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Urban Meyer Is A Flashy Hire By A Desperate Owner

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28: Former Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer looks on during the College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Clemson Tigers at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

It’s been a year now, and the crowning jewel of Shahid Khan’s sports empire is still not Fulham FC or the Jacksonville Jaguars but All Elite Wrestling. Given that he got into AEW on the ground floor and spent between $180–$230 million to buy Fulham from Mohammed Al-Fayed, the $760 million he paid to get the Jags from Wayne Weaver has been all dough and no show.

Khan likes firing managers and coaches when things don’t work or when he senses change is needed. He’s had five in nine years with the Jags and seven in seven at Fulham, plus he’s had three heavyweight champions in two years as the lead investor at AEW. All we’re saying is, watch your ass, Kenny Omega.

But we digress. Of his sports buys, the Jaguars have been by far his most problematic, with an ongoing fight with the city over a now-rejected downtown development deal than Khan backed and would benefit from as the most recent embarrassment. The previous one was a near-revolt by players which cost old school martinet Tom Coughlin his job running the football department. The Jaguars have averaged 4.3 wins per season under Khan. Something needed to be done, and Khan has chosen the most pander-y solution he could conjure.

Urban Meyer.

While the contractual M’s haven’t yet been dotted or the Q’s crossed (these are the Jags, so even the alphabet can be screwed up at any time), this looks like Meyer’s job to turn down. And at a reported $12 million per annum and the run of the hall, Meyer isn’t going to hesitate much longer. After all, there is something essentially alluring about “Whatever you want” as an offer, even if it doesn’t yet come with a quarterback.

But why Meyer? Easy. He was the last coach to make Florida great. True, that was back in the aughts, but Florida has zipped through five coaches since then, so he’s still the guy there. Plus, two-and-a-half hours on I-10 makes the Jags Tallahassee’s professional team, too. Meyer did manage to do some things at Ohio State, but where the Jags do business, Meyer’s coaching career essentially ended when he won the 2011 Outback Bowl.

He then burned out, due in part to his ability to attract stress and in further part to a history of hyper-casual recruiting standards. He re-fried himself after seven years in Columbus, and sought the more peaceful world of compensated bloviation with Fox. But a coach gotta coach if the money’s ridiculous, and Meyer is close to doing an accelerated Gruden, only with a 20 percent mark-up for geographical desirability.

Not that Gruden should be the model necessarily; he’d been off the sidelines for nearly a decade when Mark Davis broke the coaching budget to hire him, and he has found the task of rebuilding a moribund franchise more than merely daunting. Meyer’s last year of coaching was 2018, but he’s never done the pro thing, which is to say that as the highest ranking employee not named Khan he is now working within a budget and with employees who can talk back for probably the first time ever.

Khan has struggled mightily to make a dent in the NFL, and though he has tried different Byzantine approaches to front office construction, he’s never done “splashy” until now—if your idea of splashy is someone named after mid-millennial popes.

But you’re not who he’s trying to schmooze; rather, an audience that regards the Jags as something to kill a Sunday afternoon and not much more. The Jags don’t sell out, they are routed away from prime time scheduling as though they were ads promoting erectile dysfunction, and they are the team you are most likely to forget when you’re trying to list NFL franchises, AFC South members, teams in Florida and teams with teal in the color scheme.

Meyer is the first genuinely ultra-visible hire Khan will have made since buying the team (no, Tom Coughlin certainly doesn’t count), which suggests first that Khan is tired of replacing coaches and executives and wants some stability in both the general managing and coaching offices, or at least one less office. Second, Meyer’s hiring means that Khan wants someone who isn’t just a name familiar to Brian Baldinger. In other words, no more Dave Caldwells and Doug Marrones. He wants the face that can be splashed on billboards, buses, TV ad campaigns and anything else that stays still for five minutes. And if this looks like Meyer is the new Gruden and Khan the new Davis … well, nothing else has worked, has it?

The interesting part is in how few football pundits see this as a brilliant idea. The money bothers them (though Matt Rhule makes $9 million in Carolina with even less experience), the lack of professional pedigree bothers them (though many folks seem to think Lincoln Riley would be a great hire), Meyer’s history of burnout bothers them (though prior burnouts who returned to the job include Dick Vermeil, who won a Super Bowl with St. Louis).

Again, though, Khan is going for style points, and in that part of the footballing nation, Urban Meyer is the definitive be-all/end-all proposition. If this were Fulham, he’d be paying Pep Guardiola. If it were the AEW, he’d be trying to resuscitate Hulk Hogan’s career. Urban Meyer is the biggest living coaching name Florida has produced since Jimmy Johnson, who’s been out of the coaching business far longer and to his credit would never consider going back.

Assuming the two sides don’t start quibbling over things like parking spaces and harbor slips, this should be done soon, and it will surely invigorate college football fans who remember Meyer on both sides of the Mason-Dixon. It will certainly energize the town’s football culture (and maybe put redevelopment money back in play). It’s the kind of risky neon play Khan has never really gone for since becoming a sports magnate, and even if it doesn’t overthrow the hierarchical structure of the NFL, it may make people pay attention to the Jaguars as a fresh (though still white) experiment in hiring. Meyer’s is a new old face for a new old franchise that has dead-ended itself in all available avenues, so it’s kind of an all-in play for an otherwise careful businessman who only has one other option to reinvigorate this operation.

Hello, Kenny Omega! Maybe next time for you.