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The first act in this Urban Meyer circus, if anyone can remember that far back, was the hiring and then resignation of controversial strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who is currently embroiled in a racial discrimination lawsuit from eight former Iowa Hawkeyes players. It’s worth looking back that far because it was Meyer’s first sizable NFL mistake, followed by a pertinent message he relayed to the outside world.
“We don’t need a distraction,” Meyer said after Doyle’s departure in February, “Moving forward is in the best interest of all.”
Of all the regrets in the NFL, few cut deeper than your own words, particularly when your behavior is now the biggest story about your team, and the only path forward is through an apology.
We’ll get to that in a moment. First, it’s worth recognizing the virtual assembly line of distraction that has been the Urban Meyer experience. From the turnstile employment of Doyle — that has since resulted in Meyer being subpoenaed in the discrimination suit — to the public-relations signing of Tim Tebow as a 34-year-old tight end. From a $300,000 fine for violating offseason practice rules, to dragging out a completely fruitless preseason quarterback competition. Not to mention the speculation about the USC head-coaching job (in fairness, Meyer didn’t bring that on himself), to toying with using first-round draft pick Travis Etienne, a running back, as a wideout (in fairness, Meyer absolutely brought that on himself).
If Meyer’s first order of business was to keep distraction away from the Jaguars, he has failed miserably and completely as any coach in recent memory.
And that was before this weekend, which Meyer and the Jaguars should have spent finding their silver-linings from a competitive Thursday night loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, Meyer skipped the team flight home and took his circus back to some familiar Ohio territory, complete with a scarlet Buckeyes pullover. This time, the results exploded in viral cell phone videos Saturday night, showcasing Meyer with a woman with shoulder-length blond hair who wasn’t his wife, engaging in something that ultimately required an embarrassing apology. The mea culpa wasn't just to Jaguars ownership, but also his team. And most important of all, to his wife and family.
“I just apologized to the team and staff for being a distraction,” Meyer said in a Monday news conference, staring at his shoes as he explained what people saw on the videos. “Just stupid, and so I explained everything that happened and owned it. Just stupid. Should not have myself in that kind of position.”
If you’ve seen both of the videos that are out there, you can judge for yourself how embarrassed Meyer should be. The bigger question is how embarrassed Jaguars ownership is at this point. The Jaguars are now 0-4 and losers of 19 straight. The football is more than enough of a problem to keep him busy, let alone the rest of the chaos he seems to court.
The reality is as much as the world wants to hammer Meyer as a person, that viral video didn’t violate the league’s personal-conduct policy. A morality boundary in his marriage? That’s for him and his family to decide. But a fireable offense in this league? Not even close. Even with that video and every other distraction Meyer has created in this very short time, there is no getting away from the bottom-line reality of the NFL: Rigid mandates are saved for winning and losing, while pliability is often gifted to the moral compass.
That doesn’t mean one can’t impact the other, and that’s what Meyer should be worrying about. The more he loses, the less pliable the team is going to be about a "distraction." And make no mistake, Meyer’s future definitely rests in the hands of a shoulder-length blond. His name is Trevor Lawrence, the most valuable resource this franchise has ever gathered in an NFL draft.
More than any other outcome, the 2021 season was always going to be about Lawrence’s development, something that was in troubling territory until Thursday night, when the No. 1 overall draft pick out of Clemson had arguably his best game of the season. It was the kind of game that didn’t pack the stat column, but showcased Lawrence’s ability to lead and compete. His night should have carried into Monday, giving the franchise a little lift.
All until Urban declined a flight home and chose a path to the public-relations outhouse.
He’ll survive it, of course. Let’s remember our NFL history. It wasn’t that long ago we were fixated on New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and a legal battle over allegations over the solicitation of prostitution (since dismissed on the grounds of illegal surveillance). Before that, it was an impaired driving arrest of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who had over $29,000 in cash split between a briefcase and trash bag, along with bottles of prescription drugs. And Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — well, let’s just say his tenure has been a buffet of interesting photos or videos that have been embraced far more casually than what Meyer is experiencing.
And that’s just the team owners. Never mind the litany of players, front-office executives or coaches who have had their public misdeeds chronicled in photos or videos. The depth of moral turpitude in this league can often feel bottomless.
Meyer should be embarrassed. Ownership should expect the apology it received. But wins and losses on the field have often outweighed those off the field. If we are pretending that they haven’t, the only people we’re fooling is ourselves.
Meyer is going to ultimately rise or fall on the results of his win column and the growth of his quarterback. If there’s one thing more distracting to ownership than anything Meyer has done this season, it’s football failure. And there was plenty of that on video before last weekend.