Urban Hire: Meyer returns to sidelines with NFL’s Jaguars

FILE – Ohio State NCAA college football head coach Urban Meyer answers questions during a news conference announcing his retirement in Columbus, Ohio, in this Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, file photo. A person familiar with the search says Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars are working toward finalizing a deal to make him the team’s next head coach. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, because a formal agreement was not yet in place. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Urban Meyer has won everywhere he’s coached. Small colleges. Big-time programs. He’s been a difference maker at each stop during his storied career.

He’s ready to try something new: the NFL.

Meyer agreed to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, leaving the broadcast booth and returning to the sidelines after a two-year absence that followed another health scare.

The 56-year-old Meyer was team owner Shad Khan’s top target for weeks, maybe even months, and the deal was signed shortly after their third and final meeting in seven days. They met last Friday on Khan’s yacht in Miami, again Wednesday and once more at the facility Thursday.

Hiring the longtime college coach with three national championships signifies a new direction for a franchise that has lost 105 of 144 games since Khan took over in 2012.

“This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere,” Khan said in a statement. “Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results.

“While Urban already enjoys a legacy in the game of football that few will ever match, his passion for the opportunity in front of him here in Jacksonville is powerful and unmistakable.”

Meyer went 187-32 — a staggering winning percentage of 85.3 — in stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and Ohio State (2012-18). He ranks seventh all time in collegiate winning percentage, trailing only Notre Dame legends Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy among coaches at major programs.

But some doubts remain about Meyer’s ability to make a smooth transition to the NFL, where motivational tactics tend to be moot and losing multiple games every year is a given. Meyer never lost more than five times in any season as a college head coach; he went 83-9 at Ohio State.

Still, Meyer has been eyeing an NFL move for months. He researched the league with help from former players and friends, started assembling a potential staff and learned how the front office works. Meyer and Khan have been friends for years, building a relationship while both were living in Big Ten country.

“I’ve analyzed this decision from every angle — the time is right in Jacksonville,” Meyer said in a statement. “And the time is right for me to return to coaching. I’m excited about the future of this organization and our long-term prospect for success.”

Jacksonville was the most attractive opening. The Jaguars have 11 picks in the 2021 draft, including five in the top 65, and are nearly $100 million under the projected salary cap. Adding to the appeal: Khan, a billionaire businessman, has shown a penchant for patience and a willingness to spend big.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a lock to land in Jacksonville with the top pick and will be the centerpiece of the team’s latest rebuild.

Meyer replaces Doug Marrone, who was fired after losing the final 15 games in 2020. Marrone went 25-44 in four-plus seasons with the Jaguars, including 2-1 in the 2017 postseason. Marrone failed repeatedly to fill the team’s long-standing hole at quarterback, and Khan kept him and general manager Dave Caldwell around a year longer than many expected to make them clean up a fractured locker room and a stressed salary cap.

Khan also interviewed Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Atlanta defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

The general belief was the job was Meyer’s if he wanted it. He clearly did, with some stipulations.

He will have the leeway to put his touch on every aspect of the organization, the kind of overhaul Jacksonville hasn’t seen in nearly three decades of existence. Khan is switching to a coach-centric model that could give Meyer final say in personnel. Meyer and the next general manager will report to Khan, who wants to be more involved in the most significant roster decisions.

There’s little doubt, though, that Meyer will be calling the shots.

Meyer’s health remains a concern, though. He stepped down at Ohio State in 2018 mostly because of a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain, which required surgery in 2014 and bothered him throughout his final season with the Buckeyes. He also resigned at Florida for health reasons in December 2009 only to change his mind the following day and instead take a leave of absence.

He returned to coach in 2010 and then walked away again at the end of the season, a move that eventually angered many Florida faithful because he took the job at Ohio State less than a year later.

Meyer spent the last two years in an analyst role for Fox Sports, appearing weekly on the network’s college football pregame show.

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