When you’ve never before had to abide by rules or standards, when you’ve never before been held to account for your misdeeds, when you’ve never not had a cadre of high-powered people willing to cover for you, you become an entitled, excuse-making chump.
You become Urban Meyer.
Nearly everything we’ve seen from Meyer since he was hired by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan affirms this. His posture, his words — nothing is his fault, he can try to explain anything away, he’s more than happy to pass the blame on to someone else, or drag his franchise quarterback into the muck of Meyer’s own making.
When he hired Chris Doyle, who was accused of racism and bullying by players at the University of Iowa, to be director of sports performance, Meyer said he did “a very good job vetting” Doyle. Doyle wound up resigning after an outcry, and Meyer said he and general manager Trent Baalke decided it was best not to have “the distraction.”
“The distraction” came, Urban, because everything in your coaching past had taught you that it didn’t matter what kind of accusations one of your assistants had faced, you’d let them skate and others would turn a blind eye. Just ask Courtney Smith. So you hired Doyle and assumed no one would question you.
When he conducted his first OTAs, he either didn’t learn the rules about how the collective bargaining agreement says they should be run, or he assumed those rules didn’t apply to him and immediately had Jaguars players doing contact drills. He was fined $100,000 and Jacksonville $200,000 for the infraction, and the team was docked two OTA practices next spring, practices that at this rate will be ones the Jags’ next coach likely would have liked to have had.
That’s the way it always seems to be with Meyer: Innocent people are victims of his hubris, and he just skates off.
This situation last weekend created more innocent victims — the players who play in Jacksonville. What he does in terms of fidelity or infidelity, that’s between Meyer and his wife, Shelley, though the sheer arrogance of behaving the way he did, in a red Ohio State pullover, in a sports bar that bears his name, with camera-phone-toting patrons everywhere, speaks volumes about who Meyer is.
By staying behind in Ohio after the Jaguars lost to Cincinnati on Thursday night, Meyer abandoned his players, though it’s unclear how far in advance he’d planned not to accompany the team back to Jacksonville; he tried to explain things away by saying he had cleared it with Baalke ahead of time and that he needed to “get out of Dodge” and “clear [his] head” after the Jaguars’ fourth loss in four games.
Ask people who have been around the NFL for years, and they’ll tell you that it is exceedingly rare, if not unprecedented, for a head coach not to travel back home with his team, and when they do it’s for a bonafide emergency. You can’t preach all-for-one, one-for-all when you make it clear your first (and perhaps only) concern is you.
On Monday after the videos went viral, Meyer stared at the floor when media asked him about them, saying he’d apologized to players and mentioning Trevor Lawrence’s bachelor party in Las Vegas, which likely took another whack to his credibility in the locker room. Lawrence’s bachelor party was months earlier, before he’d even been drafted, and had zero to do with Meyer’s misdeeds.
On Wednesday, Khan released a remarkable statement by NFL standards (standards which, we grant, are so low as to be subterranean), calling Meyer’s behavior “inexcusable” and saying he “must regain our trust and respect.” After that, Meyer stood behind a lectern with his arms folded over his chest, the body language of someone who is not at all accustomed to being held to task for his decisions.
NFL players are not college players; the NFL is not the NCAA. In college, if Meyer couldn’t get a player to play by his rules, he could threaten to recruit someone who will. In college, if Meyer wanted to abandon his team after a road game, the administration and boosters would let it slide because in that twisted world winning football games is placed above everything else. In college, Meyer could harbor a serial abuser on his coaching staff for years, but it’s not so easy to hire a racist bully in the NFL.
Please don’t misinterpret any of this as some kind of celebration of the ethical standards in the NFL because it certainly isn’t. If Meyer hadn’t been caught on video last weekend or he’d led the Jaguars to even one win to this point, all of this backlash might not be happening. If at some other point in his career he actually faced consequences, Meyer may have been humbled enough so as not to behave with such arrogance now.
There is only one cardinal sin in the NFL, or so they say: being a distraction. The only one in Jacksonville right now is the head coach.