Urban Meyer is back, and the NFL has itself a new villain

John Romano | There’s no denying Meyer is one of the finest coaches of his generation, but he also rubs people the wrong way. Get ready for fun times in Jacksonville.
Urban Meyer will bring an impressive trophy collection with him to Jacksonville. He'll also bring a bit of baggage he's collected over the years.
Urban Meyer will bring an impressive trophy collection with him to Jacksonville. He'll also bring a bit of baggage he's collected over the years. [ JAE C. HONG | AP ]
Published Jan. 15, 2021

The Tuesday night bingo game will have to get along without Urban Meyer. So will the bridge club, the shuffleboard league and all of those SilverSneakers walkers at the mall.

As it turns out, retirement didn’t take hold for Meyer. Again.

Eleven years after retiring at the University of Florida the first time (“I believe it is in my best interest to step aside and focus on my health and my family”), 10 years after retiring at Florida the second time (“You’re going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won”), and two years after retiring at Ohio State (“I believe I will not coach again”), he is back.

The Jaguars have hired Meyer to undo more than a decade of mostly forgettable, and occasionally awful, football in Jacksonville. AARP is expected to denounce the decision at an early-bird news conference this afternoon.

I kid, of course. The truth is this is a marvelous move. For Meyer, for Jacksonville, for football fans.

Meyer, 56, brings instant credibility and a touch of villainy with him to Jacksonville. Other than Nick Saban or Bill Belichick, there may not be another coach in the country who can match Meyer’s record of cheer and loathing.

Related: Urban Meyer to Jaguars: How have college coaches done in NFL?

For all his success on the sideline — he has won three national titles and that doesn’t even include a 12-0 season at Utah — Meyer has been equally successful at rubbing people the wrong way. Maybe that’s because he has a TV evangelist quality about him, a mix of arrogance and false piety.

Other than his first resignation at Florida (which lasted one day and followed a short hospital stay) his other departures seemed more calculated than sincere. UF’s program was about to drive off a cliff when he retired in 2010, and his final season at Ohio State was marred by his suspension for inappropriately handling domestic violence allegations against one of his assistant coaches.

Along the way, there were whispers that he ran his programs with a ruthless zeal that was at odds with the family-first image of his early coaching days.

None of which means the Jaguars were wrong for hiring him. For a franchise that seemed to have one eye on the AFC South standings and the other on a Stadiums for Rent brochure, this may be the one move that saves football in Jacksonville. The Jags have the No. 1 pick in the draft and a ton of available space under the salary cap, and only need someone to give them purpose and direction.

Meyer is the perfect guy.

Forget the horror stories of college coaches turning into duds in the NFL. This move has nothing to do with Bobby Petrino or Greg Schiano or Lane Kiffin. Those guys were not in Meyer’s class as college coaches.

The truth is, more than one out of every four Super Bowls since 1980 has been won by a coach who had recently come out of the college game. Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Coughlin, Barry Switzer, Dick Vermeil, Pete Carroll? Yeah, all of them were once college head coaches. And that doesn’t include John McKay, Don Coryell, John Robinson and Dennis Green.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee Meyer will be a success. His former boss, Lou Holtz, once quit before finishing a single season as the head coach of the New York Jets, explaining, “God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach pro football.”

One of Meyer’s greatest strengths as a college coach was his ability to recruit, and that obviously will not translate to the NFL. But Meyer was also fanatical about outworking opponents and was an excellent motivator. He studied the spread offense as a young coach, then learned to adapt it depending on his various quarterbacks and teams.

So will Meyer win in Jacksonville? In the short term, I think he will.

He’ll create excitement and get everyone moving in unison. I would be stunned if the Jaguars aren’t in the playoffs in 2022 and they may even rebound from 1-15 to a winning record in 2021.

But will Meyer win a Super Bowl in Jacksonville? I doubt it.

He doesn’t handle losing well, and the NFL is a league of parity. He also is going to learn that pro players won’t respond well to the my-way-or-the-highway method of college coaching.

To be honest, I think there’s only one certainty when it comes to Urban Meyer:

One day, he will retire.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.