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Opinion: Urban Meyer's NFL tenure was an embarrassment — and Jimmy Johnson can explain how it all went wrong

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Shad Khan didn’t fire Urban Meyer.

No, Meyer fired himself.

Of course, Khan, who just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his purchase of the Jacksonville Jaguars, pulled the trigger and officially ended Meyer’s short, turbulent tenure as an NFL head coach.

But thanks to Meyer’s bumbling, Khan didn’t have much of a decision.

Silly me. I was surely in the minority in thinking that Khan, whose patience has been quite admirable during his ownership reign, would give Meyer at least another year to see if he could create magic with Trevor Lawrence and turn around the perennial losers.


“I’m surprised, but as the rumors, innuendos and comments have been coming out, all of the stuff, I’m not surprised,” Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday morning. “It’s just been building up.”

I wanted Johnson’s insight, given that Meyer leaned on his friend and confidant while trying to make the leap from the college level, where he won three national championships, to the NFL.

“There’s not a world of difference between the college level and the NFL. There’s a galaxy of difference,” said Johnson, the rare coach to win big in college and in the pros and the first to win a college national championship and a Super Bowl.

“When you have a top 10 program in college, you’ll win 10 games just by showing up. The difference in the talent level is vast. That doesn’t happen in the NFL. And in college, it’s a different environment. You’re dealing with kids who are away from home for the first time. They’ve got girlfriends. Academics. You’re like a father figure.

“In pro football, you’ve got grown men who are working for a living. And they’re probably egotistical, with a bank full of money…And they’re much more likely to tell you to go screw yourself.”

Well, Meyer certainly proved capable of doing in blowing his golden NFL opportunity. The Jaguars job came with the chance to secure the franchise quarterback, Lawrence, with the No. 1 pick overall. There was a boatload of draft picks and an abundance of salary cap room. Plus, he had a supportive team owner who gave him more power than he apparently deserved.

And he messed it up. The first sign came early last offseason when Meyer hired Chris Doyle, a strength coach from Iowa who had a reputation for disparaging Black athletes. Another warning came with the signing of Tim Tebow, who tried to switch positions and make an NFL comeback six years after he last played in the league.

OPINION: Everyone but Urban Meyer and Shad Khan saw this debacle coming for the Jaguars

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MORE: After finding peace with a personal life no longer out to sea, Jimmy Johnson can soak in his Hall of Fame moment

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer minutes before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer minutes before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Then it got worse. Meyer embarrassed Khan and the franchise when he didn’t even fly back with the team following a September loss at Cincinnati, staying back in Ohio, where he was captured on video being cozy with a woman who wasn’t his wife at a public event.

Clueless. Arrogant. Irresponsible. It all fit Meyer.

Yet the final blows began last weekend with as NFL Network report that revealed Meyer’s alleged bullying of his coaching staff. If that was the extent of Meyer’s missteps, he might have survived. But the toxic pattern, complete with Meyer’s pass-the-buck denials, was established. Add the assertions of former kicker Josh Lambo earlier this week to the Tampa Bay Times – Lambo claimed that Meyer kicked him, in addition to berating him during a preseason exchange – and Khan essentially had no choice.

Meyer fired himself, too smart for his own good.

Oh, we’d be remiss without mentioning the record, against a larger backdrop.

The Jaguars, hosting Houston on Sunday, were 2-11 under Meyer.

More of the same? The Jaguars’ records in full seasons during Khan’s ownership: 1-15, 6-10, 5-11, 10-6 (the aberration year in 2017, when they won the AFC South crown and advanced to the AFC championship game), 3-13, 5-11, 3-13, 4-12, 2-14.

“What concerns me is obviously wins and losses,” Khan told reporters in Jacksonville earlier this week, as reported by The Times-Union. “But hey, we’re sitting here, we haven’t had a lot of wins, OK. What’s different about this thing is you have losses and you have drama.

“In the past, it was like, you were, quote, it’s like the ‘lowly Jaguars,’ and everybody left you alone. Now, the scrutiny we have is really something different.”

Khan, through a spokesman, declined multiple interview requests from USA TODAY Sports this week – before and after firing Meyer. But it’s easy to sense how the optimism he exhibited during our training camp visit has morphed into embarrassment.

Maybe Khan – and this applies to other owners and NFL decision-makers – will learn from the Meyer fiasco and get it right with his next NFL hire.

Of course, maybe not.

But I’m wondering: When will NFL owners like Khan realize that they are chasing fool’s gold if they think some big-name college coach is the answer to their predicament?

It’s pretty tough to top Bobby Petrino as a bad NFL hire, but Meyer has done that as the latest college coach-gone-flop.

For every Johnson or Pete Carroll, there’s a dozen not-so-Jimmy cases. Petrino. Chip Kelly. Steve Spurrier. Even Nick Saban – who you would think might have had a better chance to succeed in the NFL than anyone after Johnson, given his experience years ago on Bill Belichick’s staff in Cleveland – didn’t cut it as an NFL head coach before turning out as the most successful college coach of our time.

Galaxy of difference.

Johnson was struck by the rumblings that apparently came from the Jaguars’ staff in the NFL Network report. When Johnson was hired by Jerry Jones, his former Arkansas teammate, to ignite the Dallas Cowboys turnaround in 1989, he assembled a staff that largely consisted of loyal assistants who had worked with him on previous college stops at the University of Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma State, including Dave Wannstedt, Joe Brodsky, Hubbard Alexander and Butch Davis.

“The thing about our staff,” Johnson said, “was that there was never a crack in the armor.”

Johnson texted Meyer recently, expressing support and urging him to hang in there. He said Meyer texted back, telling Johnson something to the effect that, “This losing is eating me up.”

Johnson won’t pile on and bash his friend while he’s down. But you know he can relate in many ways to Meyer’s now-expired challenge.

“You can’t be a tyrant,” Johnson said.

Say what? When Johnson began coaching the Cowboys, I worked for the team’s newspaper and had a front-row seat to the transformation of the franchise that included Jones’ aggressive vision for the business impact, too. I remember Johnson once berating a kicker who nearly collapsed while running wind sprints in the oppressive Texas heat. The kicker had asthma.

And Johnson kicked him off the field, bellowing, “The asthma field is over there!”

Johnson also once cut a backup linebacker on the spot for falling asleep in a meeting…although he later told me that if Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman or Michael Irvin had fallen asleep, he would have merely tapped them on the shoulder to wake them up.

Anyway, I get his point as it relates to Meyer. Can’t be a tyrant.

“I was close to my guys,” Johnson said. “For every time I would cuss out Charles Haley, I’d have him in my office, talking and working out whatever the problem was.”

Meyer, though, robbed himself of that type of problem-solving option – and fast.

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Urban Meyer was an NFL embarrassment. Jimmy Johnson knows why.