JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Urban Meyer has won everywhere he’s been. Small colleges. Big-time programs. He’s been a difference-maker at each stop during his storied coaching career.
He’s ready to try something new: the NFL.
Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars are working toward completion of a deal to make him the team’s next coach, according to a person with knowledge of negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Thursday because a formal agreement was not yet in place. The person said it could be done soon.
A local television network captured photos of Meyer landing in Jacksonville on one of Khan’s private jets and being whisked away in a black SUV, presumably to work out some final details before signing what’s expected to be a long-term and lucrative contract.
Meyer would be leaving the broadcast booth and returning to the sidelines after a two-year absence that followed another health scare.
The 56-year-old Meyer was team owner Shad Khan’s top target, and Khan waited nearly a week to get to this point. They met last Friday on Khan’s yacht in Miami and again Wednesday. Hiring the longtime college coach with three national championships would signify a new direction for a franchise that has lost 105 of 144 games since Khan took over in 2012.
Meyer went 187-32 — a staggering winning percentage of 85.3 — in stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and Ohio State (2012-18). He ranks seventh all time in collegiate winning percentage, trailing only Notre Dame legends Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy among coaches at major programs.
But some doubts remain about Meyer’s ability to make a smooth transition to the NFL, where motivational tactics tend to be moot and losing multiple games every year is a given. Meyer never lost more than five times in any season as a college head coach; he went 83-9 at Ohio State.
Still, Meyer has been eyeing an NFL move for months. He researched the league with help from former players and friends, started assembling a potential staff and learned how the front office works. Meyer and Khan have been friends for years, building a relationship while both were living in Big Ten country.
Jacksonville was the most attractive opening. The Jaguars have 11 picks in the 2021 draft, including five in the top 65, and are nearly $100 million under the projected salary cap. Adding to the appeal: Khan, a billionaire businessman, has shown a penchant for patience and a willingness to spend big.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a lock to land in Jacksonville with the top pick and will be the centerpiece of the team’s latest rebuild.
Meyer would replace Doug Marrone, who was fired after losing the final 15 games in 2020. Marrone went 25-44 in four-plus seasons with the Jaguars, including 2-1 in the 2017 postseason. Marrone failed repeatedly to fill the team’s long-standing hole at quarterback, and Khan kept him and general manager Dave Caldwell around a year longer than many expected to make them clean up a fractured locker room and a stressed salary cap.
Khan also interviewed Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Atlanta defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.
The general belief was the job was Meyer’s if he wanted it. He clearly does.
He’s going to have the leeway to put his touch on every aspect of the organization, the kind of overhaul Jacksonville hasn’t seen in nearly three decades of existence. Khan is switching to a coach-centric model that could give Meyer final say in personnel. Meyer and the next general manager will report to Khan, who wants to be more involved in the most significant roster decisions.
There’s little doubt, though, that Meyer will be calling the shots.
Meyer’s health remains a concern, though. He stepped down at Ohio State in 2018 mostly because of a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain, which required surgery in 2014 and bothered him throughout his final season with the Buckeyes. He also resigned at Florida for health reasons in December 2009 only to change his mind the following day and instead take a leave of absence.
He returned to coach in 2010 and then walked away again at the end of the season, a move that eventually angered many Florida faithful because he took the job at Ohio State less than a year later.
Meyer spent the last two years in an analyst role for Fox Sports, appearing weekly on the station’s college football pregame show.