Urban Meyer has been on top of the college football world three times — twice with Florida and then again with Ohio State in 2014. However, Meyer’s illustrious coaching career has yet to test the NFL waters. According to The Athletic's Michael Lombardi, that is set to change.
Meyer is slated to fill perhaps the most appealing head coaching vacancy available this offseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars have an abundance of cap space and draft capital — including the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which is expected to yield Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence — to go along with several young, talented pieces already on the roster.
The question now becomes whether Meyer is the right man to mold the resources at the Jaguars’ disposal into a winning football team.
The obvious concern when talking about a coach transitioning from college to the pros — particularly a coach who was able to bring in the kind of talent that Meyer did to both Florida and Ohio State — is that any advantages held as a recruiter aren’t going to directly translate to the NFL. To be clear, Meyer held some advantages as a recruiter at both Florida and Ohio State.
Recruiting class ranks for Urban Meyer at Florida and Ohio State (PER 247SPORTS)
|School||Year||Recruiting Class Rank|
Meyer compiled a top-10 recruiting class in 12 consecutive seasons following his first year with the Gators, and he had a top-five class in 10 of those 12 seasons.
Talent alone isn’t going to ensure a winning football team, but putting better athletes on the field than nearly every team you face does give a team a decided advantage. That was the case for much of Urban Meyer’s career following short, successful stops as the head coach at Bowling Green and Utah.
He will have no such advantage in the NFL. In fact, Jacksonville will have less talent than nearly every team they face next season. There is an avenue to building out a more talented roster in 2021 through the draft and free agency, but as my colleague Eric Eager pointed out when highlighting the head coaching vacancies this past week, Jacksonville’s roster earned fewer wins above replacement than any other roster in the league in 2020. There’s a reason they’re already on the clock.
Perhaps a bigger reason for pause when looking at trusting Meyer to lead this rebuild is how his time at both Florida and Ohio State ended. A 2016 Bleacher Report piece by Brandon Sneed detailed the health concerns that led to his departure from Florida. In the article, his wife, Shelly, said of her husband, “It was just a big mountain of pressure, stress, lack of control and not accepting what he couldn’t control. He was not accepting that he couldn’t control everything.”
Sneed's piece goes on to discuss how Meyer’s outlook on mental and physical health had changed since his time at Florida, but despite that, health concerns were once again cited as the reason for his departure from Ohio State following a 2018 season in which he was also suspended for how he handled domestic violence charges against assistant coach Zach Smith.
It’s not a stretch to say that Jacksonville will lose its fair share of football games in 2021, and it remains to be seen how Meyer handles losing and the lessened level of control he will have on an NFL team compared to what he grew accustomed to in the college ranks.
Of course, the big positive takeaway from this hire is that Meyer has a history of being a successful head coach with every opportunity he has been given. He produced an 8-3 record in his first year at Bowling Green in 2001, just one year after they went 2-9. He then led Utah to an undefeated season in 2004, only his second year with the team. Jacksonville is banking on that success translating to the NFL.
Jacksonville and former Ohio St. HC Urban Meyer are in advanced talks to see if they can finalize a deal, per @AdamSchefter
Ohio State offensive rank under Meyer:
???? 2014: 7th
???? 2015: 18th
???? 2016: 21st
???? 2017: 8th
???? 2018: 10th pic.twitter.com/CCcn0ZKDpt
— PFF (@PFF) January 14, 2021
Offensive success, in particular, has followed Meyer in his coaching career, and he’s shown the willingness to alter his offense based on the personnel at his disposal and the evolution of modern defenses. That adaptability isn’t something that should be taken lightly in a game where not enough coaches are willing to change what they do when things aren’t working. See: Matt Patricia’s defense in Detroit.
How exactly Meyer and Jacksonville will choose to deploy Trevor Lawrence will garner plenty of discussion leading into next season, given Meyer’s history of using the quarterback as a rushing threat and Lawrence’s athletic profile. In a segment as an analyst on Fox this past season, Meyer talked specifically about Lawrence’s toughness as a strength in regards to his rushing ability in the red zone against North Carolina.
Clemson averaged 6.7 yards per read-option run play over the last three seasons, the fourth-highest mark among Power 5 offenses. They also posted a top-10 mark in the Power 5 on designed quarterback runs (6.3 yards per play) and RPOs (6.7 yards per play).
Lawrence is more than capable of being useful in the run game, and while I would expect Jacksonville will be hesitant to expose him to a high number of unnecessary hits, there’s also plenty of reason to believe Meyer and whoever he chooses to bring on as offensive coordinator will take advantage of that part of Lawrence’s game.
As always, though, much of what will make this hire a success or a failure will stem from the kind of respect Meyer is able to demand from his players and the culture he can cultivate behind closed doors. That holds especially true in a jump from college to the pros, where the power dynamic shifts. Meyer won’t be able to control everything, and we’ve seen that become an issue in previous stops.
What is certain is that this Jaguars team will be significantly more interesting in 2021 than it was in 2020, with Meyer as head coach and presumably Lawrence as the new face of the franchise. Jacksonville is banking on that being the next great coach-quarterback tandem in a league where hitting on those two positions all but guarantees success as a franchise.