American Football,

Hiring and firing

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It takes a pretty serious level of dysfunction for an NFL team to jettison its Head Coach during a season. Unlike European football, where managers can be given their marching orders at any time, NFL owners typically wait until the end of the season before cutting the cord. It’s a combination of grace and ruthlessness displayed in equal measure, with coaches allowed to wind down the clock, and conclude proceedings but then meet their marker hours later, on what is known in the trade as Black Monday, the day after the final day of the regular season, when most coaches are fired.

So, it’s telling that the Jacksonville Jaguars, owned by Shahid Khan who also presides over Fulham FC, have parted company with head coach Urban Meyer this week, in what will go down as one of the most spectacularly disappointing appointments in the modern NFL.

Meyer was ushered into Jacksonville as a saviour, basking in his long-standing success in the college game, the man to make the Jaguars relevant again. Furthermore, the timing of his appointment, and as was suggested, an instrumental factor in getting him to take the job in the first place, was the Jags possession of the number one overall pick in the 2021 Draft, which they duly used on the phenom quarterback Trevor Lawrence, as close to a sure thing as you’ll see in the NFL, thus uniting a heavyweight, big personality coach with a once in a generational talent.

The narrative gained pace in the off-season. This was an exciting new dawn for the Jaguars an expansion franchise that has struggled for relevancy for much of its existence in the NFL, in the face of flashier, more successful teams. Suddenly, the Jags were full of promise and intrigue, and whilst no-one expected them to be a playoff contender this year, equally, few saw the shambolic tenure that was to follow.

Meyer seemed out of touch in the role from the get-go. One of his early moves was the hiring, and subsequent resignation of Chris Doyle as the Jaguars Director of Sports Performance within a 48-hour spell. Doyle had left Iowa months before under a cloud, following allegations that he’d made racist comments towards players.

Meyer made bizarre comments about his offensive philosophy, citing a 250/250 game plan, suggesting that he wanted a minimum of 250 rushing yards per game from his team. The current league leaders, Philadelphia, average 160 per game. The rumblings that the veteran head coach, who’d only ever been in the college system, was not in synch with the pro game, heightened.

His relationship with Lawrence didn’t seem simpatico either. The rookie has struggled, as most first year players will, and the Jaguars roster is one of the weaker in the NFL, but the missteps and disconnect between coach and quarterback became apparent early on. In a 37-19 defeat to the Titans both Meyer and his player were challenged with questions from reporters about why Lawrence didn’t attempt a quarterback sneak during a red-zone possession. Meyer suggested his player “wasn’t comfortable” with the play. Lawrence disagreed: “No I feel comfortable” he responded. “A QB sneak is something I feel comfortable with”. Eyebrows were once again collectively raised.

Meyer doubled down when he was filmed letting his hair down at a party the same night his team had lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, instead of travelling back home on the plane with his players as is the convention. This kind of behaviour simply isn’t done in the NFL, and if it is, it’s definitely not filmed and fired over social media. Reports suggested that Meyer had already lost the locker room. Despite the odd bright moment – a walk off win in London most notably – the team continued to struggle.

Reports suggesting that Meyer – a dogmatic, no-nonsense style of coach – had called out his assistants, challenging them to demonstrate examples of how they were winners, like him, also emerged. Stories of bust ups with seasoned vets appeared. And the final straw came after allegations were made by former kicker Josh Lambo – a long standing player with the team who was cut earlier in the season – who outlined that Meyer had verbally and physically abused him, suggesting his former coach had kicked him during warmups and referred to Lambo in a derogatory fashion. Meyer was dismissed this week just 13 games into the season.

So, Khan and the Jags will have to reboot, but with the presence of Lawrence, and the acceptance that as a developmental project, the new appointment will have time to build, should make it an appealing proposition for prospective head coaches.

It’s likely because of the quarterback situation, they’ll look to an offensively minded leader, with the Patriots offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels inevitably linked with the role. McDaniels has forayed, unsuccessfully, into the top job before with the Broncos, but as an older, wider operator, this could be the right time for him to flourish. Suggestions though, that he’s the heir apparent to Bill Belichick in New England may negate his looking too far, although when the 69-year-old Belichick will walk away is anyone’s guess, with the Patriots Super Bowl contenders once again.

Byron Leftwich, the offensive co-ordinator at the champion Tampa Bay Bucs is getting a lot of attention, and rightly so, the former quarterback was drafted by the Jags and played in Florida for his first four seasons in the league. Kellen Moore of the Cowboys is another assistant getting a lot of heat, and the time could be right for Eric Bieniemy, one of the key architects of the sensational Kansas City Chiefs offense of recent years, who is overdue a shot at the big chair. For Jaguars fans, it’ll mean another reset, another off season of optimism and potential, still a long way from the prize.

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