Meyer’s return to coaching not a surprise

When John Cooper was Ohio State’s football coach he had a habit of beginning answers to questions in press conferences by saying, “Obviously.”

It wasn’t one of Urban Meyer’s favorite words, but if you watched him during the segments of Fox TV’s Big Noon Kickoff where he explained some football tactic or strategy, it was plain to see he was a guy who obviously missed coaching and obviously wanted to do it again.

His passion for coaching was impossible to miss. So was the incredible attention to detail that he brings to every aspect of football. And the deeper he got into whatever subject he was analyzing, the faster he talked.

He was ready to come back after two years away from coaching, which he spent as a first-rate television analyst.

Maybe the only surprise was where he chose to return — in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team which went 1-15 this season and has had only one winning season in the last 10 years.

The first reaction when a college coach makes the jump to the NFL seems to be to recite the list of highly successful college coaches who didn’t come close to the level of their college success in the pros.

And it is a pretty impressive list of failure. Nick Saban was 15-17 as the coach of the Miami Dolphins. Steve Spurrier was 12-20 as the coach of the team now known as the Washington Football Team.

John McKay won four national championships at USC, then lost his first 26 games as the coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lou Holtz and Bobby Petrino both quit with a game still remaining in their first seasons as NFL coaches.

But there are success stories, too. They just don’t seem to get as much attention.

Barry Switzer won three national championships at Oklahoma, then won a Super Bowl as the Dallas Cowboys coach. Jimmy Johnson won a national championship at Miami, then won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys.

If you go back to the NFL’s prehistoric days, Paul Brown won a national championship at Ohio State and went on to win four All-America Football Conference championships and three NFL championships with the Cleveland Browns.

Meyer has a record of 187-32 as a college coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State and won three national championships, two at Florida and one at Ohio State. He was 83-9 at OSU, which means there is a good chance he will lose more games next season than he did in seven seasons in Columbus.

There are four big questions about Meyer becoming an NFL coach. No. 1 is if he’s ready for the NFL, specifically, how will he handle losing more games than he has ever lost in a season.

No. 2 is how will NFL players handle being coached the way he has always coached? No. 3 is his health, which he cited as a significant factor when he left Florida and Ohio State. And, No. 4, how long will he be in Jacksonville?

If Meyer thinks he can turn Jacksonville around he will bite his lip, pop a few extra antacids and work hard to make sure the pain is short term. And, with the No. 1 overall draft pick, another first-round pick and the most salary cap space in the NFL, there are some reasons to be optimistic.

Jimmy Johnson, whose Miami Hurricanes teams went 52-9, survived a 1-15 season his first year with the Cowboys. No one ever mistook him for a coach who took losing casually. It can be done.

Someone once described working and playing for Meyer as being like it’s fourth down and goal to go with three seconds to play 24 hours a day every day. Meyer is a smart guy. If he thinks that will work in the NFL, that’s what he will do. If he thinks he needs to find different ways to motivate players, he will do it.

While there might have been other factors, like his three-game suspension in 2018 because of his handling of the Zach Smith controversy, which led Meyer to retire as Ohio State’s coach, the arachnoid cyst in his brain which caused severe headaches then could become a problem again.

Meyer’s longest stay anywhere as a coach is seven years at Ohio State. He was at Florida six years and spent two years each at Bowling Green and Utah. He is the fourth coach Jacksonville owner Shad Khan has hired in the nine years he has owned the Jaguars.

So, a long-term relationship is not a lock. Meyer is only 56 years old. It’s possible if things don’t work out, he could even return to college football.

But looking at his track record in choosing jobs, he has hit a home run every time. His latest move might end up being the right move, too.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.