Commentary: We should have seen the Urban Meyer train wreck coming

Head coach Urban Meyer of the Jacksonville Jaguars on the field during warm-ups before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at TIAA Bank Field on November 21, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) (JULIO AGUILAR, 2021 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The worst NFL coaching hire ever.

Urban Meyer is in that conversation now. You saw the potential for disaster coming when it was announced last January to great fanfare and increased season ticket sales. Red flags were there, but no one could have forecast a train wreck like this.

Never, ever a disaster like this.

To force the most reasonable, even-tempered and patient owner of our lifetime into kicking his handpicked coach to the curb after just 11 months and 13 games tells you all that you need to know about Meyer’s time in Jacksonville and fit in the NFL in general.

Shad Khan boldly proclaimed after the NFL draft that “this time I got it right,” by hiring the correct coach for the job. Meyer was tasked with overseeing the draft and development of the best quarterback prospect in the last two decades. He was tasked with infusing the city with hope and making Jacksonville a destination.

Meyer talked a good game.

All in.

Own it.

He was who we thought he was all along.

An imposter. A charmer. A fraud.

His reputation is toast now, but it won’t be forever. Some desperate college will come along and coax Meyer into taking another job. He’ll say the right things, just like he did here. But Meyer has revealed his true colors time and again.

This is just who he is.

No one can dispute Meyer’s college credentials. They’re impeccable. But beyond the wins and losses at that level, Meyer is a disgrace. Ex-kicker Josh Lambo said in a telling interview with First Coast News on Wednesday that Meyer was not who he appeared to be.

Khan could not have gotten it more wrong than he did with Meyer.

He rectified that poor decision early Thursday morning when he fired Meyer, putting a bow on perhaps the worst hiring in NFL history.

And that’s how you know it was bad.

If Khan fires a coach less than a year into his contract, there’s no way Meyer could work as an NFL head coach ever again. Khan had shown the patience of a Zen master in hanging on to Dave Caldwell and coaches Gus Bradley and Doug Marrone. He gave them too much time, and, in Caldwell’s case, far too many valuable draft picks to squander.

Khan couldn’t afford to wait any longer. Meyer was killing the franchise from the inside out, turning the workplace into a toxic mess that he has only himself to blame for.

The NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero yanked the curtains back last weekend with a damning story about Meyer belittling his assistant coaches and angering receiver Marvin Jones Jr. so much that he had to be coaxed into returning back to the team facility.

And Jones came to Jacksonville from a Lions franchise that has had the market cornered on terrible seasons. The Lions — the Lions! — are a more functional and well-run team than the Urban Meyer Jaguars. That’s how bad it had gotten in Jacksonville.

Meyer, of course, denied that report that he called colleagues losers and downplayed the severity of his argument with Jones. But the damage was done. You could argue there was enough damage to Meyer’s reputation after his decision to remain in Ohio after a Week 4 loss to the Bengals, a time where he was videoed in his bar/restaurant with his hands on a young female who was not his wife, Shelley.

But Khan stuck with Meyer, and for good reason.

Meyer was Khan’s No. 1 choice to guide the franchise back to respectability. Khan was ecstatic when he met with the media following his hiring, as visibly happy as he’s ever been.

Meyer repaid Khan’s faith by giving the Jaguars one black eye after another. He couldn’t even last the season under the most forgiving owner in the league. That’s how bad Urban Meyer was.

If only we’d have seen the warning signs, except that everyone who has followed Meyer did see those warning signs.

Meyer’s stops at Florida and Ohio State both included questionable issues. He was deceptive in answers to the media. Urban Liar, remember?

And maybe Meyer could be given small bits of grace from his time in Gainesville. He was a younger coach with a maniacal personality trying to live up to exorbitant expectations. He took winning so seriously it affected his health. But in order to win in the cutthroat world of college football, Meyer clearly overlooked or swept under the rug completely player issues.

His Florida teams had 31 arrests during his time there. At Ohio State, Meyer was suspended three games for his handling of assistant Zach Smith’s domestic issues and not being truthful and forthcoming about what he knew.

College coaches have largely been disappointments in the transition to the NFL. For every Jimmy Johnson there are five guys who didn’t pan out. Steve Spurrier. Greg Schiano. Bobby Petrino. Butch Davis.

And now, Meyer.

His 2-11 record and .154 winning percentage are truly awful.

Only three coaches who have coached 13 games or more in one season during the modern era (the 1970 AFL-NFL merger) have had the same winning percentage or worse than Meyer.

Cam Cameron (1-15 in 2007) and Rod Rust (1-15 in 1990) both had .063 winning percentages in those seasons. Current Texans coach David Culley is 2-11 this year, but one of those victories came against Meyer.

Going back to that statement by Khan last April, I’d like to amend it. Back then, Khan said the now-infamous line: “This time I got it right.”

You did get it right, Shad.

It just wasn’t in April. It was early Thursday morning.


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.