Urban Meyer

Urban Redux

Dear Shad,

Hope you and the family had a great holiday season and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2021!

Just wanted to send along my congratulations on your new head coach hire. It’s the kind of big splash that put the Jaguars back on the map instantly. With Urban on board and Trevor Lawrence waiting in the wings, the Jaguars are relevant again! I’m sure the phones for season tickets are ringing off the hook.

I’m not sure who you were leaning on for advice on this hire but there are a few of us who have been around for a while and know Urban from his seven years at Florida. I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on the excitement in town but there are a few things I wanted to make you aware of.

Wow, did they have some success there in Gainesville under Urban! I’m sure you asked and I’m sure he had a good answer for the lawlessness and the criminal activity that happened under his watch while he was in Gainesville as was reported and verified after his departure from there.

There are a lot of Gator fans who think the most amazing thing that happened while he was there wasn’t the two national championships but rather that nobody went to jail while he was in charge!

Nonetheless, winning seems to cure all ills, but it is kind of funny that he’s so reviled by Gator fans even though he brought two national titles there. They’re trying to figure out how to put Urban in the Gators Ring of Honor at Florida Field but they’re afraid he’ll be booed! Imagine that? Maybe they’ll bring the HBC or Timmy along to keep that from happening. I guess Gator fans didn’t like how he left, either time!

I mean, we were all concerned when his wife Shelley told us she couldn’t revive him one night despite her repeated “Urb, Urb,” calls to him on the floor. Turns out he had some kind of serious, as he described it, ‘esophageal spasms’ that were causing his problems. I guess the next year when he quit to spend more time with his family, that was the best thing for everybody. Who knew a stint with ESPN could be so much a part of family bonding?

But wow, medical science is amazing isn’t it? Just eleven months later he was back coaching at Ohio State! I’m not sure Gator fans in North Florida quite understand that but I’m sure they’ll be buying Jaguars tickets anyway.

As you said on Friday when you introduced him, Meyer was impressive above all candidates in the interview process. He is an impressive interview and was equally impressive in his first meeting with the press at the end of last week.

I just wonder how things will go as we get into the year and hopefully things start to get back to normal. You know when you met somebody and after you shake hands, (we used to do that) and look them in the eye, you got the feeling ‘Hey, something else is going on there’? That’s the feeling I always got around Urban. A friend of mine who worked with him a lot said, “It’s like he’s always looking past you.” “Yeah, that’s it,” I thought. Not quite transparent, not trusting, and with a whole agenda nobody else knows anything about. Hopefully as he moves to the pros that’ll change, right?

Because I\it can be a bit of a different transition from college to the pros. One thing I’m sure you talked with Urban about is dealing with the media. Going to a press conference in Gainesville or Columbus, the room is full of young reporters, many still students, who are learning their jobs and oftentimes are graduates and fans of the program their covering. Urban had control of that situation and honestly, not many hard questions were asked.

And when the hard questions were asked, he usually rebuffed, laughed off or answered them with a “Where are you from?” answer. I know, he asked me that more than once! That won’t be the case in a professional setting like the NFL. He’ll have to get used to being asked the how’s and why’s of what he’s doing. His decisions will be second guessed, legitimately, and constantly on every level.

But hey, wasn’t it funny when that cub reporter from my former employer started his question with ‘Go Gators!’ on Friday? Doubt that will happen again.

I’m sure you asked him what the heck happened at Ohio State with his assistant Zach Smith. Urban had to serve a three-game suspension for his role in handling the spouse abuse allegations against his former assistant. Urban said he “mis-spoke” at the summer Big Ten media days when he told us he didn’t know anything about that. Female Jaguars fans have asked me about that, but I’m sure he gave you the right answers.

And who says you have to be likeable and considered a good guy to be a good football coach anyway? It’s certainly no requirement for the players in pro sports. Some sort of a rap sheet is never a deterrent if you can play.

I mean, Look at some of the most successful coaches and they don’t’ fall into the category of ‘likeable.” That’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells or even Tom Coughlin. And Vince Lombardi doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings.

The difference though is all of those coaches have their private defenders. Talk to any of their friends and they’ll tell you stories about their philanthropy, their humor and their general goodness. I rarely heard that about Jack Del Rio and I’ve never heard that about Urban Meyer in the seventeen years I’ve covered his career. Hopefully sometime soon I will.

But again, that’s not a requirement to be a good football coach. Meyer has shown he can be a good football coach, but on a completely different level. Perhaps his executive skills, his ability to organize and create a ‘program’ will translate to the professional level. But we don’t know that. But there’s hope!

We do know that there’s a long list of college coaches who haven’t been able to transition to the pro game, and a few, like Urban’s friend from FOX Sports, Jimmy Johnson who have, and have done it very well.

Urban knows college players are still forming who they’re going to be as people. And I’m sure he knows sometimes a coach plays a significant role in that. Scientists say your brain isn’t fully formed until you’re about twenty-four years old and while you’re in college you’re still figuring out where you fit into the world. If somebody in authority gives you direction, especially if you’ve been coached in sports your whole life, you go along. Urban did that as a college coach with plenty of success.

And on Friday he admitted that the game has changed and said he’s changed with it. Professional athletes figure out what works for them and they’re a different breed.

Their first year they’re figuring out how to stay in the league. And that’s the overriding motivation throughout their career. As they get established, some figure out how to win, but they’re all trying to stay in the game. Nobody ever leaves when they want to.

Speaking of leaving, what did he have to say about leaving Columbus? I know he said Friday he was older and was very aware of his health and how to take care of it but wow, arachnoid cysts on your brain sounds serious! I hope collapsing on the sideline and those headaches he suffered at Ohio State isn’t in his future here. I guess medical science really is amazing! That FOX Sports gig must have been just the relaxing tonic he needed.

You’ve been in the Jaguars locker room and you’ve seen the different ways players get themselves ready. They know what works for them. When to eat, how much sleep, rest and nutrition they need. What kind of workouts get them best prepared? I hope Urban has thought about that and the difference coaching grown men.

They’ll follow along with his schedule and the concepts, but there’s much more individualism in pro sports. He’ll will have to get used to that, not the other way around. College coaches who try to impose their will and their way in pro sports flame out pretty quickly. Hey, even Tom Coughlin adjusted when he was with the Giants and won two Super Bowls.

Look, you and I know you don’t have to be good, or even nice to be a good football coach. But you have to be respected by the players, the assistants, the people in your organization, the media and the fans. I’m sure Urban realizes that he doesn’t have that from the start with football fans here in North Florida.

Unlike a lot of hires where the coach has a bit of a honeymoon period while everybody sees where he takes the team, Meyer’s track record doesn’t afford him that. He’ll have to earn respect every step of the way.

There’s also the CEO aspect of the job where the head coach represents the organization. That matters a lot here in Jacksonville. Maybe more than other cities. The Jaguars head coach is the face of the team and has to be out there in some way as part of the community. That’ll be great to see Urban helping out at the Sulzbacher Center and speaking at Rotary Clubs spreading the good word of the Jaguars.

I hope occasionally losing on the NFL level doesn’t bother Urban too much. One fellow reporter said losing “crushed Urban’s soul” more than any other coach we’ve covered. That’s great on one level that he cares that much, luckily, he only lost thirty-two times in his entire college career. I mean, geez, the Jaguars lost fifteen times just LAST YEAR! He’ll remember losing five games in a season might have cost him his job in college. But wow, if he only loses five games a year with the Jaguars, we’ll erect a statue!

Anyway, I’ve taken way too much of your time. Looking forward to your General Manager pick and hopefully seeing more of you around, and winning in 2021!

Best, SK

A Fans Fix

It would be no surprise that all of my friends are sports fans. Oh, they have plenty of varied interests, from tango to traveling, investing to industry. But sports binds all of us together, it’s our common denominator.

All of my friends are also old enough to have been around to see the Jaguars become an NFL franchise and take pride in having a team in our town. And like a majority of Jaguars fans, they moved here from somewhere else. So, their allegiance is split, but they all are Shad Khan’s definition of a fan: They buy tickets. Or more.

I asked them all this week about a new start for the Jaguars. A new coach, a new general manager, a whole new beginning.

“It’s a great opportunity,” ‘Big Beef’ a Giants/Dolphins/Jaguars fan said. Beef is an avid football fan and admits he looks at things through a fans eye. He supports the Jaguars by more than just buying tickets. He uses his time at the stadium to entertain and be entertained.

“With all of that cap space, the draft picks, the young guys on the team, I just hope they hire the right people to get the job done,” he added.

That was the consensus about hiring: get the right people in here.

Most of them said it makes them cringe to hear Urban Meyer’s name mentioned as a possibility to take over downtown. Citing the lack of success college coaches have had moving to pro football, they’re not sure Meyer’s resume should make him a candidate.

I agree with that and think it might be the most tone-deaf thing Khan and team president Mark Lamping could do in this search.

National pundits call Meyer a “prime candidate” citing his connection to Florida through his time in Gainesville. Obviously, they’re lapping up something Urban is putting out there or just didn’t pay attention to his departure from the Gators.

Meyer left as the most unliked guy he could possibly be for a coach who won two National Champions at Florida. And people still don’t like him to this day. Maybe he had health problems, but after leaving and saying he wanted to spend more time with family, I guess they were all living at the Fox Sports Studios because that’s where he spent most of his time. And he did almost the same thing at Ohio State.

None of this bothers my friend ‘Ghost of Chuck,’ a Bills/Jaguars fan.

“He’s a CEO type and that’s what the Jaguars need,” Ghost said this week. “He scares me as a college coach making the move to the pros. NFL players are different animals. I suspect the quality of his character over some of the things he’s done, but he has the leadership skills they need.”

My friend ‘The BQ’ also is a Jet/Jaguars fan. He sees Meyer as a bad fit altogether.

“College to the pros, it’s tough,” he agreed. Adding, “And he’s got a big ego, that’s hard to match a coach with a big ego with the ego of these players these days.”

“Look at Andy Reid,” he said as an example. “He never was bigger than his team. Coaches get carried away with themselves and they tend to shield themselves from the organization. That’s egotistical. Guys like Reid and Mike Tomlin, those guys are in the trenches with the players and the front office, the whole organization. The coach and the GM need to be part of the organization while leading it.”

Ghost said he doesn’t think the head coach has to be an x’s and o’s guy. Just somebody everybody trusts to lead.

“They need a coach who has the vision and passes it on to everybody else. The strength guy, the front office staff, the video guy The GM has to be a scout/personnel guy with an eye for the talent.

When I noted that the Jaguars have relied on ‘Super Scouts’ like Gene Smith and ‘highly thought of personnel guys’ like Dave Caldwell with no success, Ghost laughed.

“Just like in business,” he said. “Sometimes you have to keep the Peter Principle in mind. You promote somebody to the highest level of their incompetence. It really comes down to you have to pick the right players and you have to have a quarterback.”

You might remember my friend ‘Wooly’ from our trips to Las Vegas and the ‘action’ he likes associated with the NFL. As an Eagles/Jaguars fan, he’s stayed away from betting on the Jags saying he’s never sure what they’re going to do.

“I try to avoid betting with my heart,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve just stayed away from them. I never have confidence in them whether I bet with or against them. Their last two weeks in the regular season are a blueprint as why I’ve stayed away from ‘em.”

If you didn’t follow that, the Jaguars were competitive against the Bears in the first half in week sixteen, giving their supporters hope, and got blown out in the last thirty minutes. The next week they easily covered the spread against the Colts. A game where they were supposed to get blown out.

Which brings Wooly to his conclusion about a new Jaguars leadership team.

“The head coach has to have the experience of developing a young quarterback. You can’t rely on an assistant to get that done.”

And he added they just need to do the obvious thing: pick Trevor Lawrence.

“They have the opportunity to select a player to be the face of the franchise for the next ten years or more. This is the obvious pick. They need a quarterback in a quarterback’s league. And t’s going to continue to be that way.”

I was amazed at how insistent my friends were about taking Trevor Lawrence. Not that he’s not the right guy to take, but they all mentioned their fear that the Jaguars might NOT take him. They’ve been beaten down by underperformance and bad decision making for so long they fear the team won’t do the obvious, best thing.

“Take the quarterback and build around him,” BQ said, somewhat exasperated. “It’s the tried-and-true formula for the league over the past 20 or so years. Don’t overthink it.”

“He’s a generational talent, scouts think so, the other players think so,” Ghost added. “I’m using the Buffalo blueprint. Sean McDermott was a defensive guy but had a plan laid out for everything when they interviewed him for the job. The weight room, the staff, the practice schedule, all of it. He was building a team in the best sense of the word and now they have one of the most productive offenses in the league because they got the quarterback (Josh Allen).”

BQ echoed what everybody said when it comes to building the team from scratch: Don’t get fancy.

“Need a guy that sticks to basics,” BQ said of both the GM and the coach. Follow the rule book until this team gets on its feet. Basic blocking and tackling until they get established. They have some good young players. Get a core of players that are going to be around for a while.”

When I mentioned that Shad Khan was the second fastest owner to a hundred losses ever in the NFL, nobody laid the blame at his feet.

“I don’t hold ownership accountable for how they’ve lost,” Wooly said “He hasn’t been erratic. He’s been supportive. He hasn’t shortchanged the opportunity for the team to win like some owners have. The brand is fine, the product has been terrible.”

Amen to that.

The Jaguars have won at a twenty seven percent clip in the last decade, or perhaps better said, they’ve lost at a seventy-three percent average.

“Losing gets old,” Beef lamented leading to his solution. “Take Lawrence, get a line to protect him, build a team around him. Belichick didn’t worry about the quarterback the whole time Brady was there. Do the same here. It’s a team effort.”

Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence

Forget Them

Over the past week social media has been ablaze with comments about the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence. Jaguars fans are giddy at the prospect of holding the number one choice in the April NFL Draft and the Clemson quarterback being chosen to wear black and teal.

Everybody else it seems, isn’t so happy with the prospect that a potential big-name talent would ply his trade in and outpost like Jacksonville.

Times Union columnist Gene Frenette outlined in these pages this week how the rest of the world will just have to buck up an accept the fact that in all likelihood, Lawrence is the next Jaguars quarterback.

In this new year, looking forward, I’ll add to that, euphemistically saying:

“Forget them.”

All of the talk about changing the draft process to a lottery and how Lawrence might refuse to sign with Jacksonville and stay at Clemson are a bit far-fetched. You can cite John Elway with Baltimore, Bo Jackson with Tampa Bay and even Eli Manning with San Diego as examples of top players forcing their way out of one franchise and into another.

All three of those had to do with ownership problems. Robert Irsay in Baltimore was famously loud and cheap. Hugh Culverhouse seemed to be content with just making money and Dean Spanos in San Diego never seemed interested in putting much effort into a winner. Shad Khan, despite his won/loss record as an owner, doesn’t have that kind of reputation. He’ll spend money and if he makes the right hire at General Manager, that person will have whatever tools they need to build something here. That’s why the GM hire is so critical.

Look at what’s happening in Buffalo as an example. A division title for the first time in forever thanks to solid personnel decisions and the right quarterback. (And the fact that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay.)

There is some skepticism about Lawrence’s ability to play at the professional level. Some question his toughness or his ‘spindly’ frame and wonder aloud if he’s built for the pro game. Legitimate questions, but he’s excelled at every level he’s ever played.

If you’re a franchise that needs a quarterback, he’s the obvious pick among those that might be available. Head and shoulders, literally, above the rest.

There seems to be an unusual amount of vitriol when it comes to Jacksonville as an NFL city and the potential home for a “golden boy” in the league. Fans have wondered aloud why it’s OK when Detroit is terrible and gets Matthew Stafford or when Cincinnati is awful and gets Joey Burrow. And even when the Colts are really bad, three times in the last thirty years, and get Jeff George, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with the number one pick. But when Jacksonville has the first pick for the first time ever, let’s change the rules.

That’s not happening. They might change the rules, but not this year. The Jaguars will have the number one pick.

That bias against our city and our franchise isn’t perceived, it’s real. As the Jacksonville representative over the past twenty-six years at all sorts of official NFL functions, I’ve seen it, and heard it, firsthand. It’s such a regular part of meetings and television commentary you’d think we’d be used to it by now.

Whether it’s comments about attendance or performance, the Jaguars get to be the butt of the joke. Even in Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day,” the Jaguars are swindled by his character who’s running CLEVELAND, of all franchises.

Sitting in a Hall of Fame meeting, a prominent member of the national media started his comments with, “We all know the league has admitted that putting a franchise in Jacksonville was a mistake.”

I interrupted with, “You know I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you right?” That got a laugh, but the perception of our city is that somehow, we tricked the NFL into giving us a team.

The only thing that hasn’t happened as the NFL projected into the future for Jacksonville in 1993, is corporate growth. The population has expanded but attracting businesses here hasn’t kept up with say, Nashville in the process. Blame that on civic leadership. It’s got nothing to do with ownership or the fans.

When the league awarded the Super Bowl here in 2005 the city rolled up its sleeves and put on a show every day and every night. But still got hammered because we weren’t Miami, or Tampa or New Orleans. Which is just fine with us, we don’t want to be any of those places. But if you’re not from here, you don’t understand that.

When media comes here, they’re confused and sometimes even intimidated by the fact that we’re comfortable in our own skin. There were a few glitches surrounding the Super Bowl but because it was a new experience, in Jacksonville, we bore the brunt of the jokes.

Generally respected commentator Howie Long makes it a point when hired as a corporate speaker to point out how terrible Jacksonville was as a Super Bowl host. His evidence? The stadium ran out of hot dogs during the game. The fact that the NFL, and not the city, was in charge of that just gets in the way of his story.

One scribe complained that people were WALKING to the game, impeding his bus’s progress to the stadium. “Wait,” I thought. “You’re complaining about people slowing you down on the free bus you’re taking less than a mile to the game, where you’re going for free after your hotel and meals had been picked up by your employer?” Obviously, he had never tried to get to the game in Miami or Glendale.

If you went from the airport to the Hyatt, then to the stadium and back to the airport, as most reporters do, you didn’t get to see much of Jacksonville. And that’s true in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and almost every other NFL city. The difference here, for that crowd, is the lack of strip clubs and late-night drinking establishments.

Did you realize that every head coach the Jaguars have ever had, save for Jack Del Rio, still lives here? Doug Marrone said he and his family aren’t leaving. Even if he’s coaching somewhere else, Marrone said, “I love this town.” Walk in any Publix and you’re libel to run into a former Jaguar player who realized what we have and who we are. And stayed.

If this is such a terrible place, why are all of those people from the northeast moving here?

We’ve got our problems, just like any other city. I don’t know what the long-term future of the Lot J project is, but I do know that for the first time in a while, somebody is talking about putting money, albeit some of it ours, into our town.

Our current administration has an issue with transparency and the Jaguars sometimes seem detached from the city. But those are OUR problems to deal with, not somebody from the outside’s right to lob insults from the peanut gallery.

Barring something weird happening, Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in the draft, and the Jaguars hold that spot.

As I said earlier, euphemistically about the naysayers:

“Forget them.”