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‘The time is right’: Why former Utah Utes coach Urban Meyer is getting back into coaching with Jacksonville Jaguars

In this Dec. 4, 2018 file photo, Ohio State NCAA college football head coach Urban Meyer answers questions during a news conference announcing his retirement in Columbus, Ohio. Meyer was named the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.
Associated Press

Urban Meyer’s track record as a college football head coach speaks for itself: he won three national championships and sported an 85.3% winning percentage over an 18-year span while leading four college programs.

The next challenge in Meyer’s career? NFL head coach.

Meyer, the University of Utah’s head coach from 2003-04, was named the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday after several days of news chatter about the possibility.

The 56-year-old Meyer takes a strong resume with him to Jacksonville: He had a sparkling 187-32 record while coaching Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State at the collegiate level, and most recently has been an analyst for Fox Sports after leaving the Buckeyes following the 2018 season.

Meyer, who went 22-2 at Utah before he won two national championships at Florida and another at Ohio State, is the sixth full-time head coach in the Jaguars’ 27 seasons. He succeeds Doug Marrone, who spent the last four years as Jacksonville’s coach.

“I’m ready to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars,” Meyer said in a statement. “Jacksonville has an enthusiastic fan base, and the fans deserve a winning team. With upcoming opportunities in the NFL draft, and strong support from ownership, the Jaguars are well-positioned to become competitive.

“I’ve analyzed this decision from every angle — the time is right in Jacksonville, 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.”

What awaits Meyer in Jacksonville

Meyer takes over a Jaguars team that has made the postseason just once in the past 13 years — when they won the AFC South title in 2017. Jacksonville went 1-15 in Marrone’s final season in 2020, leaving him with a 23-43 record as the head coach.

The Jaguars will have two key things Meyer can utilize this offseason: First, Jacksonville owns the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, and it’s widely anticipated that it will select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Before the 2020 season, Meyer ranked Lawrence as the best college quarterback over Ohio State’s Justin Fields, one of the other top QB prospects in this year’s class.

“I had Fields and Trevor right next to each other,” Meyer said during a Fox Sports segment. “I put Trevor Lawrence for one reason, he played one more year. That was it. The one thing I’ll say about Justin Fields, because I’m very close to the situation, any concerns about him being a throwing quarterback are gone now. He’s developed. He’s outstanding.”

On Wednesday, while discussing why Jacksonville could be a more likely spot for Meyer than the vacant head coaching position with the Los Angeles Chargers, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweeted, “Meyer has long been enamored with Trevor Lawrence.”

Lawrence finished runner-up in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting, and he ended his college career with 10,098 passing yards and 90 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.

Jacksonville also will have flexibility to spend money during free agency. The Jaguars have the most available cap space in the NFL under the projected $175 million salary cap, with $77 million to spend, according to Spotrac. That will help hep a Jaguars team that has plenty of holes to fill — they finished in the bottom five in the NFL in both total offense and total defense this season.

Others weigh in

Bruce Feldman, a writer for The Athletic and Meyer’s co-worker at Fox Sports, outlined a pair of things that Meyer will have to manage at the NFL level. One is his health (he retired in 2018 due to health concerns). Another is losing.

“Meyer is likely to have to deal with a lot more losing than he’s ever endured as a head coach. The Jaguars are 12-36 over the past three seasons. It is going to be an uphill climb there, even with the first pick of the 2021 draft and a bunch of cap space to rely on,” Feldman wrote. “But Meyer is aware of all of that. How he actually handles it will be fascinating, but keep in mind: Losses in the college game are a lot more impactful than they are in the regular season in the NFL.”

NFL.com’s Nick Shook highlighted Meyer’s success in big games as one reason why he could transition well to the pro game.

“If there’s one thing Meyer is skilled at, it’s coaching in big games. Meyer owns a 12-3 record in bowl games, including a perfect 3-0 mark in national championship games. The NFL will present him with a weekly big game, which will be interesting to monitor as the talent-deprived Jaguars will likely take some time to get going.”

Jacksonville team owner Shad Khan called upon the passion Meyer brings to coaching.

“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.”