JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer rarely, if ever, experienced anything like this at Ohio State or Florida.
Ten penalties, six dropped passes, three turnovers, down 20 at halftime. Confusion on the sideline and in the huddle.
The Jacksonville Jaguars essentially looked unprepared in Meyer's NFL debut, a 37-21 loss at Houston on Sunday. It was such a shoddy performance against another team presumed to be one of the league's worst that critics wondered whether Meyer would stick around long enough to fix the floundering franchise.
And when Southern California fired coach Clay Helton a day later, speculation swirled about Meyer’s immediate future in Jacksonville.
Meyer responded Wednesday by saying "there's no chance” he takes the Trojans job. Believe him or not, he insists he's in for the long haul.
“I'm here and committed to try to build an organization," Meyer added.
It's unlikely to be the last time Meyer's name gets linked to a collegiate job opening. After all, the 57-year-old coach has found success at every stop, building winners at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. He won two national championships with the Gators (2006, 2008) and another with the Buckeyes (2014).
He stepped down after the 2018 season and spent two years working as a college football analyst at Fox Sports. Jaguars owner Shad Khan persuaded him to return to the sideline in an effort to deliver a consistent contender in Jacksonville.
So far, little has gone right for Meyer.
He botched the hiring of two coordinators (Chris Doyle, Brian Schneider); filled his staff with longtime NFL types instead of guys who know his wants and ways; invited Tim Tebow to training camp as a tight end; and had No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence split valuable first-team repetitions in training camp with a quarterback no longer on the roster.
He raised eyebrows last week when he mistakenly identified Joe Mixon as Houston's running back and again this week when he couldn't come up with the name of his backup swing tackle, Will Richardson.
At best, Meyer looked like a stretched-thin coach wading into uncharted waters. At worst, he was in too deep.
“I was warned many, many, many, many times it’s a journey; it’s not a sprint,” he said. “We’re healthy, attitudes are good, we have good players and we’re building something.”
Meyer's project looked like a money pit in the opener, between the defense getting gouged repeatedly and the offense struggling to line up properly.
“The main thing (is) we can't have the young guys feeling like they can get used to losing ‘cause it’s not the environment we're trying to create,” cornerback and team captain Shaquill Griffin said. “For captains, we've got to do a little bit more. We've got to bring the guys along. We've got to keep them up. We've got to keep their spirits up and getting them starting to believe in something that's a lot bigger than Game 1.”
The Jaguars are counting on a better performance Sunday against Denver, which won its opener at the New York Giants.
“It’s just we lost a game,” Meyer said, downplaying any “narrative” or “silliness” circulating around him or the team right now.
Meyer said earlier this month he doesn't miss college recruiting and made it clear how different college football is now compared to when he stepped down for health reasons. He pointed to the ever-changing landscape and the addition of rules allowing players to earn money from their name, image and likeness.
Meyer took over a 1-15 team in Jacksonville and chose Lawrence as his building block. His assumption was that the Jaguars, like all NFL teams, have talent and merely needed better coaching. But it's becoming clear, especially after Jacksonville stretched its franchise-record losing streak to 16 games, that Meyer lacks enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to make this a quick turnaround.
“I don’t want to ever fall into that trap of saying, ’This is … a four-year plan, a three-year plan,'" Meyer said. "That’s not fair to players. This is a one-game plan and then we’ll worry about the next game.
"There’s some guys that have played a lot of football in that locker room and they deserve our very best. That’s what it is. Other than a bruised soul that we all have right now, we’re still swinging away. Like I said, you’d probably see a little different look on my face if I had bad guys. That’s not the case at all.”
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