By Pete Baxter
We are four regular season games into the Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville, and it has been an unmitigated disaster. Sure, the team is 0-4, but that is far from the biggest issue for the Jaguars. First-year NFL head coach Urban Meyer, coming off a two decade long, highly successful stint as a college head coach, has struggled mightily to make the jump to the professional league.
Meyer has displayed a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the politics of an NFL locker room, and the level of scrutiny to be faced as an NFL head coach.
Urban Meyer: The NFL’s New King of Controversy
Just weeks into his new gig, he hired strength coach Chris Doyle, who had been accused of years of racist behavior and mistreatment of black players during his career at the University of Iowa. Not surprisingly, after a huge backlash, the Jaguars and Doyle quickly parted ways.
Next was the Tim Tebow debacle. Meyer brought his former college quarterback Tim Tebow into training camp to compete for a spot on the roster as a tight end. Tebow was 33 years old, had never played a snap at tight end in college or the pros, and had been out of the NFL for the better part of the past decade. Again, not surprisingly, this experiment failed miserably. Tebow and Meyer were humiliated as clips circulated online of Tebow’s complete lack of blocking ability, and Tebow was cut.
This week, we are all following the sad hilarity of Meyer’s big night out in Ohio. Meyer made the highly unusual decision to stay behind in Ohio following the Jag’s loss to the Bengals this past Thursday night. Meyer visited with family but eventually wound up at the bar, where he was caught on a viral video drunkenly grinding (and more) with a supposedly random college-age blonde (very much not his wife). Meanwhile, his team was landing in Florida to nurse their wounds without their leader.
In between these controversial moments, rumors have flared up about Meyer’s “unhinged” behavior, inability to function following losses, and poor relationships with some of his players. Needless to say, the odds are becoming stacked against Meyer surviving past his first season in Jacksonville. He would most likely already be gone if the Jaguars were confident they could fire him for “cause” and get out from under the remainder of his enormous contract.
So, for the rest of this article, we will operate under the assumption that Urban Meyer’s tenure in Jacksonville will not last longer than one season, and the Jaguar’s will be seeking a new head coach once again for the 2022 season.
This Young Team Needs Stability
Despite the negative press and winless record to start the 2021 season, the rebuilding Jaguars have hope for the future. The bulk of this hope comes from the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Entering the draft, Lawrence was considered by many to be the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. He is considered a generational talent, and while he has been wildly inconsistent to start his rookie season, his physical gifts and outstanding leadership skills at his young age have been on display. Lawrence could very well be the real deal.
However, as we have seen so many times before, and most recently with Sam Darnold with the New York Jets, a bad franchise with bad coaching can hold back even the most talented of quarterbacks. For the Jaguars to have any chance at maximizing Trevor Lawrence’s abilities and gradually turn this miserable franchise around, it is imperative they build a stable, winning culture (even if their record doesn’t immediately reflect it).
Additionally, as we have seen repeatedly through league history, the easiest way to find success with a young, developing quarterback is to support him with a strong defense. An elite defense carried Mark Sanchez to two conference championship games in New York and made Blake Bortles briefly look like a franchise quarterback just a few years back in Jacksonville.
So, ultimately, when Meyer inevitably clears out his desk and flees back to the college ranks, the Jaguars must make the right decision and bring in an experienced, respected, responsible head coach to rebuild the culture. Ideally, a coach with the ability to build up this 27th ranked defense into a powerful unit that can take pressure off Lawrence.
Enter Marvin Lewis
Marvin Lewis was reportedly considered by multiple teams for their head coaching vacancies during this past offseason, including the New York Jets and Houston Texans. While he hasn’t gotten his second chance as an NFL coach yet, it is clear he is widely respected around the league. If we are going to consider stability and defense as the biggest needs for the Jaguars in their inevitable coaching search, let’s take a closer look at why Lewis checks both boxes.
Building a Stable, Winning Culture
In terms of stability, Marvin Lewis lasted an incredible 16 seasons as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003 to 2018. Lewis turned the Bengals, one of the most historically bad franchises in league history, into perennial playoff contenders. The Bengals had not had a winning season or a playoff berth since 1990 when Lewis arrived.
He finished his decade and a half in Ohio with a winning record at 131-122-3 (a .518 winning percentage) and made the playoffs seven times with four division titles. Lewis is the all-time winningest coach in franchise history. He was named AP Coach of the Year in 2009. The Bengals made the postseason five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015. Unfortunately, he never found postseason success and finished 0-7 in the playoffs.
While this may not be a Bill Belichick-ian level of coaching success, it can’t be discounted that Lewis achieved what he did for a historically moribund franchise. He first built a winning squad around Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and then carried on this success with a squad led by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
The Bengals were bad for more than a decade before he arrived, and (until possibly this season if Joe Burrow stays healthy) they were bad after he left. Andy Dalton was a Pro Bowler at times with Lewis as his coach and has been relegated to a glorified back up QB since they parted ways.
Building a Defense
Marvin Lewis, during his stint as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens from 1996 to 2001, built one of the greatest defenses of all time. The 2000 Ravens defense carried Trent Dilfer and company to a dominant 34-7 Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants. That season, they allowed the fewest points and fewest rushing yards ever for a 16-game season.
This massive success as a coordinator eventually led to Lewis being hired as Bengals head coach. The Bengals had spent virtually the entirety of the 90’s and early 2000’s with a defense ranking in the bottom 10 in the league. Lewis slowly turned that around, and ultimately built a defensive unit that ranked in the top 10 in terms of points allowed in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. His defense was ranked second in the league in 2015. Since he departed, the Bengals ranked bottom five in the league in points allowed until this season.
Lewis has an extremely distinguished resume as a defensive coach, and there is no question he could build a powerful defensive unit in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars are at rock bottom right now, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They have their quarterback in place for the next decade and a half if they manage this rebuild correctly. It is imperative that they replace Urban Meyer with a coach with the maturity and experience to build a winning culture and an elite defense to let Trevor Lawrence shine.
Marvin Lewis has accomplished everything we just discussed in just one head coaching job. He has yet to receive a second opportunity, and he is more than deserving. Lewis and the Jags could be an outstanding match.
Are you listening, Shad Khan? More to come from Jacksonville.