Urban Meyer is a bully. That has been true for a long time. It’s a character trait, if not an outright strategy.
In football, especially the college level, it is neither rare nor necessarily negative. It wasn’t for Meyer. It fueled his enormous success — three national titles — far more than any schematic advantage.
Urban Meyer wasn’t a play-caller. He was a recruiter, a motivator and a bully.
He bullied his players, and bullied his assistant coaches, and bullied administrators, and bullied the truth, mostly. Whatever Meyer thought would lead to victory was his truth and thus the truth everyone around him had to accept.
It was everything from getting a player to believe he was better than he was, to an assistant believing one more recruiting trip would land the high school star (and prevent the coach’s dismissal), to thinking that a staffer with a history of being accused of abusing his wife was worth keeping around.
It included claiming, while at the University of Florida, that he was bringing in only “the top 1 percent of people” — heck, “the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent,” he added — even as more than three dozen of his players were arrested, a list that somehow didn’t include Aaron Hernandez.
The truth was fans would have been mostly satisfied if the recruits were just good players. Good people? That’s just a nice bonus. First, let’s beat Bama. It was Meyer who had to make everything sound better than it was, even as the eyes rolled all around him. His nickname: Urban Liar.
Meyer was like a movie character, this dramatic, mercurial bulldozer whose intensity was so ferocious it would result in championships and then scorched earth. It worked at college, at least for a while.
He once quit at UF after realizing he was so consumed with work he had barely spoken with his own kids. He came back the next day. He quit again citing health issues, but took over at Ohio State a year later. He quit there citing painful headaches, but two years later decided to jump to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
It was there that the bully got punched in the mouth.
He hired a strength coach with accusations of racism and, of course, bullying, got caught on tape partying during the season with a young woman that wasn’t his wife, repeatedly lied in news conferences, threw players and staffers under the bus for mistakes, allegedly kicked a kicker while he was stretching and, basically, looked like an overwhelmed kid with a feel-sorry-for-me look on his face.
The above is a partial list.
Smart NFL team owners don’t just look at a college coach’s record, but how that record was assembled. The bullies don’t last in the NFL.
Lou Holtz always claimed some moral superiority over everyone but left three different schools on probation and was famous for grabbing face masks and screaming in faces. He lasted but 13 games with the New York Jets in 1976.
Bobby Petrino won big at Louisville but was known as a distant, disingenuous person who would later wreck his Harley with a former Arkansas volleyball player he hired as an office assistant riding on the back. Her name wasn’t Mrs. Petrino. He lasted 13 games with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 before quitting on them to take a college job.
Is Bill Belichick tough? Is Bill Belichick a bully of sorts? He sure is, but he’s also an exceptional teacher and tactician. Maybe most important, he is the first to accept the blame for losses or mistakes. He is tough on his players but he always has their back, and they know it. He’s respected.
Meyer was overwhelmed. His offense was awful, his team disorganized, his body language depressing.
He inherited a rebuild, but the team looked hopeless. It ranked 31st in scoring offense and 27th in scoring defense. It averaged 17 fewer points a game than Tampa Bay and gave up 10.8 more than New England. As Kevin Clark of the Ringer pointed out, the Jags offense somehow turned the ball over on 17.7% of its drives, yet the defense created turnovers on just 4.4% of opponents’ drives. Meyer seemed confused at what plays were called or what personnel was even in the game.
There was zero loyalty. Players and assistants were leaking embarrassing stories to get Meyer fired. There were no signs of respect or admiration, the way even the lowly Detroit Lions appear to love their first-year coach, Dan Campbell.
Consider that after Jacksonville’s 20-0 loss at Tennessee, a reporter asked the following flame-throwing, unprofessional question:
Reporter. “Do you have faith in the offensive line? They are getting their ass kicked. What is going on there? They are being paid a lot of money to be better than what they’ve been.”
Any reporter who dared ask that of Belichick or Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh or anyone else would almost assuredly be ripped to shreds by a coach that wouldn’t tolerate a person, let alone a reporter, disrespecting their players, NFL players, by declaring they are getting “their ass kicked.” It would be a verbal bloodbath that might end the media member’s career.
A smart coach would see it and then seize it as an opportunity to rally the locker room against a common enemy: the stupid media. Meyer, clearly relieved and pleased that at least he wasn’t getting ripped, instead just agreed with it. That’s a bully with no courage.
How do you lead your offensive linemen after that?
This experiment was based on Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s complete misunderstanding of why Meyer won so much in college. It was not because of an innovative offense (at least not since his days at Bowling Green or Utah). It was not because of clear thinking and on-the-fly strategy during tight games.
In fact, Meyer often crumbled under pressure. He nearly collapsed after a victory over Michigan. He so panicked in a loss to Michigan State he forgot to run Ezekiel Elliott. He somehow got blown out by Purdue.
Meyer won via blunt force, assembling the best recruiting classes and then driving them harder than they believed possible. It was incredibly successful. On that, he was about as good as college football has ever seen.
It was a long shot that he could recreate that culture of competitiveness inside an NFL locker room — where the guys are already driven and competitive — without the expected dysfunction and dishonesty overwhelming everything. These are grown men, not pre-transfer portal college kids.
And so the bully is out. Maybe he goes back to the college ranks, although many athletic directors want no part of him after Ohio State’s much-respected Gene Smith got dragged into a Meyer-generated scandal and wound up serving his own suspension.
If it can happen to a guy of Smith’s caliber, they know this is toxic.
Then again, a winning record tends to blind people, even an NFL team owner who didn’t look closely enough.