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Opinion: Urban Meyer debacle is a lesson in accountability for Jaguars

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Accountability starts at the top.

That’s a theme Jaguars owner Shad Khan needs to trumpet and embrace now, if he happens to wonder why the wheels seem to be falling off so fast as his team limps along with another big L.

Khan hired Urban Meyer for the job of injecting life into one of the league’s worst franchises, and the decision is backfiring to major proportions. Not only was Jacksonville crushed again on Sunday, falling to 2-11 after losing 20-0 at Tennessee, but the optics are even worse after an NFL Network report over the weekend tore a bit more into Meyer and portrayed him as a loose cannon who’s in over his head.

No, it’s not time for Khan to cut bait and declare that an experiment that we’ve seen before – turning over an NFL franchise to a successful college coach! – has run its course again.

If he truly believes in his conviction for hiring Meyer as much as I think he does, Khan needs to stick with him – for now. But the accountability meter is spinning, both for Khan in assessing why he hired Meyer in the first place and for Meyer, given his enormous power (and a franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence) and ultimate responsibility for the on-field results.

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Head coach Urban Meyer of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at Nissan Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Head coach Urban Meyer of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at Nissan Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

This task was supposed to be arduous, even though the smooth, ultra-confident Meyer expected a pile of W’s by now. Surely, Chip Kelly, Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier convinced themselves that they could transition that college winning into NFL victories, too, before the reality check.

Yet what’s surrounded the Jags in recent days is exactly what comes with losing, as the NFL Network report tapped unnamed people who said Meyer blasted assistant coaches as “losers” and engaged in a heated exchange with wide receiver Marvin Jones after the veteran apparently left in the middle of the work day. That there are people within the Jaguars building so fed up that they would leak information does not speak well for the culture that Meyer is overseeing.

Naturally, Meyer denied the report.

“That’s nonsense,” Meyer told reporters during his postgame news conference on Sunday. He added that he and Jones, who came over from Detroit as a free agent last offseason, even joked and laughed about the report.

As for his assistant coaches, Meyer maintained he didn’t call them “losers” but undoubtedly drew a line in the sand against the backdrop of a perception that apparent bullying won’t work on the NFL level.

At one point, Meyer sure sounded like a bully in threatening to fire anyone who leaks information.

“If there is a source, that source is unemployed,” he said. “I mean, within seconds, if there’s some source doing that.”

Loyalty matters. Meyer should demand that from his staff, and part of the process in building his team of his assistants – and players and support staff, too – is that the respect needs to go both ways. There may have been tactics that Meyer employed on the college level that won’t work in the pros.

Although professional players (including those who don’t cut it) have a responsibility, Meyer contends that part of his coaching philosophy is not to blame the player. He’d rather blame the coach. Hmmm.

“I’m very demanding of our coaches and expect guys to be held accountable for their positions,” he said, “and the times when they’re not, we address it.”

Good to hear him say that. The accountability spiel should go double for Meyer himself.

And for Khan, an amazing business success story who is now nearly 10 years into owning an NFL franchise. Khan was enamored with the thought of luring out of retirement the coach who won three national championships in college, and he paid him big bucks to seal the deal. And with Meyer’s new gig coinciding with the prize of Lawrence as the top pick in the draft, the Jaguars never had entered a season – even back in the Tom Coughlin-Mark Brunnell playoff era or their AFC championship game appearance just a few seasons ago – with as much national sizzle as they had this year.

Yet as much as it is ultimately on Khan to hold Meyer accountable, he must look in the mirror, too, and assess why he was so hell-bent on bringing in the head coach. He wasn’t alone. Meyer was hot property while working as a TV analyst, much like Jon Gruden was for an even longer period of time. Had he not joined the Jags, he had other options.

Of course, Khan, who previously tried to jump-start the franchise by bringing back Coughlin to run the program as a non-coaching executive (that move flopped), had other options, too. Like every other team owner with an opening last offseason, he could have tapped Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy or Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and matched them with Lawrence. Or he might have gone with one of the other veteran coaches from a playoff team – defensive coordinators Todd Bowles (Buccaneers) or Leslie Frazier (Buffalo Bills) or offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (Bills) – rather than banking on Meyer as the best choice.

Time and hindsight vision will reveal the merits of the Meyer hiring…and the Khan decision.

For now, though, Meyer, is trying to convince his boss that he made the right move. Meyer and Khan met again on Sunday, another in a series of frequent conversations.

“Our focus is to finish the season strong and to make whatever adjustments we have to make to get this thing cooking,” Meyer said.

Can this man be trusted? That’s one of the questions Khan must assess along the way. After all, Meyer’s the one who hired a since-resigned strength coach with a history of making disparaging remarks with racial overtones. He’s the one who brought in his former college quarterback, Tim Tebow, for a brief shot as an NFL tight end before releasing him. He’s the one who didn’t fly back with his team after an early-season loss at Cincinnati, then embarrassed the franchise after videos surfaced of a woman dancing on him at a bar. And he’s the one who has hardly generated the type of high-powered offense that was his calling card in college (the Jags rushed for a paltry 8 yards on Sunday).

“The reality is that losing sucks,” Meyer said. “Losing tears you apart.”

And losing costs jobs, too. In Meyer’s case, the losing is wrapped with intense scrutiny. Make or break, Meyer’s tactics and the results can’t be ignored.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Urban Meyer debacle is lesson in accountability for Jaguars