Gene Frenette: For Jaguars' fans, an Urban-Trevor combo makes franchise relevant

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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The days of the Jacksonville Jaguars being ignored are now over. At least for two years, three years, and maybe a lot longer, they will be relevant.

It was already trending in that direction once the Jaguars locked up the No. 1 draft pick, presumably Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But Thursday’s hire of former Florida/Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer as their sixth head coach gives the Jaguars, by far, the best 1-2 marketing punch in franchise history.

There should be minimal or no pleading in 2021 for fans to buy season tickets. The Jaguars, with an NFL-worst record of 46-117 in the last decade, immediately go from buzz-kill to buzz-thrill with that coach-quarterback combination.

More:Urban Meyer agrees to deal to become Jaguars next head coach

Take your pick -- Urban and Trevor or Trevor and Urban. No last names are necessary. The moment both are officially wearing Jaguars’ gear, they’re probably going up on a Dream Finders Homes banner outside TIAA Bank Field and dozens of billboards around northeast Florida.

Is Meyer a home-run hire? It’s probably more accurate to say he’s a polarizing hire, a boon-or-bust hire, because he’s spent exactly zero days in the NFL. All of his raging success as a head coach, a phenomenal 187-32 record (.854), came at four college stops.

Urban Meyer, seen here during a news conference announcing his retirement as Ohio State coach in December, 2018, is making the jump to the NFL to become the next Jaguars' coach. A coach-quarterback combination with potential No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence would give the Jaguars an easy sales marketing plan.

But from a raise-the-Jaguars-profile standpoint, Meyer absolutely does that more than any other candidate owner Shad Khan interviewed. He brings a wow factor. Maybe not at the same level of Lawrence, but just the Meyer name is a certified attention-getter in these parts for a franchise accustomed to being dismissed.

"This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere," Khan said in a statement. "Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results.  While Urban already enjoys a legacy in the game of football that few will ever match, his passion for the opportunity in front of him here in Jacksonville is powerful and unmistakable." 

More:Timeline: A look at the career of new Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer

All you had to do Thursday was watch your television screen. Two national sports networks showed Twitter pictures of Meyer getting off a plane at Cecil Airport and getting into a car bound for TIAA Bank Field. You think that happens if the passenger is, no disrespect intended, Raheem Morris or Arthur Smith.

That’s the pull of luring a high-profile coach. Meyer’s celebrity status is going to attract eyeballs, maybe not all of it for the best reasons.

Yes, his tenure at Florida and Ohio State was marked by serious judgment lapses. His reputation was sullied by 31 player arrests in Gainesville, as well as his poor handling of domestic abuse incidents involving an assistant coach in Columbus, which led to Meyer being suspended three games by the OSU administration.

Questions will certainly be raised about Meyer’s ability to endure the NFL grind, seeing as how he resigned at those schools at ages 46 and 54, respectively, due to medical concerns. But it’s doubtful Meyer would take the NFL plunge without believing, and the Jaguars being convinced, that his health is in a strong enough place to deal with the stress of chasing a Super Bowl ring.

And make no mistake, Meyer is going to pursue that elusive prize with the same fervor and passion that Tom Coughlin did when he guided the Jaguars to their only run of glory in the late 1990s.

Meyer’s reputation as a win-at-all-costs coach, though certainly a detriment at times, could also be a huge benefit to the Jaguars because they’re in desperate need of consistent leadership from a CEO-type for the whole organization.

The Jaguars need a thorough housecleaning, which has been painfully evident the past couple years and most of the last decade. If nothing else, Meyer will be a tone-setter in the building, just in a different, less micromanaging and more delegating way than Coughlin.

Twitter reacts:Urban Meyer to Jaguars draws mixed reaction on social media

What is absolutely certain is Meyer had no intention of jumping back into the coaching fray, especially the NFL, without an ideal job situation. None of the other six vacancies comes close to the Jaguars in terms of resources for a quick turnaround. Meyer didn’t go shopping. He was only interested in the Jacksonville opening, an NFL source told me, and for good reason.

It starts with having two first-round and two second-round draft picks, including the unprecedented No. 1 overall selection for presumably Lawrence. Throw in $80 million-plus in salary cap space, which could land at least two premium free agents, along with one of the NFL’s most patient owners, and there’s no way teams with openings in  Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets can match that kind of appeal.

Former Dallas Cowboys coach and two-time Super Bowl champion Jimmy Johnson, a FoxSports analyst, said as much Wednesday in our lengthy phone conversation.

“The opportunity is there [in Jacksonville], without question, but only if you pick the right players and get the right coaches,” said Johnson, who was 51-37 in five seasons with Dallas and made the most successful college-to-NFL coaching jump in history. “It’s not going to improve unless you get both.”

Will Meyer acquire the right players -- assuming he’s given significant personnel input over whoever the Jaguars’ general manager might be -- and assemble the right coaching staff to satisfy Khan’s desire for sustained success? That remains to be seen because Florida and Ohio State isn’t the NFL, where the resources for all 32 teams are fairly equal.

Johnson, and to a lesser degree, Bobby Ross (Georgia Tech to San Diego Chargers) and Chip Kelly (Oregon to Philadelphia Eagles), are about the only coaches to make the college-to-pro jump in the last 30 years without struggling mightily.

The NFL has been no paradise for so many others, including those with  national championship pedigree like Meyer. The common denominator for Steve Spurrier (Washington Football Team) and Nick Saban (Miami Dolphins) is they each had losing records and were gone within two years. The same goes for less-accomplished college coaches like Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Lane Kiffin (Las Vegas Raiders) and the late Dick MacPherson (New England Patriots).

That said, it doesn’t mean Meyer will get humbled or struggle at the next level. If you go by what happened right out of the gate at his four college stops, where he instantly transformed Bowling Green (2-9 to 8-3), Utah (5-6 to 10-2), Florida (7-5 to 9-3) and Ohio State (6-7 to 12-0), Meyer clearly knows how to create a winning culture.

The three-time national championship coach did that in Gainesville and Columbus with impeccable organization, attention to detail and recruiting the right players. Meyer was aided by having the power to run things his way. It’d be a surprise if the Jaguars didn’t give him similar influence, pairing him with a GM whom Meyer believes would be the right dance partner.

For those who believe Meyer could struggle like the aforementioned college coaches, keep in mind the scenario for Doug Marrone’s successor. He has some huge built-in advantages, a planet-aligning situation with draft picks and cap space that may never come again for a long time.

Love or hate Meyer, it’s unlikely he would pursue an NFL job unless he thought winning would be potentially imminent. Like as soon as 2022, maybe even next season if the franchise quarterback does a pretty fair imitation of rookie Justin Herbert.

Remember, we’re talking about a detail-obsessed coach who, before his Jaguars’ interview, had probably made a dozen calls to NFL colleagues to get their feedback on how to build a winning culture.    

As the next Jaguars’ coach, you can bet Meyer believes all the ingredients are there to win. And it starts with having access to the biggest piece, a franchise quarterback like Lawrence.

Urban and Trevor will be a formidable, compelling tag-team. Will they be wildly successful? Who knows, but it would be so enticing to watch, even the national media now has to pay attention to the Jaguars.

Hello, Urban and Trevor. Goodbye to Jaguars' irrelevancy. (904) 359-4540

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