Staffing, staffing, staffing. That has been the emphasis of the first few days of Urban Meyer's tenure as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Meyer didn't undersell just how important his coaching staff decisions will be for the future of his team on Friday,
“That’s what’s going on right now. I’ve actually been going through [that]. This a deep, deep dive into this. I know all coaches say that. The next week will be a critical time for the Jaguars organization," Meyer said on Friday.
Meyer has already detailed how his top assistants will function in Jacksonville. Much like at Ohio State and Florida, Meyer will delegate a large number of responsibilities to his offensive and defensive coordinators, choosing to find a scheme to fit his players as opposed to finding players to fit a scheme.
"I’m not going to be the playcaller. I’ve been very active in play calling throughout my career on offense and kicking game. On defense, I’m not. I’m going to hire the best defensive coaches," Meyer said. "I think something I’ve done halfway decent is I know what it’s supposed to look like and feel like and the fundamentals, but schematically the NFL is different."
So, who will Meyer select as his offensive and defensive coordinators at the NFL level? That is the key question as Meyer begins his NFL coaching career.
To give an idea of a few names to look for at both offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, we are going to list a few coaches who are logical fits with Meyer.
Yesterday we covered the offensive side of the ball. Now, we look at defensive coordinator options.
Out of all the names on this list, Raheem Morris makes the most sense. He has also been connected to the job on more than one occasion, with the most recent report coming from ESPN's Adam Schefter this morning. Morris interviewed for the team's head coach opening, too, and the Jaguars have always been high on using the Falcons as a model of sorts. As a result, it is likely the Jaguars are extremely high on Morris as a coach internally. Morris got some attention in 2020 as he helped turn the Falcons from one of the NFL's worst teams into a somewhat respectable club by going 4-7 in his tenure as interim head coach.
With the top prerequisite for Meyer's defensive coordinator opening seemingly being a solid level of NFL experience, Morris would certainly fit the bill. He has spent 18 years as an NFL coach, serving as a defensive coordinator, head coach, and defensive backs coach. Considering the amount of respect Morris has always gained from his players, this hire would likely go over well with the Jaguars' locker room. Morris' defenses have had mixed results with him at the helm, however, with his only season leading a unit that was top-10 in scoring defense coming in 2010.
Another name that has been tied to Jacksonville's defensive coordinator role is Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said on Saturday was a "top target" for Meyer's defensive coordinator. This one is a bit interesting since Cullen has no defensive coordinator experience at the NFL level, but it appears the Jaguars at least have some interest.
While Cullen doesn't check the "experienced coordinator" box, he is one of the league's best defensive line coaches. He has been with Baltimore since 2016 and has personally developed some terrific defensive linemen, the biggest reason why the Ravens had one of the league's best rush defenses in 2020. He has also had a stop with the Jaguars before, serving as their defensive line coach from 2010-2012.
The younger brother of former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, John Pagano is a respected coach with a good amount of defensive coordinator experience. He considers Wade Phillips as one of his biggest influences, so he would likely bring a creative and attack defensive scheme that the Jaguars' support base has been wanting for, well, years. With the new ideas on defense would come some questions about his ability to lead a young unit, however.
Pagano spent five seasons as the Chargers' defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 and performed the same role for the Raiders for parts of the 2017 season, but his defenses never finished higher than No. 20 in defensive DVOA and were frequently in the bottom-third of the NFL in points allowed. He has been an outside linebackers coach with the Texans and Broncos for the last three seasons, though, so if the Jaguars bring in Anthony Weaver in any capacity, he will have that connection.
Nobody on Twitter wants to get back on an NFL sideline quite like Wade Phillips. The 73-year-old defensive coordinator and former head coach has made it clear on social media that he wants to get back into coaching and essentially leave the retirement that became imposed on him when the Rams didn't extend his contract following the 2019 season. Phillips spent last year out of football, so while his age is certainly a factor, there is a good chance he could come into a new role refreshed and with new ideas.
Phillips, whose decades of experience are unquestionable, has shown he can lead elite units in the last few years. He led the Broncos to one of the best defensive years in recent memory in 2015 and then helped them shut down MVP Cam Newton on their way to a Super Bowl victory that year. In 2018, his defense gave the Rams a fighting chance against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl for four quarters. Add in the fact that his multiple and attacking 3-4 defense would be just what Jacksonville's roster needs, and he makes a lot of sense.
If Meyer is looking for experience to add to his staff, then Lovie Smith would be an obvious selection. Smith has overseen elite defenses during his time in the NFL, particularly with the Chicago Bears during his tenure as head coach from 2004-2012. It ranked 13th overall in his first season leading their defense and then allowed the fewest points in the league in 2005. What he did in terms of scheming, game planning, and player development clearly worked.
Smith then led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two years after taking some time off following his time with the Bears, and he spent three years as a defensive coordinator with the Rams from 2001-2003. Smith knows what success looks like on the NFL level and has turned around defenses in the past, so his shortcomings as head coach with Tampa Bay and with Illinois don't factor in much when talking about him as a defensive coordinator.