Now that Urban Meyer has hammered out his deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is ready to go, there’s been a lot of chatter, conjecture, about whether he will be successful as an NFL head coach; whether he can motivate and relate to well-paid professional players far past the stages of impressionable youth in the college game, players who won’t be fearful of or dominated by an authority figure, by a man with an addiction to winning, winning at all costs, and demonstrating severe tunnel vision to get that done.
Bill Belichick pulled some of that off, by way of six Super Bowl titles and the services of one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Nick Saban did not, floundering with the Miami Dolphins before splashing back to the college ranks at Alabama.
There’s also the question of Meyer’s own resilience, his ability to lose without blowing a gasket, to weather storms that so often arise in the muck of NFL competition. Can he handle being in a situation where he cannot control … everything? Where a God complex typically doesn’t fly?
The former Utah coach who scared the bejeebers out of some of his players here while going 22-2 over two years, running the guys off who he figured wouldn’t help him win and embracing the ones who could, famously went on to win National Championships at Florida and at Ohio State by doing exactly that, by becoming the grand puppet master, by ruling the world and looking past what he thought needed to be ignored.
That’s not necessarily the way it works where the biggest dogs run.
But it can work.
And in Meyer’s case, it’s a good bet that it will work, under certain conditions, one in particular. Others are convinced that it won’t.
Winning is what the man does — has done — at a clip of better than 85 percent.
In his college days, he did it so often, it became almost laughable, wherever he coached. He did suffer an 8-5 season in Gainesville. And he made some egregious mistakes, including his mishandling of accusations at Ohio State that his assistant coach Zach Smith had abused his wife. Impaired judgment was more than apparent on the part of Meyer. A man as consumed by attention to detail as he is had to know what was happening with Smith, and there’s evidence that he did. He’s said in more recent times that he “failed” when he was asked about what he knew and when at a Big Ten media session.
Maybe he learned something important from that. Maybe not.
Meyer has used lying to his advantage going all the way back to his time at Utah, and probably before. Winning was the thing, not honesty. He told major donors at Utah that he would stay at the school if they passed along their big bucks and he felt like he could go on winning. They did, he could, and he left, anyway. At Florida, Meyer was willing to recruit and utilize players of questionable character — Aaron Hernandez, anyone? — to reach his end goal, spouting Bible verses en route.
But he already knew how to beat his competition. And he worked at places where he could draw superior talent. He also fought through some health issues, including chest pains and a congenital arachnoid cyst on his brain that caused him to suffer severe headaches and required surgery six years ago.
Meyer has said he’s monitored and managed the condition with medication.
To what degree the pressures of coaching have contributed to his health is unknown, but if they do contribute, the NFL is a difficult place to moderate them. As one AFC coach who formerly had coached in college once told me, “The NFL is a tough, tough business, a business where winning is all that matters.”
That should fit Meyer nicely, if it doesn’t destroy him.
Aspects of Meyer’s preferred offense, the one he often used so effectively at the college level, relying heavily on the run, will require more adjusting for the pro game, where the pass is king. But Meyer has been willing to listen to his assistants through the years and make a few modifications.
He’s a smart man with acumen that flows straight to the deep end.
He can figure things out, even if he makes a number of missteps along the way. In part, because he has to. The one thing he cannot abide is deserved failure. And that goes back to the way he was raised, to the demands of a father — Bud — who would settle for nothing but his son’s best efforts.
Bud Meyer had a way of pushing his boy, fining Urban when he played Little League baseball, docking him 50 cents when he struck out, paying him a couple of quarters when he hit a home run. Sometimes, he would make young Urban run laps around the family house when he underperformed in a game.
When he was a child, Meyer was afraid of his father. As I’ve recounted before, when he was 4 years old, he once ran out of the house, away from his dad — because he “was about to get a whupping,” he said — and stepped into the street, where he was hit by an oncoming car, and spent a large part of the next year in a body cast.
That was just the beginning.
A strict standard was expected to be kept. He had to excel at school. He had to hustle. He had to succeed. Disappointing his father was about the worst thing he could think of.
And that shaped his career as a coach, to the point of the extreme.
He told me that after any defeat, he could not let his mind rest: “I can’t function as a human being after a loss. I can’t eat. I can’t shave. I can’t hug my kids.”
That was some 15 years ago, and maybe Meyer’s gotten his education and his priorities straight since then, maybe he hasn’t.
Either way, he’ll have to do it now, in order to survive the rigors of the NFL.
“I’m not afraid of losing as much as I am horrified of underachieving,” he said.
He’ll have to hold onto that and use it on the reg with the Jags to accomplish what he’s attempting. Can he win in the NFL? Yes. Will he? Only if he remembers what he’s supposed to fear.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.