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Ben Volin | Sunday football notes

Urban Meyer’s Jaguars tenure was a debacle from day one

Urban Meyer’s 2-11 record, and lack of a coherent plan to develop franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence, were only the starting point for his downfall.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Urban Meyer won two national championships at the University of Florida more than a decade ago, but one hallmark of his time there is the number of players who had disappointing pro careers.

Meyer’s teams were loaded with NFL talent, but a surprising number of players flamed out or never reached their potential. Once outside of Meyer’s protective bubble, they were too immature, or simply too ill-prepared, to handle the discipline required for pro ball.

The same can now be said of Meyer, who was fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday. His leap to the NFL was a disaster from start to finish, lasting just 13 games and resulting in far more embarrassing episodes than victories (just two).


Meyer’s brief tenure in the NFL exposed him. He’s not the strong leader and championship-caliber program builder he made himself out to be. He’s actually a walking disaster, leaving a wake of controversy, shame, and self-inflicted wounds at every turn. The only question now is whether Jaguars owner Shad Khan has found legal cause to fire Meyer without having to pay him the final four years of his contract. A battle may be brewing.

Shad Khan (right) made a serious misstep when he tapped Urban Meyer as head coach.AGNES LOPEZ/NYT

Meyer’s 2-11 record and lack of a coherent plan to develop franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence were only the starting point for his downfall. The tipping point came Wednesday when former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo told the Tampa Bay Times that Meyer had kicked him in the leg during warm-ups in an August practice. Lambo said Meyer told him, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the [expletive] I want,” and Lambo filed a report with human resources.

But Meyer’s 11-month tenure was a fiasco from the moment he was hired. Meyer made a number of gaffes that make you slap your forehead and wonder what he could have been thinking.


His first misfire was hiring Chris Doyle as his strength coach in February. Doyle had recently been terminated by the University of Iowa over allegations of racial insensitivity, and the backlash against his hiring was swift. Meyer apologized and parted ways with Doyle the next day.

Meyer’s most consequential mistake came in October when he stayed in Cincinnati after a game and didn’t fly back to Florida with his team. That was unprecedented for an NFL head coach, which cost him any respect he had from his coaches and players. Meyer then compounded his problems by going out to his own restaurant in Ohio and dancing provocatively with a woman who wasn’t his wife, which, of course, was all caught on tape and plastered across social media.

For a 57-year-old coach who won three national championships in college, Meyer acted shockingly amateurish in the NFL. In March, he complained that free agency was a lot harder than college recruiting (yeah, no kidding). In May, he signed Tim Tebow to play tight end, a sideshow if ever there were one. In July, the Jaguars were fined $200,000, and Meyer fined $100,000, for not being able to follow the non-contact rules during offseason practices.

Meyer also got himself in trouble with his mouth. After the first round of April’s draft, he acknowledged he actually wanted Kadarius Toney, not Travis Etienne. In August, he drew the ire of the NFL and NFL Players Association by stating out loud that the Jaguars would take vaccination status into account during roster cuts. In October, he threw Lawrence under the bus by saying the rookie was “not quite comfortable” running a QB sneak, which the quarterback then rebutted. Last week, Meyer looked clueless when he said safety Andre Cisco, who didn’t play a defensive snap last week, “is playing a little bit more.”


Most disturbing are the reports that have emerged about Meyer’s style behind the scenes. According to NFL Media, Meyer has constantly belittled and blamed his players and coaches. After two losses to start the season, Meyer started threatening his coaches that they would be fired. At a recent staff meeting, Meyer told his coaches that they were all losers and challenged them to defend their résumés. Last week, receiver Marvin Jones left the team facility after seeing Meyer publicly criticize the team’s receivers, and had to be persuaded to return. And the Jaguars’ players complained to Rams players during their recent game that Meyer doesn’t treat them like adults.

Urban Meyer's short tenure in Jacksonville likely slowed down Trevor Lawrence's development.Harry How/Getty

When I interviewed Meyer at training camp in August, he said a visit with the Patriots taught him important lessons in leadership and culture.

“That really impacted me,” Meyer said. “That’s when I really experienced the culture of a locker room. I spent time with [Mike] Vrabel and Tom Brady and [Tedy] Bruschi. And just the way they managed the locker room, the way they policed the team, their effort on the practice field, it was really incredible. I went to probably 20 NFL training camps, and I never saw anything like that.”


Now we see that it’s all nonsense.

Meyer isn’t a leader. He’s a bully and a con man.

He could get away with it in college when he was coaching 20-year-olds who needed him to make it to the NFL. When recruiting the best players was more important than X’s and O’s and tactics. When he had total control over the university, the town, the boosters, and the media to control his image and narratives.

But leaving the college bubble for the NFL revealed Meyer’s true character. And, as the Jaguars quickly learned, Meyer was too immature, too undisciplined, and too insincere to succeed on his own merits.


Jaguars were never a good fit

A few more notes on Urban Meyer and the Jaguars:

Shad Khan, whose .261 win percentage since becoming owner in 2012 is the worst in the NFL, doesn’t look too great in all of this, either. Khan went big and gave Meyer a five-year deal reportedly worth up to $60 million, yet there were plenty of warning signs that Meyer would be a terrible fit in the NFL. It’s not like other NFL teams were banging down Meyer’s door, either.

The timing of the firing also is curious. Late on a Wednesday night on a game week? Perhaps Khan was looking for cause to fire Meyer, and Josh Lambo going public with his incident was the catalyst Khan needed. But the Jaguars also have known about this incident since August. The whole thing is strange, and this Jaguars coaching vacancy comes with a “buyer beware” warning.


▪ The Jaguars can start lining up candidates now, and a new NFL rule allows them to start interviews as soon as Week 17, as long as the coaches get permission from their current team. It seems obvious that the Jaguars would want a quarterback-centric coach who can groom Trevor Lawrence, and Lawrence’s presence does make the job attractive. Candidates that make sense include Byron Leftwich, Jim Caldwell, Josh McDaniels, Brian Daboll, Kellen Moore, and perhaps interim coach Darrell Bevell. My choice to clean up Hurricane Meyer would probably be Caldwell, a veteran coach with a solid résumé and an easygoing demeanor.

▪ Meyer flamed out so quickly that he didn’t even make it to the Week 17 matchup against his old buddy, Bill Belichick. But Meyer did do the Patriots a favor in defeating the Bills, 9-6, in Week 9, to give the Patriots an extra game of breathing room in the AFC East. Meyer also defeated the Dolphins in Week 6 in London. He can always say he’s undefeated on European soil.

▪ This marks the second straight year that Bevell has the title of interim head coach. Last year he went 1-4 with the Lions after Matt Patricia got fired.


COVID-19 again a big problem

Baker Mayfield called out the NFL on Twitter this week over the league's handling of a Browns outbreak.David Richard/Associated Press

COVID-19 hasn’t been much of a problem this NFL season, but it came roaring back this past week. Between Monday and Friday, 154 players across the league went on the COVID reserve list, with 151 positive tests and only three unvaccinated close contacts. That doesn’t include coaches and staffers, whose illnesses don’t get announced publicly.

The wave hit hard enough that the NFL delayed three games. The Browns-Raiders game was moved from Saturday to Monday, and Washington-Eagles and Rams-Seahawks were moved from Sunday to Tuesday.

Here is the latest on the NFL’s battle against the pandemic:

▪ The NFL has been adamant all year that it wouldn’t postpone games because of player availability, and that it’s incumbent on the teams to have enough depth at each position. But the NFL on Friday labeled it a “medical decision” to push the three games back, with multiple teams dealing with 20-plus COVID absences.

There was no good answer for the NFL. The Browns were upset that they had to play shorthanded on a Saturday, but now the Raiders are upset that they have to wait until Monday, and will have a short week the following week. The four teams playing on Tuesday will have to play again Sunday, and that doesn’t seem fair to the Eagles and Seahawks, who aren’t having COVID issues.

So, how did this decision get made? Per reports, the NFL Players Association was adamant about pushing the games back, and in return agreed to be more cooperative with the NFL in determining the COVID protocols for the rest of the season. The union also agreed to get the games in this weekend, since it’s a better option than a forfeit, in which no players on either team get paid.

Just don’t expect other games to be pushed back this year, as this is probably a one-time decision. Last season proved that the best way to get through a season in the pandemic is to just push forward.

▪ Only a handful of teams were hit hard, but they got decimated. The Browns put 22 players on the COVID list this past week, and could potentially play Monday without either of their top two quarterbacks or coach Kevin Stefanski.

The Rams have 26 players — including star corner Jalen Ramsey — on the COVID list.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Washington had 21 players on the COVID list as of Friday, including almost its entire defensive line. The Bears placed 12 players on the COVID list this past week, plus all three of their coordinators.

The Saints may have to play Sunday without coach Sean Payton or either of their starting offensive tackles. And the Rams, who called up six players from the practice squad to beat the Cardinals on Monday night, had 26 players on the COVID list as of Friday, including Jalen Ramsey, Odell Beckham Jr., and Von Miller.

▪ Thursday night, the NFL informed teams they will be required to institute many of the same COVID rules from last year — masks for everyone, no visitors on the road, no leaving the team hotel on the road, no eating together in the cafeteria, no in-person meetings, and no clubs, bars or concerts with more than 10 people inside.

▪ The NFL is also tweaking its protocols to allow vaccinated, asymptomatic players to return to the team sooner. This could help alleviate some of the roster crunches.

▪ The NFL is requiring all coaches and staff to get boosters by Dec. 27. Players are not required to get boosters, but the NFL and NFLPA are negotiating, and in due time, anyone who wants to be considered “vaccinated” by the NFL will have to get a booster shot.

Forced to work overtime

Tom Brady has started in 357 NFL games (including playoffs), yet last week’s 33-27 win over the Bills marked just the second time that he threw a winning touchdown pass in overtime. This one was a 58-yarder to Breshad Perriman, and the first came in 2003 on an 82-yard bomb to Troy Brown in a 19-13 win over the Dolphins.

Brady has gone to OT just 17 times in those 357 games. He has a 13-4 record, including 3-0 in the playoffs — the Tuck Rule win over the Raiders in 2002, the Super Bowl win over the Falcons in 2017, and the AFC Championship game win over the Chiefs in 2019.

Brady’s numbers in OT: 55 of 81 (67.9 percent) for 642 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 99.9 passer rating.

Brady’s four OT losses have a distinct pattern: 2009 at Broncos, 2013 at Jets, 2015 at Broncos, 2015 at Jets.

Extra points

Brandon Staley was aggressive on fourth down against the Chiefs, and that's a good thing — even if it didn't pay off.Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

Chargers coach Brandon Staley took a lot of heat Friday for his fourth-down decisions in Thursday’s 34-28 loss to the Chiefs, but I like his approach. Yes, the Chargers passed up three makeable field goals and fell short on fourth down each time. But you have to analyze the decision, not the result. The Chargers entered the game converting 62 percent of fourth downs this year. The odds of missing all three were low, and hitting just one touchdown would have made it worth it. Plus, it’s not just Staley playing the numbers — he’s showing faith in his players and establishing an aggressive, win-now mind-set with a young team. “That’s a statement of trusting everyone on the field and off the field,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “We love to be put in those situations.” Of course, the Chargers have to do a better job of picking plays and executing them, because going 0 for 3 is inexcusable and they cost themselves an important win . . . Las Vegas is quickly becoming the new epicenter of the NFL. The city will host the Pro Bowl in February, the NFL Draft in April, and the Super Bowl in 2024 . . . Should the Cardinals defeat the Lions by double digits Sunday, they would join the 1941-42 Bears as the only teams in NFL history to win eight straight road games by 10 or more points . . . The NFL had four onside kicks recovered last weekend, matching the total of the first 13 weeks of the season, and one more than in all of 2020 (three). Credit a new rule this year that allows the receiving team to put only nine guys in the setup zone, instead of 10 or 11 . . . The Nickelodeon Slimecast is back this year, for the 4:30 p.m. Sunday game on Wild Card Weekend . . . This past week I caught up with Rick Venturi, who was an NFL defensive coach from 1982-2008 and now is part of the Colts’ radio team. Venturi was the Browns’ defensive backs coach in 1994 and defensive coordinator in 1995 under head coach Bill Belichick, and said the ‘94 season, when the Browns went 11-5, was one of his most memorable. “I never felt like we would lose a game,” he said. “We were so well prepared, and so well disciplined. We might get beaten by somebody that was better. But I just went into games feeling like our preparation, led by Bill, was so good that we were never going to lose the game. And that’s probably the only year in my whole career that I ever felt totally that way.”

Ben Volin can be reached at