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Waiting to Fire Urban Meyer Will Only Worsen an Already Toxic Environment

Urban Meyer has reportedly already lost Jacksonville's locker room. Should the Jaguars let this wound fester any further?

The owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday released a statement suggesting he no longer trusts the head coach of his football team and that the coach must make an effort in the coming days and weeks to earn it back.

While much of the Urban Meyer saga has been strange and uncomfortable (at best!), the latest development may have been the hardest to understand. Put aside Meyer’s transgressions for a moment. His ultimate problem in the context of being a football coach was that he was caught in the action and then, subsequently, caught in a lie about that action. His problem was that, over the course of two decades as a head coach, he has made a career out of masquerading as impeccable. This is easier to do in college, where any dissent is smashed by the all-powerful hand and any whispers to the contrary about the coach’s image or proclivities are buried under the floorboards.

One cannot take Meyer’s wins away. One cannot remove his national championship banners or the number of draft picks he pipelined to the NFL. But Meyer’s image is not his own anymore and is up to the unintimidated interpretation of his players, staff and fans. The façade that has provided him so much access and power has clearly diminished.

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer looks down the sidelines during the fourth quarter. The Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the Arizona Cardinals at TIAA Bank Field

Prior to the release of a statement, a report suggested his initial attempts at wrangling this crisis produced little more than a few laughs. Another report suggested there has not been much actual coaching going on at all, merely an effort to quell a wildfire one solo cup of water at a time.

So why not pull the plug before it’s too late? Why enter a nebulous evaluation period that will only serve to make the players and the staff uncomfortable, especially when the pieces most central to the development of Trevor Lawrence can be kept intact?

What, in the absolute best-case scenario, is Meyer adding to the equation at this point?

To be clear, this is not a call for fire and pitchforks. This is not the assembling of a moral army looking to sack a coach for whatever he does over a long weekend with some free time. Are we going to sit here and assert with complete confidence that his sins among his peers, and your peers, are unique? This is a call for realistic questions and answers about a coach we’re learning more about with each subsequent, mumbling press conference devoid of eye contact.

In his initial apology press conference, for example, when asked about how the team took his words, Meyer invoked quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s bachelor party in Las Vegas.

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“I’ve always been so defensive of them. I remember when Trevor told me he was going to Las Vegas for his bachelor party, I said: ‘My gosh man, be careful and surround yourself. Because I’ve seen this happen,’” he said.

Notice how he attempts to both shift the narrative and the blame for what had happened. What was the point of mentioning that Lawrence went out in Vegas? What did he mean by I’ve seen this happen? Was he suggesting at the time that this was a plot to frame him, tempt him or extort him? Subsequent video, of course, has made that difficult to believe.

In his second apology press conference, Meyer said of getting the team ready to play a game after this: “I don’t believe that’s in my court. … The leaders on the team are going to make that decision. It depends on how much trust you have built up with them, how we structure everything this week and focus on winning that game…”

Notice, again, a shift and a deflection. If the Jaguars get their doors blown off by an already ornery Titans team, it is not the fault of my actions. It is the inability of both the players and the staff to ignore the videos of me posted on social media.

These words, about the importance of preparation, were uttered in all seriousness by a coach who, after starting his career 0–4, skipped a team flight home and proceeded to spend his time the way that he did. We’re not suggesting he shouldn’t have visited his family, or that he needs to spend all his time locked away studying film until the Jaguars emerge undefeated, but this has been the expectation he has had for so many others throughout his career. That was the idea of Meyer that Jacksonville had purchased, further complicating the optics.

Keeping Meyer is placing hope in the idea that he can win back a locker room. What coaches have done that successfully? Keeping Meyer is placing hope in the idea that he can change. How many wildly successful 57-year-olds do you remember doing that? Keeping Meyer is placing hope that he can clean up his own image, and the perception of a franchise on fire before it comes time to spend a treasure trove of cap space and (quite likely) a top three draft pick. How has he been doing so far?

In delaying a decision, the Jaguars are ignoring the troubling playbook Meyer has already provided for the weeks to come. In delaying that decision, the Jaguars are placing additional stress on the players who will continuously be asked to answer for his behavior, both on and off the record. They are placing additional stress on their support staff, who will be tasked with helping the coach repair his reputation and, somehow, appear presentable in a public facing role again. They are placing additional stress on their coaching staff, who have been confronting some difficult realities about their own longevity in Jacksonville in the wake of this week’s news.

Meyer already said it himself. Beating the Titans is not up to him. What happens when he goes out, it seems, is not entirely up to him. So why not hand the keys over to those who will take that responsibility seriously?

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