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Urban Meyer Never Stopped Living in the Past

In 11 months, the coach never earned the trust of his team, and never put in the work required of an NFL head coach.

One afternoon this summer, Urban Meyer was a special guest at a luncheon at the stadium with one of the Jaguars’ largest corporate sponsors. For about 20 minutes, he gave a speech about leadership. Like the entirety of his brief, 11-month tenure in Jacksonville, it was based wholly on Meyer’s past coaching successes.

A theme of the speech was trust—ironic because the lack thereof would be the reason normally-patient Jaguars owner Shad Khan would cite in firing Meyer on Wednesday night, before the end of his first season. One of the things Meyer told the room that day was that if someone on your team, in business or in football, is not succeeding, you have to take the time to get to the root cause. Find out why, because that’s how you build the esprit de corps he said he wanted to establish in Jacksonville. “I have been blessed with a skill,” he said, “that I get through those honest, open conversations very easily.”

To a lot of people in Jacksonville, this approach that Meyer espoused would be news to them. And that’s at the crux of his disastrous turn in the NFL: Meyer propped himself up on what he’d done in the past, rather than committing to the work necessary to build and lead a winning team in the NFL.

All of the reasons the Meyer Era seemed doomed from the start were based upon his hubris. He entered the NFL thinking that he could do things the way he’d always done them, even though he had never coached at the NFL level. He tried to make a coaching style out of wielding the supposed power of his three college national championships.

This was apparent in his first hires, when he added to his staff Chris Doyle, the strength coach who had left his job at Iowa after allegations from former players that he’d engaged in racism and bullying. Meyer’s explanation was that he had known Doyle for close to 20 years, as if that was enough vetting—at Ohio State he had enabled an assistant coach whose former wife said he repeatedly abused her. During training camp, the example Meyer gave to NBC’s Peter King of the culture he was trying to build was that, when pass rusher Josh Allen and his wife were upset about the advice from a nurse after the birth of their daughter, Meyer called the CEO of the hospital to step in. It apparently went over well enough at the time with Allen, but it seemed like more of a power flex than a personal gesture, something that has certainly borne out over time.

The heat was turned up on Meyer after the debacle in early October when he made the decision not to fly back to Florida with his team after a Thursday night loss in Cincinnati, opting instead to stay in his native Ohio, an unheard of move for an NFL coach. That Saturday night, there was a cell phone video recording of Meyer out at a bar, with a woman who is not his wife dancing up against him. He then botched the fallout, canceling a Monday team meeting rather than immediately addressing the organization he was supposed to be leading. In a statement at the time, Khan said that Meyer had to “regain our trust and respect.”

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But at that point, the organization reportedly also knew about the training camp incident first reported by the Tampa Bay Times hours before Meyer’s firing. Kicker Josh Lambo told the newspaper that Meyer came up to him while he was stretching, told him, “Hey Dips---, make your f---ing kicks!” and then kicked him in the leg. Lambo added that when he told Meyer, in profane terms, never to do that again, the coach responded, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f--- I want.” While Meyer disputed the account to the newspaper, the team acknowledged that their legal counsel was contacted by Lambo’s agent about the incident at the time.

While Khan deserves credit for recognizing his mistake in hiring Meyer and moving on from him before the end of his first season, it’s also fair to ask why the organization didn’t do more in response to this allegation of verbal and physical abuse months ago. Meyer’s unprofessionalism and unpreparedness showed up all season, from the way he ignored staffers in the hallways of the team facility to his referencing, earlier this week, increased playing time for a player who had played zero snaps in the previous day’s game. His more serious misdeeds, though, have made many of these other blunders seem like footnotes.

One of those footnotes, though, gave us the clearest insight into why Meyer failed in the NFL. After the Week 2 loss to the Broncos, Vic Fangio revealed that Meyer told him the NFL is like playing Alabama every week. Meyer was entirely unprepared for the level of competition and the amount of work every week required to succeed in the NFL, apparently expecting he could glide by on his success from college. Even worse, that arrogance showed up in the way he treated his staff and his players, blaming others when things went awry, even allegedly abusing them.

Back at that summer luncheon, Meyer had the room engaged and locked in as he delivered his leadership lessons. One of the examples he gave to the audience, something he said he had broken down “a couple dozen times” with his Jaguars staff, was how to handle a player who is not performing up to expectations. “If that player is not playing well,” Meyer said, “don’t tell him he’s a bad player—he is an NFL player.” Weeks later, he would confront and allegedly kick Lambo after he had missed two kicks in the preseason. Lambo’s public disclosure of this incident would be the death knell in Meyer’s tenure.

Khan hired Meyer because of his past successes, but Meyer’s past successes were also what doomed him as the Jaguars head coach—all because of his own choosing.

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