Photo credit: University of Florida athletic association
On Thursday, former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer came out of his second (technically, third) retirement in order to serve the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It marks the first time that Meyer will coach at the NFL level, after spending decades working at the college level.
Holding a 187-32 record as a head coach throughout his 17-year college coaching career, Meyer’s winning ways bring fresh air to the city of Jacksonville.
Since Shad Khan took over as owner of the team in 2012, the Jaguars have won a total of 39 games, equating to just under 4.5 wins per season. Employing three head coaches within that time frame, the Jaguars had just one winning season, coming in the 2017 season when they went 10-6 and reached the AFC Championship Game.
As a result, Khan understands the magnitude of holding the first overall pick in the draft and the seismic shift that can create for the franchise moving forward. Jacksonville is primed for success shortly, all the more reason to acquire a guy who has won at every stop he has taken, a feat he looks to continue with what could be his final stop on an illustrious road.
During his introductory press conference, Meyer stressed the fact that he would not “jump into a situation where I don’t believe we can win.” To do that, Meyer’s first step is to build an "elite" coaching staff.
So far, Meyer has reportedly been looking to familiar faces to fill roles throughout his staff—including his former defensive coordinator at Florida in Charlie Strong and his former defensive coordinator at Ohio State in Chris Ash as position coaches—although no addition has been confirmed at this time.
Those reports haven't included any current Florida Gators staff members, but it would be wise to recall Meyer's connection to UF's current group of coaches. Four members of UF's current staff have either coached with or played for Meyer: Head coach Dan Mullen, quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, and offensive line coach John Hevesy.
His desire for familiarity comes with an intriguing amount of speculation for who else he will try to poach from the college ranks to join him at the professional level.
Marking the question, could Meyer reach out to any of these four? Let's break each candidate down individually and set some reasonable expectations.
I'll be honest, I think the chances of Mullen leaving a head coaching position to take an assistant coaching position, most likely as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, in this case, is extremely unlikely.
Mullen has said in the past, regarding the possibility that he could look for an NFL head coaching job, that he enjoys the "control" and responsibility that comes with being a college head coach. Obviously, he would lose all of that in an offensive coordinator role as he'd be in command of Jacksonville's offense and nothing else.
Taking the step to the NFL in this situation is a lateral move at best or even a step backward where finances are concerned.
A significant pay cut would also be in order if Mullen were to make such a move. Compared to his $6.1 million salary, Mullen's rate could be cut in half at the NFL level. Coordinator salaries aren't typically available, but it has been reported that New England Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the highest paid in the NFL, significantly, making around $4 million in one year of his deal.
Experiencing a large dose of interest for head coaching vacancies in the NFL this offseason, most notably with the New York Jets, Mullen's time to jump to the NFL could be approaching.
For now, gaining experience in the pro game could aid Mullen in receiving a head NFL position in the near future if that’s his goal. Taking a step back to being Meyer’s right-hand man—even for a short time—may be a long shot, but with the opportunity to showcase how his offense would function at the next level would be something worth noting if Mullen is serious about wanting to test the professional waters anytime soon.
As a former quarterback recruit to Utah in Meyer’s final season as the head coach in Salt Lake City, Johnson’s experience with the Jaguars head coach comes from a different perspective than everyone else on the list. With the understanding of the expectations of what a Meyer coached team should look like from a player standpoint, along with his prowess as a coach, the versatility of Johnson could be an attractive hire.
Connecting with Meyer’s former protege in Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and now Florida, Johnson elevated himself from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator for the 2020 season, a role he sported well.
Given the explosive offensive attack the Gators employed—averaging 39.8 points and over 500 yards per game—Johnson’s short but impressive resumé makes him an intriguing option to move up the ladder to the NFL.
Receiving interest for the South Carolina and Boise State head coaching vacancies—before missing out in both—Johnson continues to trend upward as a head coaching candidate in the college ranks before too long.
However, with his hand in developing Kyle Trask, and bright young football mind, entering the NFL as a quarterback coach would be an riveting opportunity for Johnson to consider. Especially given the fact that he will likely be working with first overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence upon arrival, adding another noteworthy detail to his accolades.
With Meyer understanding the magnitude of building this staff, acquiring a guy many believed had a chance to take over an SEC school as their head coach at one point this offseason, reaching out to Johnson would be a compelling offer for the Florida assistant.
The most likely of all the candidates listed to join Meyer in Jacksonville is Florida Gators wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales. Getting his start with Meyer with Bowling Green in 2001, Gonzales followed Meyer to his next two stops of Utah and Florida under the same title.
Serving as a wide receivers coach in college football dating back to 1994, Gonzales has experience developing a multitude of wideouts, including the likes of Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Trevon Grimes, and Kadarius Toney in just the past two seasons.
As a maximizer of potential, Gonzales fits the mold of a "great" staffer that understands the expectations that Meyer is attempting to bring to Jacksonville.
With multi-season experience under the Meyer coaching tree, working with Meyer himself or one who grew under his tutelage into a head coach since just after the turn of the century—and an impressive track record of developments—the call to Gonzales is one that you should expect Meyer to make.
If he gets hired on in Jacksonville, Gonzales will get the opportunity to work with a young but talented Jaguars receivers group—led by D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault—making his transition to the NFL for the first time as smooth sailing as it can get.
With the evident focal point of hiring coaches that already understand his expectations and philosophies, current Florida offensive line coach, John Hevesy—who served under Meyer from 2001-2008—would provide just that on the Jacksonville staff.
Taking a similar route as Gonzales, following Meyer from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida under the same title before departing to Mississippi State with Dan Mullen for the 2009 season, Hevesy has been bred as a coach in the ideals of Meyer.
Hevesy’s move to Jacksonville is not as likely as some of his current counterparts; however, past relations and the understanding of how Meyer likes to operate make Hevesy a sneaky candidate for the offensive line position in Jacksonville. Meyer's call to Hevesy to gauge interest is not completely out of the picture but is thought to be unlikely at this time.
If the move is made, he will get the opportunity to work with former Gators offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor, who excelled during his time at Florida but has faltered since moving to the NFL ranks.