When the entirety of Urban Meyer’s first coaching staff with the Jacksonville Jaguars was unveiled on Thursday, one name immediately jumped out — especially to those who closely follow college football.
Chris Doyle, the longtime head strength coach at the University of Iowa, will serve as Jacksonville’s Director of Sports Performance. It’s Doyle’s first job since he and Iowa parted ways back in June under tumultuous circumstances, including allegations of racism.
Doyle was the strength coach for the Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz for 20 years, beginning in 1999. But he was put on leave after a bevy of former Iowa players spoke out about their negative experiences they had with Doyle, who was the nation's highest-paid strength coach.
Those negative experiences included allegations of racist remarks made by Doyle. The allegations against Doyle, which emerged as many Black players spoke out about the culture of the Iowa program, led the university to conduct an independent review “relating to racial disparities within the football program.”
Meyer told reporters Thursday that Doyle was "vetted thoroughly" before being brought to Jacksonville.
“I’ve known Chris for close to 20 years. Our relationship goes back to when I was at Utah. He was the No. 1 strength coach and really he was doing sports performance before sports performance became a high priority in college sports. I’ve known him. I’ve studied him. We’ve had a relationship. I’ve vetted him thoroughly along with our general manager and our owner. Feel great about the hire, and about his expertise at that position," Meyer said.
Meyer said he was "very confident" that there won't be any issues with Doyle, and that he wanted to hire "the best of the best."
“I vet everyone on our staff," Meyer said. "The relationship goes back close to 20 years. A lot of hard questions asked and vetting involved with all of our staff. We did a very good job vetting that one.”
Former Iowa players detail negative experiences with Chris Doyle
Iowa players felt compelled to speak out after Ferentz spoke with reporters and was asked about the social unrest that followed the death of George Floyd. Ferentz was asked about the possibility of his players kneeling during the national anthem. Ferentz said he would like the decision on whether or not to kneel to be a team-wide decision. James Daniels, a former Iowa offensive lineman who now plays for the Chicago Bears, said if the Iowa football team collectively took a knee, it would “bring about a cultural change for both Iowa football and the state of Iowa” that was “long overdue.”
A few days later, Daniels spoke more broadly about the Iowa program and how Black players often felt like they had been “treated unfairly.” Dozens of former Iowa players reiterated those sentiments, with many pointing to their experiences in Iowa’s strength and conditioning program — a program led by Doyle.
Faith Ekakitie, a former defensive lineman for Iowa who went on to play in the CFL, said on Twitter that “real change” at Iowa should begin with Doyle and the strength and conditioning staff. Jordan Lomax, a former Iowa captain, said the coaching staff has a hard time relating to Black culture and agreed with Ekakitie, saying change at Iowa should start “in the weight room.”
Jaleel Johnson, an Iowa product who currently plays for the Minnesota Vikings, said Doyle “is the problem in that building.” He added that Doyle would “go around stepping [on] players’ fingers” while they warmed up for workouts. Another former Iowa player, Terrance Pryor, said that Doyle once confronted him about quitting football while he was rehabbing an injury. Pryor wrote on Twitter that Doyle suggested he “take up rowing or something,” before saying, “oh wait, Black people don’t like boats in water do they?”
“This is one of many racist incidents that Black athletes had to deal with during my time there,” Pryor wrote.
Manny Rugamba, a former Iowa cornerback who transferred to Miami (Ohio), described an incident in which Doyle told a Black player he would put him “back on the streets.”
“At 18-21 years old, seeing others being treated like this made you walk around the football facility on eggshells. Unable to be yourself constantly trying to fit the Iowa culture caused anxiety that could be unbearable at times with your dreams and career on the line,” Rugamba wrote.
Doyle was also embroiled in controversy back in 2011 when 13 Iowa players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis. The workout was investigated by the school, but the coaching staff was cleared of any wrongdoing. Ferentz stood behind Doyle and gave him an “assistant coach of the year” award — an award that has never been given out by the program since.
Iowa conducted independent review of football program
When Doyle and Iowa officially parted ways, Doyle said he was confident that his “record and character” would “be confirmed” during the independent review of the program.
“I have worked diligently to make a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes, support them as they speak out, and look forward to continued growth. I am confident that my record and character will be confirmed in the course of the independent review,” Doyle said.
When the review of the Iowa program was released in late July, the claims made by so many Iowa players were largely corroborated.
“Virtually all the players spoke positively about their position coaches and the influence those coaches have had on their lives, both personally and athletically,” the report said. “Yet numerous players described feeling unhappy and unwelcome, citing to a program culture that they perceive requires strict conformity and rigid adherence to the ‘mold’ of an ideal player, a mold that many Black players felt they could never truly fit because it was built around the stereotype of a clean-cut, White athlete from a midwestern background. Additionally, numerous current and former players and coaches of all races described an environment in which a small number of coaches felt empowered to bully and demean athletes, especially Black athletes.”
Doyle was the only Iowa staff member to lose his job. In the report, though, several players said the issues within the program were “not just a Chris Doyle problem.” Others said the program issues were systemic and that Doyle should not be a “scapegoat.”
As part of his separation from Iowa, the school agreed to pay Doyle 15 months of base salary, which equated to “two separate lump sum payments of $556,249.50 on Aug. 1, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021.”
Urban Meyer's first NFL job
Doyle will now join an NFL coaching staff for the first time. Before his time at Iowa, he coached at Utah, Wisconsin and Holy Cross. He also was a graduate assistant at Syracuse and Notre Dame.
Now he is a part of Meyer's first NFL staff. Meyer won national championships as the head coach at Ohio State and Florida. He also had stints as the head coach at Utah and Bowling Green. After a seven-year run at Ohio State, Meyer announced his retirement after the 2018 season, citing health reasons. It marked the second time Meyer stepped away from coaching. The first time it happened was after the 2010 season at Florida. Two years later, he landed at OSU.
Meyer's programs at UF and OSU were no strangers to drama. Off-field issues were plentiful among Meyer's players at Florida. At Ohio State, the controversy involving Zach Smith, Meyer's wide receivers coach, resulted in Meyer serving a three-game suspension. Documents showed that Meyer was aware of domestic abuse allegations against Smith prior to them becoming public — and prior to Smith's firing.
In Jacksonville, Meyer has the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The team is widely expected to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
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