Urban Meyer’s venture into the NFL has already been embroiled in controversy, drama, and some odd decisions…all of which need to pan out and fast
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ new coach, Urban Meyer, has had a somewhat troublesome history in his 17-year career as a head coach in the NCAA, and with his foray into the NFL, just a few months away the pestering issues that have surrounded him for most of his career seem to have followed him to Jacksonville.
Meyer’s addition of former QB Tim Tebow this past week on a one-year deal has set the NFL world on fire and while some are quick to criticize the signing of the new TE others have seemingly brushed it off as some sort of publicity stunt or money grab.
While both could be correct, there is one thing that is for certain: it’s not the first time Meyer has made a questionable and often public, decision that has received mostly negative attention.
It all starts with his days coaching the Florida Gators, which included the aforementioned Tebow, and his first retirement that he claimed was the result of health issues regarding his heart. When Meyer first retired back in 2010, he left the Gators football program in dark waters after helping the school reach and win two National Championships in ’06 & ’08.
What does the term “dark waters” entail? For starters, 31 separate Florida football players were arrested under his tenure between the 2005 and 2010 seasons, with lesser charges like petty theft all the way to serious charges like criminal mischief, battery, and assault being handed out to Meyer’s recruits and starters.
Outside of the arrests, there was also a reported drug problem–specifically marijuana–that persisted within the locker room even after Meyer passed the torch to Will Muschamp before the 2011 season. Players like current Tennessee Titan CB Janoris Jenkins, who was charged with possession of marijuana two times in one year, and former Seattle WR Percy Harvin who tested positive for marijuana in 2009, were just some of the 20+ problematic players that Meyer left Muschamp and the Gators to deal with.
Meyer was eventually accused of extreme favoritism by former players, some saying he would go so far as to assign players to the injury list when they would fail drug tests–bypassing disciplinary action by the school or NCAA–even putting a walking boot on former Gator TE Aaron Hernandez and having him fake an injury after taking first-team reps all week in practice.
That was just some of what happened under his nose at the University of Florida, a team that he left in shambles for Muschamp to put back together. A team that was left with a stained reputation. A team that was stuck with a completely toxic culture that had taken root, and a scandalous-but-talented locker room that would do whatever it took to win.
After his heart-related health issues apparently became so bad that he had to quit coaching a major SEC contender he retired…for one whole season. Afterward, he went to the Big Ten to coach another major contender, the Ohio State Buckeyes, where his decision-making and problematic tendencies followed him.
Meyer’s culture at Ohio State was not as much of a problem compared to the one he formed at Florida, with far fewer players were getting in trouble with the law and not many off-the-field issues for Meyer to deal with until right before the 2018 season when it was revealed that he may have had a role in covering up the domestic abuse that occurred at the hand of then-wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
Smith, who had been an assistant coach for Meyer at Florida as well, was charged with domestic violence, felonious assault, and menacing by stalking by his ex-wife Courtney Smith before he was eventually arrested in 2018 after criminally trespassing at her home.
After Smith was fired by Ohio State in July of 2018, Meyer spoke at Big Ten Media Days and accidentally revealed that he knew about prior incidents of abuse by Smith. This gaffe eventually led to Urban Meyer being placed on paid administrative leave while Ohio State investigated further into the situation.
Later, it was reported by journalist Brett McMurphy that Courtney Smith had told many influential people within the Buckeyes organization, including other coaches’ wives and even Meyer’s wife Shelley, that she had been choked, shoved up against a wall, and abused in other ways by Zach for years.
Meyer eventually gave a press conference and said that he had known about the allegations but reported them to the proper channels and that it was essentially out of his hands after that. This did not change many people’s perception of Meyer in regards to how the situation was handled, and it showed during the weeks that Ohio State was conducting their investigation.
After the investigation had concluded, it was decided that Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith were to be suspended, Smith for 17 days and Meyer for the first three games of the 2018 season. When the three-game suspension ended, Meyer returned to the Buckeyes and led them to ten wins and one loss, finishing the season with a 13-1 record and a Rose Bowl victory–basically erasing the displeasure of the beginning of the season.
Meyer left after the controversial 2018 season citing more health concerns, this time revolving around his stress-related headaches which he stated he had surgery to remedy in 2014. After the end of the ’18 season, he claimed he was “done coaching”, something he also said after he left Florida, and went to FOX Sports to become a College Football analyst.
Now, here he is in the NFL coaching the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and already causing all sorts of commotion across the league. Not only did he shock most NFL analysts with his second pick in the draft, Clemson RB Travis Etienne, but he has already been in hot water after hiring (and eventual firing) former Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
Doyle’s hiring back in February of 2021 during the overhaul of the Jaguars coaching staff immediately ruffled some feathers and created a P.R. nightmare for Jags owner Shahid Khan and GM Trent Baalke. Why? Because Doyle had just been released by Iowa after allegations of bullying and racial discrimination against his black football players, 13 of which filed a lawsuit against him.
Meyer did not seem to understand the spotlight that he was shining on himself when he hired Doyle, and his pattern of disregarding abusive behavior showed especially true when he continued to praise Doyle and his “expertise at [his] position” even after the narratives had formed regarding Meyer and his acceptance of dangerous, unruly behavior in his coaches.
Eventually, Doyle resigned in order to “not be a distraction to what we are building in Jacksonville” Meyer and Baalke said in a joint statement on February 13th.
While Doyle resigning, rather than being fired, might not mean much to the public, it shows that Doyle was adult enough to accept what he (allegedly) did at Iowa was wrong, and he should be punished for it, even if it comes at his own hands.
Doyle’s decision can be construed in many different ways, but no matter which way one might view it, the definite takeaway is that Meyer is still unable to fall on his sword and admit that he hired another abuser, with zero regards to how it looks to the media or how it affects the abused parties.
Now fast-forward to today, Meyer has just signed Tim Tebow to a one-year deal as a TE. He has one of the most collegiate-looking rosters in NFL history, and he seems to be controlling the sports world with his wacky and entertaining new culture in Jacksonville–something he needs to work once the season finally begins.
Meyer’s approach at constructing an NFL roster for the first time feels awfully similar to Chip Kelly’s attempt at an NFL career in Philadelphia back in 2013: the high-powered offense with players at multiple positions, young and unproven defensive studs starting in place of veterans, and an unsure fanbase who is just going along for the ride.
Before the hate mail starts flowing my way, it is important to note that the gap between Kelly’s failed attempt in Philly (and San Francisco) and Meyer’s future in Jacksonville might not be as broad as some might think. For starters, Kelly also left his NCAA home in the midst of allegations and investigations that would end in bowl bids being taken and suspensions being handed out.
Secondly, Kelly began his short NFL tenure with a superstar QB (Michael Vick) and a spread offense that was not nearly as common in the NFL as it was in college–let alone at the University of Oregon at the time–that relied on big names like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy lining up in different positions and playing all over the field.
So what am I getting at? What’s the point? Meyer is a shoo-in to be better than Kelly ever was, right? Meyer simply needs to win games to be accepted and have his faulty decision-making go by the wayside, meanwhile, Kelly was hired by Philly with the intention being playoff victories (something that never happened) and immediate success over the division (something that only happened his first season).
Jacksonville’s situation is prime for Meyer to thrive in. Hell, almost any coach would chomp at the bits for the job considering how much control they would have over the roster, coaching staff, and incoming culture of the team.
But Meyer is already in hot water before his inaugural season with the overly-publicized signing of Tebow, the hiring of a disgraced, racist bully, and a laundry list of problems that have followed him around for the better part of two decades.
For Meyer to stay in Jacksonville on his own terms, for as long as he wants, he is going to have to make this college-style offense work and work fast. Not only that, he is going to have to make his newly-formed offense work on a similar level as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, or at least Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.
If he can’t produce significant wins and an upward trend in success sooner rather than later, then he may be back on a television set or scrounging around the NCAA for another opportunity.