Just 11 months ago, after another pitiful season, the Jacksonville Jaguars found themselves in one of the NFL’s most enviable situations.
They had oceans of salary cap space. They had the first pick in a draft with an elite quarterback prospect available. They had vacancies as general manager and head coach.
This chance to remake their image, restore some civic pride and build a winning team, was, said team owner Shahid Khan in an interview in April, “once in a lifetime”.
“It was like ‘Oh, my God,’,” Khan said at the time. “I mean, we better not mess this up.”
They did it anyway.
The Jaguars lured Urban Meyer, one of the most successful college coaches in decades, to the stress-free comfort of a televised gig, then began to wade through as he made one regrettable decision after another, after another, after another, after another.
Khan hit his embarrassment threshold on Wednesday night when he fired Meyer after just 13 games. The Jaguars suffered 11 losses, more losses than Meyer absorbed in his seven seasons at Ohio State, though the putrid record still managed to deny the dysfunction and tension that engulfed his brief stewardship of the Jaguars. the team.
“After many weeks of deliberation and a thorough analysis of Urban’s entire mandate with our team, I am bitterly disappointed to come to the conclusion that immediate change is imperative for everyone” Khan said in a statement posted after midnight Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.
The first two words of that statement named interim coach, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Khan didn’t even mention Meyer’s name until the end of the second sentence – a rhetorical clue, perhaps, that he wanted to distance himself, and organization, from Meyer as quickly as possible.
Bevell said Meyer left the Jaguars headquarters at some point before meetings scheduled for Wednesday night and had never seen him again. The team continued to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans without Meyer, he said, and then Bevell learned Wednesday night from general manager Trent Baalke that Meyer had been sacked.
Meyer’s last game, a 20-0 loss to Tennessee on Sunday, marked the Jaguars’ fifth time in seven games with 10 points or less. Afterward, he appeared disinterested as he shook hands with Titans coach Mike Vrabel – one of his assistants at Ohio State – and the next day he appeared not to realize that the Rookie safety Andre Cisco didn’t play a defensive snap against Tennessee.
2021 NFL Season News and Analysis
But the fatal blow to a stint defined by friction with assistants and players and his own questionable behavior off the pitch appeared to come on Wednesday night, when the Tampa Bay weather reported an incident the Jaguars had known about for three and a half months: Former kicker Josh Lambo claimed Meyer hit him during warm-ups during practice in August.
The backlash on social media was swift, as it did last weekend when NFL Media, citing anonymous sources, reported that Meyer berated the players and assistant coaches. Meyer, speaking after the loss to Tennessee, denied the contents of the report and said he would fire anyone who discovered they leaked information.
“There were tragedies, there were distractions,” said rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, selected first overall in April. “You can never go back. You just have to move on.
Lawrence said he woke up around 6 a.m. on Thursday with text messages about Meyer’s dismissal “and he naturally searched for it on Google.” He turned to his wife, Marissa, and said, “It’s going to be an interesting work day.
Meyer, 57, won three college national titles as a coach from Florida and Ohio State, and his teams at four schools went 187-32. But scandals and issues related to stress and health have led him to resign or retire three times in his career. Thirty-one of his players were arrested while in Florida, while at Ohio State he protected a longtime aide with a history of domestic violence.
Days after taking office in Jacksonville, Meyer called for further scrutiny by hiring as sports performance director Chris Doyle, who resigned in February amid public criticism that he made racist remarks and bullied people while he was a strength and conditioning trainer in Iowa.
The NFL fined Meyer and the team in July for breaking the league’s no-contact rules for off-season training, and the Jaguars were ordered to forgo two sessions of sports activities. team organized in 2022.
In Week 4, following an overtime loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, Meyer did not return to Jacksonville with the team, claiming he wanted to hang out with his grandchildren. Video quickly circulated of a woman, who is not his wife, dancing near Meyer’s knees at an Ohio bar.
The breach embarrassed the team, though Khan refused to fire Meyer after the episode, claiming in a declaration at the time that Meyer’s actions were “inexcusable” and that he had to “win back our trust and respect”.
Khan acknowledged previous indiscretions in announcing his decision to remove Meyer. “As I said in October, regaining our trust and respect was essential,” Khan said in a statement Thursday morning. “Unfortunately, that did not happen.”
In late August, the NFL Players Association opened an investigation after Meyer admitted at a press conference that players’ vaccination status had influenced his decision to reduce the squad’s size during camp. coaching.
Since Khan’s first season as owner in 2012, no team has had a worse record than the Jaguars (41-116), who hoped the hiring of Meyer would give them immediate credibility. Khan and Meyer spoke in depth at an NFL pre-Super Bowl party in February 2020 in Miami Gardens, Fla., And Khan said he was impressed with Meyer’s leadership traits.
Khan poached Meyer from a television analyst position at Fox Sports, despite competition from other teams, by convincing Meyer that he could remake the franchise in his own image.
Meyer, already a hero to North Florida college football fans, recruited Lawrence as part of his plan to overhaul an organization that has only seen eight winning seasons since joining the league in as expansion team in 1995.
The aspirations were bold, especially since college coaches have traditionally struggled in the NFL. High level chess include Lou Holtz with the Jets and Bobby Petrino with the Atlanta Falcons. Both resigned amid disastrous first seasons.
Only three coaches – Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Pete Carroll – have won both a College National Championship and a Super Bowl.
At a staff meeting in March at TIAA Bank Field, nearly two months after he was hired as a coach, Meyer offered a self-imposed schedule for success.
Three years from now, he said, if the Jaguars team logo wasn’t respected, “then you’re probably looking for a new coach and we haven’t had a lot of success, ”he told the 120 people listening to him.
Three years have turned out to be too optimistic. Meyer didn’t even last a season and the Jaguars logo was tarnished again.
Lawrence discussed the importance of finishing strong over the next four weeks, when Bevell has the opportunity to match – or surpass – Meyer’s winning tally. Results matter to the players, but the most important aspect of the remaining season is how Lawrence continues to develop.
He’s tied for the league lead with 14 interceptions, and he will likely have to learn a new offensive system, with a new head coach, in 2022. Most of the league’s other successful young quarterbacks, from Josh Allen from Buffalo to Lamar Jackson of Baltimore to Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City, have enjoyed relative stability throughout their tenure.
The Jaguars’ job, again, should be attractive to potential candidates, with Lawrence and another likely top-five pick in the draft. The circumstances are essentially the same as the opportunity given to Meyer.