JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Urban Meyer interviews candidates for key positions on his staff, a more daunting task awaits him. Winning over the players.
Meyer’s track record of success in the college ranks will give him a leg up on convincing the players to follow him, but unlike in his stops at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, the players he will be coaching in Jacksonville aren’t on scholarship. Although the Jaguars are a young team, many of them will be playing for contracts worth millions of dollars and as someone once said, an NFL locker room is a collection of 53 different businesses. Each player’s first priority is his own livelihood.
News4Jax sports analyst Mark Brunell said Meyer has to establish a culture that young players will buy into and that can last for more than just a season or two.
“That one missing piece is the culture, the environment, the chemistry, whatever words you want to use, and I think culture is the best,” Brunell said. “Urban Meyer has to step in there. And his players are going to have to know right away, that Urban Meyer is committed to winning a Super Bowl. And that Urban Meyer realizes that he’s can’t do it by himself, as great as he is. It’s really about the partnership between the coach and the players. “
Meyer’s track record will give him some credibility with the players right away, but one of the dangers in hiring a head coach with no previous NFL experience is how he handles the players, especially the veterans.
“He’s gonna get the respect because he’s Urban Meyer,” Brunell said. “What he has to convince them of is that they’re in it together. And that it’s not about Urban Meyer, it’s not about him. It’s about the team as a whole. NFL players can see right through stuff real quick. And if you’re not authentic, if you’re not genuine, a player is going to figure out. They’re either going to believe in this guy and go to battle for him, or they’re going to know that he’s a fraud and they’re not going to want to have anything to do with him. It sounds crazy. But I think winning over the players is absolutely critical for Urban Meyer.”
As for the coaching staff, the names being rumored to be on Meyer’s list of candidates fall into one of two categories. Either longtime NFL coaches, many with head coaching experience (rumored offensive coordinator candidate Scott Linehan, defensive coordinator candidate Raheem Morris) or college coaches with whom Meyer has coached (Charlie Strong, Ryan Stamper).
“You want to surround yourself with the right people, but I think It’s brilliant by Urban Meyer,” Brunell said. “(It’s important to) mak(e) sure and recognizing at least that, ‘Listen, I’ve never been in the pros. So if that’s the case, maybe I should have some guys in key positions that have been in the pros, specifically the coordinator spot.’”
Meyer has also talked about his fondness for the Seattle style of defense. That is the same defensive philosophy favored by Gus Bradley and by Todd Wash. At its best, during the 2017 season, the Jaguars were a dominant defense because of their personnel. Meyer and his defensive coordinator will have a defense led by linebacker Myles Jack and Joe Schobert, defensive end Josh Allen and some other new faces the Jaguars will add in free agency and the draft.
There is a long way to go and it begins with building the coaching staff, then identifying the talent on the roster, the needs that exist, and then getting to work on free agency and the draft. With 11 picks and the most salary cap space in the NFL, Meyer’s roster is going to look much different when training camp opens.
“I’m kind of more excited about who we can get on the team,” Brunell said. “I’m excited about that more than I’m excited about who’s coaching those guys. I’m more excited about that than being concerned about Urban Meyer not having pro experience. I think I think this thing can work. But for me, it’s really about the players.”