New Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer has been the ire of much recent criticism from NFL media following the Jaguars 2021 NFL Draft and the following transactions that they have undertaken. Meyer comes off of a two-year retirement from the Ohio State program, where he won a National Title. Before that, he was the head coach of the Florida Gators where he won his first National Championship.
Meyer has produced some great NFL players during his time as a college football head coach. He is deeply respected in insider football circles for his brilliant schematics and coaching techniques. Meyer left his stamp on college football, utilizing athleticism as strength to be more dominant than the other team.
The hiring has been heavily criticized by NFL media on all levels since he was brought on in January. He’s taking over one of the most dysfunctional franchises currently existing in the league, coming off of a 1-15 record in 2020. The Jaguars have struggled to be consistent in any regard, and are just three years removed from a seemingly random AFC Championship appearance.
Does Urban Meyer deserve the criticism that he has received relentlessly from his hiring?
The hiring of strength coach Chris Doyle
The first problem that the NFL media took issue with Urban Meyer was hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. “I’ve known Chris for close to twenty years,” Meyer said at the press conference announcing Doyle’s hire.
A prominent diversity group, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, took aims at the hire. Doyle had agreed to a $1M resignation-without-terimination settlement in July 2020 with the University of Iowa for using racial slurs in the program during workouts.
He was named one of the key defendants in a lawsuit filed by 13 former Iowa Hawkeye football players suing the university for bullying and racism.
“Urban Meyer’s statement, `I’ve known Chris for close to 20 years,′” the Fritz Pollard Alliance penned, “reflects the good ole boy network that is precisely the reason there is such a disparity in employment opportunities for Black coaches.”
Better understanding the lawsuit against Doyle
When the law becomes involved in sports, I am by no means very knowledgeable on the topic. The sports lawyers working on the Conduct Detrimental podcast most certainly do. Steph Weissenburger, the co-host and social media coordinator for Conduct Detrimental, recently graduated from New York Law School. I reached out to Steph to get a better idea of the legal situation involving Doyle and the University of Iowa.
“To be named in your individual capacity as a defendant in any credible lawsuit,” Ms. Weissenburger explained, “let alone one where 13 former Iowa football players allege that under the blessing of [Head] Coach Kirk Ferentz you ‘racially harassed, unnecessarily demeaned, and relentlessly bullied African-American football athletes at Iowa under the guise of asserting the “Iowa Way,”‘ – should have immediately disqualified Doyle from any future collegiate or professional football opportunities.”
The “Iowa Way”
According to the complaint, Doyle repeatedly referenced the “Iowa Way,” which appeared to be an unwritten professional code. Doyle would call out black players on the team during practice and workouts for their hair, the way they would walk, and tell them to straighten up or “go back to the ghetto’s.” On top of that, Doyle wasn’t afraid to use the n-word around black players or anyone for that matter.
Throughout most of the complaints that the former players filed, Ms. Weissenberger noted that most of the quoted accusations against the University of Iowa came directly from Doyle’s mouth. “In comparison, the accusations against head coach [Kirk] Ferentz were more boilerplate and general,” Ms. Weissenburger told me. “If you can name specific instances and back them up, that always makes your case much stronger.”
The last problem that makes the lawsuit a stronger case was Doyle and the university’s settlement. “There’s no question the lawsuit has merit just based on a plain reading of the allegations in the complaint,” Ms. Weissenburger said, “but also the fact that Iowa and Doyle entered into a Separation Agreement, which he likely had little to no choice on because of the extent of the allegations.
“Also, the July 2020 investigation conducted by the law firm Husch Blackwell, LLC found that the program’s rules perpetuated racial and cultural biases and maintained a culture that allowed coaches to demean African-American players, essentially confirming certain allegations. Not only that but there was also a previously secret internal report in 2019.”
Meyers track record of vetting individuals
Urban Meyer himself has a poor record of vetting individuals within his coaching circle. Mostly forgotten about Meyer’s three-game suspension in 2018 for keeping assistant coach Zach Smith on his coaching staff at Ohio State.
An investigation discovered that Smith beat and abused his now ex-wife while dealing with substance abuse problems. Meyer was suspended for protecting Smith, despite a poor job performance and knew what Smith was doing. He had known for a decade!
“Because of their positions of authority,” Steph told me, “individuals like Urban Meyer have always had a heightened responsibility to report any questionable incident so it can be investigated accordingly. But instead, it seems Meyer has a habit of taking advantage of the power he has all for his own personal benefit to try and ensure a positive legacy.”
Apparently, the Jaguars organization agreed it was a good hire
Initially, Meyer and the Jaguars organization pushed back against the criticisms. “I feel great about the hire, about his expertise at that position,” Meyer said. “I vet everyone on our staff, and like I said, the relationship goes back close to 20 years and a lot of hard questions asked, a lot of vetting involved with all our staff. We did a very good job vetting that one.” Meyer added that Jaguars owner Shad Khan was also involved in the process and gave his stamp of approval.
Not only was it highly criticized by diversity groups, but it was also criticized on ESPN and other public networks who mocked Meyer and the Jaguars for the decision. Current and former Jacksonville Jaguars condemned the signing on social media as well.
Doyle ended up resigning shortly after accepting the job from Meyer and the Jaguars. “Chris did not want to be a distraction to what we are building in Jacksonville,” Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke said in a joint statement.
Is it ever a good idea to hire someone for a high-profile job working through legal actions? No. This one rightfully drew some criticism. If Doyle did what he was accused of, he’s rightfully been blackballed from the industry. Meyer didn’t seem to take the accusations very seriously.
This rightfully should be concerning.
Was the draft class really that bad?
After selecting Trevor Lawrence with the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jaguars had another first-round selection at the 25th overall spot. They selected Lawrences’ college teammate, running back Travis Etienne, who wasn’t expected to be selected until the second round. It was not a popular pick, and the phone call that Meyer had with Etienne to tell him he was drafted drew criticism. Meyer asked Etienne if he was ready to hit the gym the following day and start working.
The following selections were mostly criticized for the Jaguars taking players at positions that shouldn’t have been priorities over others. The common theme throughout the selections? Athleticism.
Personally, I thought it was a good draft class. I don’t know what positions they are prioritizing. There are deep position groups in next years draft as well that they could be anticipating talent for.
The problem that I think currently exists is that these media analysts think that they could do a better job than NFL teams. There are many people who are ignorantly proud of their accomplishments in the media. They look down on a lot of people in their industry and field and consider themselves better. Others believe that all of the answers to a team are found in the draft. This is by far never the case.
Urban Meyer considering Tim Tebow as a tight end
Rumors surfaced after the draft that former Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow had come into the Jaguars facility and done a workout for the tight end position, a position that the Jaguars are currently quite thin. It wasn’t met with much positivity. Tebow is now 33 years old, and last performed in an NFL preseason game in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s performed in AA-League Baseball over the last few years, and been a college football analyst on ESPN.
Tebow has always been a target of criticism from the media, mostly for the open practice of his Christian faith. His controversial motivational speaking criticisms, which stem from the upward to $50,000 his foundation charges for appearances, people claim do not embody the Christian spirit he portrays at all times. His pro-life stance, a survivor of abortion himself, has also drawn ire.
Regardless, when it was announced that Tebow was rejoining the NFL as a tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, social media was full of anger. It was another example of the “good ole boy network,” as Meyer was famously the head coach for Tebow in college. Meyer has been open in the past about his relationship with Tebow, who he views as a son.
Media big heads criticized the potential signing
When NFL insider Ian Rapaport announced on Twitter that the Jacksonville Jaguars planned to sign Tebow to a one-year deal, social media exploded with displeasure. Many brought up the fact that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was still out of the league and didn’t get a chance to return.
One of the biggest naysayers over the signing was CBS Sports analyst Pete Prisco, a noted Tebow critic.
“The whole idea that Tebow will be inspirational if he’s the third-team tight end— which won’t happen — is absurd,” Prisco tweeted. “Players follow good players. The third-team tight end doesn’t motivate anybody.” In another tweet, Prisco added, “He. Can’t. Play. Period. What a joke. Jacksonville should be embarrassed.”
Most media outlets argued that Tebow, an experienced veteran in a position he’s never played, would be taking valuable repetitions from a younger player who could use the experience more than him. This argument is ridiculous.
Most players at the end of a camp roster don’t have a chance at making it anywhere else in the league. If they want game reps, they’re better off going into The Spring League, the XFL, or The European League of Football. There are plenty of better coaching and repetition opportunities out there for players than deep camp rosters in the NFL that would give them a better chance at making the league.
Adding Tim Tebow, even for a camp, as a veteran and a good locker room player is not a bad idea. The position is weak, and in the slight chance that it turns out he can play tight end, the Jaguars get a tremendous steal. There’s no risk to signing Tebow.
Travis Etienne practicing wide receiver at mini-camp
The latest criticism of Urban Meyer came from a press conference following a mini-camp practice session. Meyer announced that Travis Etienne took all of his practice reps at wide receiver. “Worst case scenario,” Meyer commented, “you have a running back that’s elite with receiver skills.”
In the same press conference, Meyer revealed that the Jaguars had hoped to select Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney at 25th overall, but the New York Giants instead selected him at the 20th spot. Media and analysts connected this to Etienne taking all of his reps at wide receiver. Again, social media experts rushed in to explain why Meyer was an idiot.
“Urban Meyer forcing Etienne into a Percy Harvin role,” Ben Gretch from OddsChecker wrote on Twitter, “when he already has [Laviska Shenault] on the roster and potentially ruining the upside of two great prospects was more or less exactly what I expected when Urban Meyer got an NFL head coaching job.”
Truly, people are overthinking this dramatically. Minicamp has always been a time when most of the veterans aren’t there, so teams experiment with different things. Meyer’s statement about the “at worst” situation shows that, clearly, it was a part of the evaluation process. Meyer has always been innovative with his schemes. Now he’s evaluating the talent that he has.
Much of the criticism that Meyer has taken for this is from people who aren’t familiar with the offseason process. AJ Schulte, an NFL Draft analyst for The Pro Football Network, pointed out that running back Najee Harris (selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers a pick before Etienne) also took wide receiver reps in minicamp with no criticism to head coach Mike Tomlin.
Urban Meyer does not care what you think
Let’s make one thing clear. Urban Meyer doesn’t care, nor has he ever cared, what the media or fans have had to say about him. He’s been successful on every level of football that he has coached. This goes back to his days at Bowling Green and Utah before he was a nationally-known coach. He’s going to do things his way and produce results.
As I mentioned earlier, many people in sports media think that they have more power than they do. They believe their writings and words echo the sentiments of other people in the industry that they cover. It’s not always necessarily the case. Many are too proud and stuck in their opinions to actually do their jobs and tell us what’s going on.
I’ve spoken with a lot of people in the league who feel this way about the media. It’s a lot of background noise to them. They ignore it and move on with business.
When it comes to on-the-field decisions, I believe Urban Meyer has received much criticism for going about normal, professional-level actions that everyone else in the league goes about because of who Meyer is. He’s always been criticized. Meyer has a track record for bad personnel decisions and probably shouldn’t be handling it as much as he does.
Criticism, for the most part, has been manufactured by the media. We will see how the 2021 season plays out, his first year in the NFL.