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As college football coaching changes, Urban Meyer isn't only one who could jump to NFL

Pete Thamel
·6 min read
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Urban Meyer’s name shot through the NFL stratosphere on Sunday after an ESPN report indicated at least two NFL franchises made initial contact about him being their next head coach.

Meyer becoming an NFL coach could become a reality over the next 10 days or so, as sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports that there has been outreach by multiple franchises to gauge Meyer’s interest.

The news broke on a day when Jacksonville solidified itself as perhaps the NFL’s most intriguing destination, as the 1-14 Jaguars are slated to get Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the top pick in the NFL draft and are expected to part ways with coach Doug Marrone. The general manager job is already open.

Will Meyer go to the NFL? Here’s the safest answer: Meyer certainly isn’t headed back to college, as college coaching is amid a sea change that could lead to an influx of coaches in college football exploring the NFL.

There are clear signs of Meyer’s interest in the NFL, as sources say he has been intrigued enough that he has researched the league through former players and friends, inquired about potential staff and is learning how the front-office infrastructure works.

Urban Meyer claps with a whistle in his mouth.
Then-Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches during warmups before the Rose Bowl against Washington on Jan. 1, 2019, in Pasadena, California. Meyer has been linked to NFL coaching jobs in recent days. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Meyer is an obsessive competitor, and sources close to him say that the NFL is intriguing because he’d be able to test himself at the highest level of football. Meyer’s favorite times in coaching have been amid rebuilds at Bowling Green and Utah, and there’s a chance an NFL job would allow him to overhaul the culture of an entire organization in a similar way.

There are drawbacks, however, that would slow down any notion that Meyer leaving his Fox television gig for the sideline is imminent. Meyer’s health, which led to him stepping down at Ohio State in 2018, remains a factor. He has a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain, which required surgery in 2014 and haunted him throughout the 2018 season, where the image of him doubled over in pain on the sideline still lingers. Meyer also truly enjoys his analyst role for Fox, as a switch back to the sideline would mark a distinct lifestyle change and risk his legacy as one of the best coaches of his era.

How college football coaching is changing

Why would the NFL have more appeal than a job like Texas or USC? Few jobs in sports promise to change as precipitously as college football coaching in the next 12 months. The absolute control that so many of these coaches coveted is now waning, with the transfer portal, one-time transfer exemption and Name Image and Likeness rules all shifting the power away from the coaches. This isn’t an endorsement or indictment of that shift, just acknowledging facts.

No college coach, given truth serum, would say they truly love to recruit. It’s a part of the job that is more tolerated and endured than enjoyed. The uptick in transfers and freedom of player movement means that not only will coaches be worried about luring the next recruiting class, but also need to stay locked in on the constant recruitment of their own players. While the benefits of Name Image and Likeness — the ways for athletes to profit off their name, expected to be legalized by the NCAA in the upcoming months — are slated to be solely for athletes to figure out, there’s little doubt that orchestrating deals for players is going to become a big part of the job description for college coaches and programs.

The other aspect coaches are privately dreading will be the agents who help arrange these NIL deals for players. Is the NIL agent sitting in on the home visit and quizzing the coach about the local car dealership’s generosity a new reality? Probably, and that’s not going to sit well with the old guard.

The other factor that can’t be overlooked as theses worlds intersect is the schematic crossover between the sports. Spread offenses with running quarterbacks have gone from the bane of NFL talent evaluators to the heartbeat of the league’s most successful offenses.

Will college coaches jump to the NFL?

We did a list a few weeks back of potential college coaches who could end up in the NFL. There have been two college coaches the past two seasons who’ve made the leap — then-USC OC Kliff Kingsbury and Baylor’s Matt Rhule. Prior to Kingsbury being hired in 2019, there was a four-year gap from 2015-18 for the NFL hiring a college coach. (That was Bill O’Brien jumping from Penn State to the Houston Texans in 2014.)

The days of the NFL not plucking a college coach for four years are long over. The combination of the changing nature of the college job and the shallow pool of NFL candidates is going to keep the NFL engaged in the college ranks.

“I think the reason we’ll see more college guys go to the NFL is the pool of pro coaches ready to be head coaches is so much smaller,” said an industry source. “Guys like Matt Campbell, Dan Mullen and Pat Fitzgerald, those kinds of guys will be in the mix now.”

Will they go? No one is sure. Campbell hasn’t worked a day in pro football. Mullen can’t be thrilled with the NCAA’s recent ruling against him and Florida, which includes a one-year show cause penalty for recruiting violations. Fitzgerald has resisted more than a half-dozen overtures before. Will this time be any different? The NFL is still fascinated by Lincoln Riley, holds a deep respect for David Shaw and James Franklin came close to the Texans’ job back in 2014. There are plenty of options.

We could see seven or more NFL head coaching jobs open, as the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans are open and will likely be joined by the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles. And while Meyer’s name will get the juice, other college candidates will certainly emerge.

As the college football landscape continues to professionalize, the most logical step is for college coaches to simply go to the pros in the next few seasons following Kingsbury and Rhule.

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