Urban Meyer still learning as first NFL regular season game nears

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, center, works with players before the start of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) (Stephen B. Morton, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just over 48 hours before the kickoff of his first regular season game as an NFL head coach, Urban Meyer was still learning about the differences between the college game and the pros.

Meyer has a well-deserved reputation as a high-volume worker. In college at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, he was meticulous in preparation. He has admitted that his attention to detail often drives assistant coaches crazy. But that approach — born of extra time spent working on the details — helped Meyer win three national championships.

Winning solves everything.

So, what if the Jaguars don’t win Sunday in Houston? The team is favored by the oddsmakers and the Texans are expected to be among the worst teams in the NFL. Moreover, what if the Jaguars stumble out of the gates? How will the staff and the team react?

It’s a question that Meyer has considered.

“For years and years, I was always concerned that because we do we have a reputation of working really hard — treating players, right — but working hard,” Meyer said. “And if you fail, you know, that’s when you start (saying), ‘Why are we working so hard?’ I’m always worried about that, and we’ve never experienced it. Our locker room is really strong right now. We’re gonna see what the results are Sunday night, but I don’t I don’t have that feeling. I have a feeling our players want to win. Our players have worked very hard. And they’ve been treated right. So I like where we’re at.”

You don’t have to go back very far in Jaguars’ history to find a similar situation. In 2017, when Tom Coughlin was brought in as the executive vice president of football operations, he brought with him his regimented approach. It was different than the approach Doug Marrone would typically take. In the short term, it worked. The Jaguars went to the playoffs for the first time in a decade and came up just short of the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Then, things turned sour.

Meyer has never been here.

There have been plenty of learning opportunities for Meyer. He has been very forthcoming about the differences he has experienced in the NFL.

The free agency process (it’s not like recruiting) to the draft process (you can’t have them all), to a mistake in hiring Chris Doyle as the sports performance coach (deep-dive research on a coach has to consider how the players will react).

Meyer said earlier in the preseason that he had to condition his mind to analyze preseason losses differently than he did as a college coach.

Now the regular season is here and Meyer still has plenty of NFL moments that he hasn’t experienced. Forget the intensity of a regular season game. The Jaguars didn’t challenge a single play in the preseason. How will Meyer and his staff handle that? Meyer says they have drilled on it, but there is no better time to drill on a replay challenge than in a game. In three preseason games, the Jaguars never threw the challenge flag.

Meyer also has to decide which players will be the gameday inactive. That’s not a thing in college.

“We have a pretty good idea,” Meyer said. “But after today, we’re gonna make some hard decisions and you go from 53 to 48. And it impacts (special teams coaches) Nick Sorenson and Carlos Polk.”

The Jaguars were handed a near-perfect scenario for the opener. Facing the Texans, an organization with their star quarterback all-but exiled from the field amid legal issues and a roster sparse in veteran talent. There are no “un-losable” games in the NFL, especially not with a team that won one game last season. But Sunday’s matchup in Houston should offer the best training-wheels experience for the regular season opener Meyer could hope for.

So how will his rookie quarterback perform? That’s one of the biggest questions.

“It’s all about preparation,” Meyer said. “He is getting ready to play. He’s very well aware of what this means.”

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Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.