The Journal Gazette
Monday, January 18, 2021 1:00 am

Meyer faces tough adjustment heading to NFL

PAUL NEWBERRY | Associated Press

Before the folks in Jacksonville get too fired up about the arrival of Urban Meyer, let's review a few cautionary tales.

Like Nick Saban. And Steve Spurrier. Or, perhaps the biggest flop of all when it comes to college coaches going pro, Bobby Petrino.

Petrino lasted all of 13 games with the Atlanta Falcons, winning just three times in 2007 before he slinked back to college in the middle of the night, leaving behind nothing more than a form letter for his abandoned players.

As Petrino and others have learned, Meyer can't just pick up with the Jaguars where he left off at Ohio State.

Meyer acknowledged the challenges he'll face in a videotaped interview released by the Jaguars shortly after a deal was reached last week to take over the forlorn franchise.

“Yes, it's different. Professional is different,” Meyer said. “You're coaching grown men as opposed to college guys.”

To be fair, Petrino's tenure was essentially doomed before he ever coached a game thanks to Michael Vick's dogfighting ring, which left the Falcons with Joey Harrington. But Petrino was out of his element dealing with players unafraid to speak their minds.

Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall got into a heated confrontation with Petrino on the sideline during a loss to Carolina. The next day, in keeping with the way he handled things in college, Petrino wouldn't discuss what action he planned to take against Hall.

“It is something that we are keeping in-house,” Petrino said.

In college, that would've been the end of it. A young player who is totally dependent on the coach for his starting job and playing time would never think to challenge that one-sided relationship.

But Hall was an established pro, who revealed everything to some two dozen media members crowded around his locker. He had been fined $100,000. He didn't plan to pay it. He made it clear that he thought Petrino was acting too harshly. By the time Petrino bolted for Arkansas, the locker room was basically in open revolt.

“This league is not for everybody,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “This league is for real men. I think he realized he didn't belong here.”

Petrino drew the ire of the veterans for an aloof, dictatorial style and a bunch of silly, college-like rules, from banishing TVs in the locker room to frowning on loud talking at team dinners.

Meyer will learn right away that communication and compromise with his players are the keys to being a great NFL coach. He won't be able to run roughshod over his team like he did at Florida and Ohio State, where he became the only coach other than Saban to win national championships at more than one school.

“We're going to treat our players not good, we're going to treat our players great,” Meyer said. “We're going to love them, we're going to grind them, but they're going to be treated great.”

Saban went 15-17 in two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Spurrier was 12-20 in two years at Washington. Neither made the playoffs.

For Saban, who has won six national championships at Alabama since his dalliance with the NFL, it's always been clear that his desire to have control over every aspect of the organization is far more compatible with the college game.

“I found out maybe I was a little more suited to be a college coach,” Saban said.

Spurrier's most glaring blind spot was believing his fun 'n' gun offensive system would work just as well in Washington as it did during a dozen years at Florida. But exemplary college players, such as quarterback Danny Wuerffel and receiver Chris Doeriing, were nothing more than journeymen in the NFL.

Meyer could follow the path of Jimmy Johnson, who led Miami to a national championship and went on to win Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys.

Coming off a 1-15 season, the Jaguars will be able to grab potential franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the top pick in the NFL draft, and they have plenty of salary cap space. But Meyer's most important moves will likely come in the next few weeks. If he can bring in assistants with plenty of pro experience, and smooth his transition to the NFL, the chances of success will rise.

Otherwise, he'll find himself heading down the same path as Saban and Spurrier. Or, even worse, Petrino.

Paul Newberry writes for the Associated Press. His columns appear periodically.

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