Column: Is the Risky Hiring of Urban Meyer the Right Bet for the Jaguars?

The Jaguars are rolling the dice in a big way on Urban Meyer. There are countless risks, but also countless positives. Are they the right team to make the bet on Meyer?
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Jan. 14, 2021, will long be remembered in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars. No matter what the next few seasons hold, Thursday's hiring of Urban Meyer will go down as one of the most significant moves in franchise history. 

That could end up being true for all of the right reasons, marking a new era in Jaguars football. It could also be true for all of the wrong reasons if it ends in a continuance of an entire decade of losing and dysfunction. 

Ultimately the Jaguars may be just the right kind of team to take a roll of the dice. No other franchise in the NFL needs a more top-to-bottom facelift than the Jaguars. They need a dismantling of the organization's pillars, just so more reliable ones can be built. They need the flushing of a losing culture. No team news a new direction, a bold restart, or new voices as badly as the Jaguars do.

But is Meyer the right bet for the Jaguars? Is he the man who can lead a team out of the expansion zone, an area they seemingly have only left for a few years at a time over the last 25 seasons?

“Well, I think this was definitely what I shared, I think with you and some of the other people about a week and a half ago, that it is in an inflection point for the Jaguars," Jaguars owner Shad Khan said on Friday. 

Khan beamed with joy as he introduced Meyer as his head coach. Khan had often been called upon by the fan base to step up, be more involved, and simply show more effort as the owner. By going after Meyer so vigorously, he can now say he did that.

The Jaguars will hire a general manager in the coming days, but make no mistake that this is now Meyer's show. The Jaguars have the most plentiful amount of draft picks and cap space in the NFL and own the No. 1 overall pick in a year with a transcendent quarterback prospect, so this is a lot of responsibility. 

Jacksonville will be built in Meyer's vision for as long as he is in Jacksonville. For the Jaguars, they have to hope that vision is one that can adjust from coaching college kids to millionaire athletes. 

"A lot of things have happened which really put us in a position to win and the choice of the head coach was probably the most important thing. And I’m really gratified and I’m delighted, obviously, that Urban is on board," Khan said. 

"I mean, I’ve talked to Urban about our general manger, who it ought to be and we’re working together on it. I hope we’ll have an announcement or something in the next week or so, but the objective is going to be that—and I’ve shared this with Urban, he’s on board—both of them will be reporting to me. But everybody in the organization, I mean, we’re going to be carrying out Urban’s vision of the team and the kind of players we want.”

Make no mistake, there is an immense risk with hiring Meyer. The hire will be panned by analysts across the sport, as it has been already. But it will also be seen as a potentially monumental move for a franchise that has far too often produced abysmal results on the football field. 

In short, there is little middle ground when it comes to the perception of Jacksonville's splash hiring of Meyer. This likely isn't just perception, either; it is reality. Hiring Meyer, like hiring any other coach, presents its own set of unique challenges and risks that the Jaguars must be prepared to face. 

But are the specific risks that are undoubtedly at play with Meyer the right bet for the Jaguars to make? In many ways, the answer is yes. In other ways, it is less clear of a convincing answer. 

Meyer has proven to be a winner above all else. He has done it at small programs and at juggernaut machines. He has won national titles and Big 10 and SEC championships. For a Jaguars team that has won more than five games in just two of the nine seasons in which owner Shad Khan has overseen the franchise, there is no figure quite like Meyer. 

To be frank, the Jaguars have been losers more often than not. Meyer hasn't been one. 

At the end of the day, that is likely the driving force behind the Jaguars hiring someone with no NFL experience. He hasn't roamed an NFL sideline, but he has a 187-32 record and a .854 winning percentage, the third-highest in college football history. 

But controversy has also followed Meyer at his last two stops. Meyer's Gators team won at an incredible rate, but there was an abundance of culture and locker room issues by the time he eventually stepped down in part due to health issues. It took Florida several seasons to recover after Meyer's departure in large part because a reset was needed then, much like a reset is needed in Jacksonville now.

Things didn't always go smoothly with Meyer with Ohio State either, with the end of his Buckeyes tenure being marred by chaos as well. The school placed Meyer on paid administrative leave in August 2018 after reports of Meyer knowing about past spousal abuse allegations raised against Meyer's former assistant coach Zach Smith years prior to Meyer firing him.

The school's board of trustees voted to suspend Meyer for the opening three games of the season, and his reputation took a major hit. He would step down at the end of the season, again citing health issues. 

Ohio State hasn't fallen off without Meyer like Florida did, but the fiasco around Meyer and Ohio State's employment of Smith was a black eye on the program.

With that said, Meyer doesn't just go to programs and leave within a few years. Meyer spent six years at Florida and seven years at Ohio State, winning national championships before departing each school. The perception that he just ups and leaves after a year or two is off, though Meyer has left amid controversy each time. 

Then you have to add in the fact that making the leap from college to NFL is incredibly difficult for anyone. Players and assistant coaches struggle in their first treks to the NFL, so it is no different for head coaches. 

The speed of the game is different. How you build relationships with players is different. How you motivate your team is different. It is still football and there are still basic principles that successful teams are built around, but there is zero questioning that making a first-time NFL coach the head coach of a team with a wide array of resources is risky. 

"You’re in a league that is designed to be .500. You’re talking about Coach [Bill] Belichick, one of my great friends, a person I’ve always admired. He’s the best of all time and you’re talking about a .686 winning percentage," Meyer said at his introductory press conference on Friday. 

"You’re talking about the league is built to be .500 and that’s—I’ve coached at Utah where we were picked to lose most of our games, I’ve coached at Bowling Green where we were picked to lose most of our games, and then Florida and Ohio State, you’re picked to win most of the games. So that’s the biggest challenge, is looking across the field and saying they’ve got what you’ve got, or sometimes they’ve got more than you’ve got.”

Apart from all of these issues, there is also the issue of Meyer's health. He has left his last two head coaching roles in large part due to health issues that have been associated with the high pressures of leading a top-tier college program.

The NFL isn't a 365-day job like college is due to the lack of recruiting, but there is much, much more losing at the NFL level. The stakes are higher with every move and with every game. Meyer will have more downtime, but the pressure won't go away.

But coupled with the massive risks are the potential rewards that Khan and the Jaguars are banking on. Meyer is known as second to only Nick Saban in terms of his ability to build a strong coaching and support staff, something the Jaguars haven't been able to do for years.

Meyer has also overseen a strong offense at every stop, and his programs have become NFL pipelines. Big-name recruits came to Meyer at will, but Meyer and his staff developed them to the point where Ohio State and Florida became mainstay's in the first round of NFL Drafts.

So, is the risk/reward of Meyer the right move for the Jaguars? Only time will tell, but opinions will be held throughout the nation until his tenure ends. The Jaguars need a restart -- Meyer offers that. 

But they also need stability, credibility, and simply wins. The Jaguars will soon find out just how much Meyer can offer in those regards.