"If you’re asking me if I’m going to enjoy losing, I think we all know the answer to that.”
Losing is foreign to new Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer. It needles at him, causes him to lose sleep, and the pressures of avoiding it have placed such a pall over his life that it has exasperated health issues to the point of having to twice retire from coaching.
But now he’s back in coaching and furthermore in the NFL for the first time.
As such, the question naturally arises, can his health take losing in the NFL?
The National Football League is a different animal than college football. In some aspects, that’s a good thing. There is no recruiting—something that takes up more of a coach's time than the actual coaching—and (in theory) less drama as a product of dealing with professionals versus 18-21-year-olds. There are no parents and classes and in general much more maturity.
Still, there’s that pesky little issue of losing. Something for which Meyer has had to mentally prepare himself.
“You’re in a league that is designed to be .500,” Meyer acknowledged on Friday, while meeting with local media for the first time as the Jags coach.
“You’re talking about Coach Belichick, one of my great persons and a person I’ve always admired. He’s the best of all time. You’re talking about a 60-something percent winning percentage. You’re talking about this league is built to be .500.”
The Jaguars lost 15 in a row to end the 2020 season and since 2008, have finished with one winning season and two at .500 or above. So finishing .500 would be a massive improvement for the Jaguars.
But that’s a huge jump from a league (college football) where losing eight games or finishing .500 two years in a row will get coaches fired. For that matter, losing one or two games in college can derail an entire season. While Meyer knows consciously that’s not the case in the NFL, how will he react after that first close loss? Or after two losses in a row?
The Washington Football Team, one of the 14 teams in this year’s playoffs, had a five game losing streak at one point this season. Can Meyer take a skid such as that?
Meyer's first scare came the night the Florida Gators lost the 2009 SEC Championship game to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Severe chest pains sent him to the emergency room and he was eventually diagnosed with esophageal spasms.
He took a leave of absence to recover and returned to the Gators team for the spring practice in 2010. At the end of that 2010 season, however, Meyer announced an official resignation that would take effect following the Gators' bowl game.
After taking less than a year off—during which he joined the ESPN College Gameday staff—Meyer became the head coach at Ohio State. In 2018, Meyer dropped to his knees during a game against Indiana. He later revealed that severe headaches had been an ongoing issue for a couple of years.
Meyer said he was diagnosed with a congenital arachnoid cyst in the brain. He retired at the end of the season. John Hopkins describes the issue: “Arachnoid cysts are the most common type of brain cyst. They are often congenital, or present at birth (primary arachnoid cysts). Head injury or trauma can also result in a secondary arachnoid cyst. The cysts are fluid-filled sacs, not tumors.”
While often benign, the John Hopkins site goes on to explain if they began to cause pain and issues then they must be treated, which can be done to return the patient to normal life.
Still, the scars stay, whether literally or figuratively.
“I’m very curious about the preventative and that’s what I’ve looked into in great detail. I’m talking about the headache issues that I’ve dealt with. That’s something that I’m going to watch closely. I’ve had long, detailed conversations with people that have helped me through that: physicians that are very close to me,” explained Meyer.
The health concerns alosing when talked about in reference to Meyer are always discussed hand-in-hand. Not necessarily because one is a result of the other but because the two are still inexplicably tied in that one can incense the other. While losing is never acceptable, if it’s still a part of being an NFL coach then learning to manage it is vital to Meyer’s health.
“It’s something I’m going to be very conscientious of, it’s something I’m going to watch very closely,” admitted Meyer. He’ll be careful by surrounding himself with a staff that can essentially do the heavy lifting.
“I will be the head coach, but I’m going to hire great coaches that are going to be expected to do their job. I’m not going to be running around like a nut on the practice field. Those days are gone. I know what it’s supposed to look like and I want to be very demanding of everyone. It’s something I’m going to watch very closely, but it’s something that, you know, I had that surgery in 2014 that really helped things. But it’s just something that I watch very closely.”
The health issues and worries kept Meyer out of coaching for the past two years—an entirety for a competitor—and taking the risk was going to require a “perfect” situation. He believes he’s found that, and ideally some peace along with it, with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Some college opportunities showed up and made you start thinking. There’s not a day I’m sure that every person, [former college coach] Bob Stoops is my dear friend, there’s not a day that goes by that you just [don’t think about it.] You see that grass, you see the team, you see a locker room and you think, then you start thinking about your quality of life, etc. The comment I made, [I said] it’d have to be perfect," Meyer said.
"College, I just don’t plan on doing it. I don’t see that happening. NFL has always been an intrigue. I had some opportunities in the past, but just wasn’t the right time and wasn’t the right situation. Bill, you know me as well as anybody. We have to be in position to go win a game and I believe this is the place.”