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Urban Meyer In the NFL: College Coach Making the Jump

No longer a big fish in a small pond.

Who knew if this day would ever come, but it has: Urban Meyer in the NFL is happening thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jags just fired another former college coach, Doug Marrone1, to bring in someone who would be a huge hire at the FBS level. This is a man who has won NCAA championships at Florida and Ohio State. Had a school grabbed him, this would be a program-changing hire.

How about a franchise-changing hire? The jury is still out on that one.

Will Urban Meyer Succeed In the NFL?

One knock on Meyer going to the NFL, as with any top college coach, is that recruiting is no longer a thing. Sure, in the NFL, there’s plenty of talent, but you don’t have a big carrot to dangle in front of elite high school players anymore. This is a coach of stature at the college level who could go to recruits and say, “come play for me at a top ten program” and in essence got whomever he wanted.

In the NFL, and especially in Jacksonville, he’s a smaller fish in a bigger pond. NFL talent goes to wherever the money willing to pay for it is, and every team has money. Nevermind the fact that there are no Vanderbilt and Rutgers-like teams in conference to beat up every year for an automatic win. The quality is much tougher, which is not to say that it doesn’t take an exceptional coach to win in college like Meyer did. It’s just not always transferrable.

Indeed, the biggest question mark about Meyer is that he’s never coached at the NFL level before the Jacksonville job. From his grad student days in the 1980s until today, he has had over thirty years of coaching experience – in college. Fine, a little bit of high school in there as well. The NFL, as we all know, can be a completely different beast. Some college coaches have gone there and done well. Others, notably Nick Saban, have not, and he is arguably the most successful college coach of all-time.

Are the Forthcoming Urban Meyer-Nick Saban Comparisons Fair?

At this point, no. We will grant you that Saban did coach twice in the NFL before sinking with the Miami Dolphins, and Urban Meyer has no such past experience upon which to draw. However, Meyer and Saban are two different people, and nothing is yet written about how he will do.

Some college coaches have gone to the NFL and succeeded. Tom Coughlin, for example, was an above-average coach at Boston College who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. Pete Carroll did not get it right in the NFL until his third try, winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks (though his team is already out in the 2020 playoffs). College success is no predictor of NFL triumph, nor should the failures of other coaches overshadow him.

Challenges Ahead In Jacksonville

Whatever else is true about this hire, we know Urban Meyer is going into a difficult situation. He is being hired by a team with the number one pick in the draft, not a sign of prosperity and blessings the season prior. There is a years-long rebuild in the offing for him.

Further, there were advantages at Florida and Ohio State he will not have in Jacksonville. We know he had premium recruits there, but both programs were much more ready-made for him. Both Florida and Ohio State had down years (for them) the season before he took over, situations which were remedied quickly. Fixing 1-15 in the NFL without a number of smart moves in free agency and drafting will not be immediate.

Regardless of what happens, at least Urban Meyer will get to have Trevor Lawrence at his disposal. That’s not the worst thing in the world, and for what it’s worth, the fans in Duval are all about it.2

Further Reading

  1. Michael DiRocco, “Jacksonville Jaguars fire coach Doug Marrone,” ESPN, 4 January 2021
  2. Gene Frenette, “For Jaguars’ fans, an Urban-Trevor combo makes franchise relevant,” Florida Times-Union, 14 January 2021

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