alongside James Robinson, who impressed highly in 2020 during his rookie year with 1,070 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. Etienne is said to also be working out as a receiver, which gives variety to the offensive side of the ball. Former Detroit Lions wideout Marvin Jones has joined the team via Free Agency to add depth to a wide receiver room already including DJ Chark Jr and Laviska Shenault Jr. Second-round pick Tyson Campbell gives depth to the Jaguars secondary, as will 65th overall pick Andre Cisco. 45th overall selection Walker Little will add protection to the Jags offensive line. Myles Jack is a survivor from the Sacksonville era and alongside fellow linebacker Josh Allen, they have the potential to cause problems for the opposition.

Jacksonville have a long rebuild ahead and fans should not expect an immediate transformation. Doubts remain over new Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz and whether he can get back to his 2017 form. The Tennessee Titans’ defense is seen as their Achilles heels and the Houston Texans are a mess. They will likely see their quarterback Deshaun Watson leave, which will result in years of struggles and mediocrity. This is not the toughest division in the NFL and the Jags will want to capitalise on this, but the improvement will likely be in either year 2, 3 or 4 of the Urban Meyer Jacksonville era.

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