College football bids farewell to Urban Meyer, who will try to succeed where so many have failed

A few years ago when he took the Ohio State job, Urban Meyer showed me a “contract” his daughter Nicki had drawn up. The list of 10 promises reflected a daughter’s love for a coaching dad who may have become too involved in his work.

At that point in his life, Meyer had to promise that “family always comes first.” He wouldn’t spend more than nine hours a day at the office. He would maintain good health, take trips with Nicki and sleep with his cell phone on silent. That was in 2011.

Meyer is far from the only coach who gets immersed in his work. By all accounts, he stuck to that contract while winning his third national championship in 2014. Four years later, he resigned/retired for the third time in nine years.

“I don’t believe I’m going to coach again,” Meyer said after the 2019 Rose Bowl, his last game with Ohio State.

Two years later, he’s back. How can anyone be surprised? This time, he in the NFL, his career revitalized and refreshed once again after time off.

This is just Meyer: a bit of drama, a lot of brilliance.

We are not here to deny Meyer his pro opportunity but rather just to review his career.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan doesn’t necessarily care about a family contract. Neither do the fans. Innocence is lost in the NFL. There’s no Tom Rinaldi to bail you out of a losing streak with a weepy feature.

Meyer has mastered head coaching at four different schools and studio work at two networks. Perhaps it was inevitable he would test himself at the NFL mountaintop. Perhaps.

The Jaguars are buying the .854 winning percentage, not much more. See you in the Super Bowl, Urb. Perhaps.

The list of superstar college coaches who have succeeded in the NFL is short — Pete Carroll, Jimmy Johnson and Jim Harbaugh. And Carroll was an NFL retread. There’s not many more.

Ask Nick Saban. Like Meyer, Saban had won a national championship (LSU, 2003) before testing his skills at the highest level. For the greatest college coach ever, it didn’t work out. It may have if he picked the right quarterback, something Meyer gets an opportunity to do with the No. 1 overall choice in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Johnson won a title with the Hurricanes and was better with the Cowboys. Harbaugh turned around a downtrodden Stanford before going taking the 49ers to a Super Bowl during a four-year run. Carroll just finished his 11th season with the Seahawks; he’s taken Seattle to two Super Bowls with one win.

Meyer is off to Jacksonville, and I sort of already miss him in college. The sport is better with him. I’ll miss him taking shots at Michigan. I’ll miss him dropping in on his establishment in Dublin, Ohio — Urban Meyer’s Pint House, where there is a “7-0 Room,” referring to his record against the Wolverines. The man literally owns a restaurant to take another shot at Michigan.

I’ll miss an Ohio kid named after a Pope mastering the SEC. I’ll miss him showing me that contract from Nicki like any proud dad would. I’ll miss him boosting Ohio State head and shoulders above everyone in the Big Ten — and the nation. I’ll miss him having an outside chance at catching Saban in championships.

Hey, he still might. Who knows how this NFL thing goes? At 56, he still has plenty of time. After all, USC isn’t going anywhere.  

I’ll miss the innocence because there was some once. As a rookie head coach, he shoveled snow at Bowling Green to free up the press box to host recruits. I met him 16 years ago when Meyer was perfecting something called the zone read spread offense, perhaps without fully realizing it, at Utah.

College football witnessed the rise of a coach who would change the game.

Bowling Green (2001-02)





Utah (2003-04)





Florida (2005-10)





Ohio State (2012-18)





I’m not so sure about changing the Jaguars. The odds aren’t ideal. He has to know that. They are the Jags, after all. The draft and free agency — everything in the NFL — is structured for parity.

Meyer has lost more than three games in a season twice in his 17-year career, but five losses will win a division in the NFL. The Urban Meyer we know might self-combust losing that often. That cyst on his brain that forced him to quit a couple of times will have to be managed in a whole new pressure cooker.

Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife, had to have signed off on this latest venture.

“I’ve analyzed this decision from every angle — the time is right in Jacksonville,” Meyer said in a statement. “And the time is right for me to return to coaching.”

Meyer’s offense certainly fits the NFL. This is not Chip Kelly trying to fit tempo into NFL players who had never run it. The NFL is all Mahomes and RPOs and shootouts these days. Having Trevor Lawrence run his stuff gives Meyer a chance. So does having four picks among the first 45 selection in the draft and being $100 million under the salary cap.

“But you’ve got to pick the right players,” Johnson reminded USA Today.

In the NFL, there is no more gambling a five-star teenager will pan out. This is about drafting and developing the best of the best.

But these are also professionals with a union and agents and marketing agents and egos. One of the biggest adjectives in the Meyer vocabulary is “non-negotiable.” That’s the thing about pro sports: There’s a lot of stuff that is negotiable from salaries to a relationship with an owner. An NFL coach is the boss, but he’s not the boss.

In college, you can run off malingerers. In the NFL, they can wreck a franchise.

Meyer will learn, and perhaps he will win. Even taking this leap, he can always return home where signing day has nothing to do with a contract extension.  

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