Jacksonville Sports Day

Urban Redux: Sam’s Letter to Shad Kahn

Dear Shad,

Hope you and the family had a great holiday season and are looking forward to a happy and healthy 2021!

Just wanted to send along my congratulations on your new head coach hire. It’s the kind of big splash that put the Jaguars back on the map instantly. With Urban on board and Trevor Lawrence waiting in the wings, the Jaguars are relevant again! I’m sure the phones for season tickets are ringing off the hook.

I’m not sure who you were leaning on for advice on this hire but there are a few of us who have been around for a while and know Urban from his seven years at Florida. I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on the excitement in town but there are a few things I wanted to make you aware of.

Wow, did they have some success there in Gainesville under Urban! I’m sure you asked and I’m sure he had a good answer for the lawlessness and the criminal activity that happened under his watch while he was in Gainesville as was reported and verified after his departure from there.

There are a lot of Gator fans who think the most amazing thing that happened while he was there wasn’t the two national championships but rather that nobody went to jail while he was in charge!

Nonetheless, winning seems to cure all ills, but it is kind of funny that he’s so reviled by Gator fans even though he brought two national titles there. They’re trying to figure out how to put Urban in the Gators Ring of Honor at Florida Field but they’re afraid he’ll be booed! Imagine that? Maybe they’ll bring the HBC or Timmy along to keep that from happening. I guess Gator fans didn’t like how he left, either time!

I mean, we were all concerned when his wife Shelley told us she couldn’t revive him one night despite her repeated “Urb, Urb,” calls to him on the floor. Turns out he had some kind of serious, as he described it, ‘esophageal spasms’ that were causing his problems. I guess the next year when he quit to spend more time with his family, that was the best thing for everybody. Who knew a stint with ESPN could be so much a part of family bonding?

But wow, medical science is amazing isn’t it? Just eleven months later he was back coaching at Ohio State! I’m not sure Gator fans in North Florida quite understand that but I’m sure they’ll be buying Jaguars tickets anyway.

As you said on Friday when you introduced him, Meyer was impressive above all candidates in the interview process. He is an impressive interview and was equally impressive in his first meeting with the press at the end of last week.

I just wonder how things will go as we get into the year and hopefully things start to get back to normal. You know when you met somebody and after you shake hands, (we used to do that) and look them in the eye, you got the feeling ‘Hey, something else is going on there’? That’s the feeling I always got around Urban. A friend of mine who worked with him a lot said, “It’s like he’s always looking past you.” “Yeah, that’s it,” I thought. Not quite transparent, not trusting, and with a whole agenda nobody else knows anything about. Hopefully as he moves to the pros that’ll change, right?

Because I\it can be a bit of a different transition from college to the pros. One thing I’m sure you talked with Urban about is dealing with the media. Going to a press conference in Gainesville or Columbus, the room is full of young reporters, many still students, who are learning their jobs and oftentimes are graduates and fans of the program their covering. Urban had control of that situation and honestly, not many hard questions were asked.

And when the hard questions were asked, he usually rebuffed, laughed off or answered them with a “Where are you from?” answer. I know, he asked me that more than once! That won’t be the case in a professional setting like the NFL. He’ll have to get used to being asked the how’s and why’s of what he’s doing. His decisions will be second guessed, legitimately, and constantly on every level.

But hey, wasn’t it funny when that cub reporter from my former employer started his question with ‘Go Gators!’ on Friday? Doubt that will happen again.

I’m sure you asked him what the heck happened at Ohio State with his assistant Zach Smith. Urban had to serve a three-game suspension for his role in handling the spouse abuse allegations against his former assistant. Urban said he “mis-spoke” at the summer Big Ten media days when he told us he didn’t know anything about that. Female Jaguars fans have asked me about that, but I’m sure he gave you the right answers.

And who says you have to be likeable and considered a good guy to be a good football coach anyway? It’s certainly no requirement for the players in pro sports. Some sort of a rap sheet is never a deterrent if you can play.

I mean, Look at some of the most successful coaches and they don’t’ fall into the category of ‘likeable.” That’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells or even Tom Coughlin. And Vince Lombardi doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings.

The difference though is all of those coaches have their private defenders. Talk to any of their friends and they’ll tell you stories about their philanthropy, their humor and their general goodness. I rarely heard that about Jack Del Rio and I’ve never heard that about Urban Meyer in the seventeen years I’ve covered his career. Hopefully sometime soon I will.

But again, that’s not a requirement to be a good football coach. Meyer has shown he can be a good football coach, but on a completely different level. Perhaps his executive skills, his ability to organize and create a ‘program’ will translate to the professional level. But we don’t know that. But there’s hope!

We do know that there’s a long list of college coaches who haven’t been able to transition to the pro game, and a few, like Urban’s friend from FOX Sports, Jimmy Johnson who have, and have done it very well.

Urban knows college players are still forming who they’re going to be as people. And I’m sure he knows sometimes a coach plays a significant role in that. Scientists say your brain isn’t fully formed until you’re about twenty-four years old and while you’re in college you’re still figuring out where you fit into the world. If somebody in authority gives you direction, especially if you’ve been coached in sports your whole life, you go along. Urban did that as a college coach with plenty of success.

And on Friday he admitted that the game has changed and said he’s changed with it. Professional athletes figure out what works for them and they’re a different breed.

Their first year they’re figuring out how to stay in the league. And that’s the overriding motivation throughout their career. As they get established, some figure out how to win, but they’re all trying to stay in the game. Nobody ever leaves when they want to.

Speaking of leaving, what did he have to say about leaving Columbus? I know he said Friday he was older and was very aware of his health and how to take care of it but wow, arachnoid cysts on your brain sounds serious! I hope collapsing on the sideline and those headaches he suffered at Ohio State isn’t in his future here. I guess medical science really is amazing! That FOX Sports gig must have been just the relaxing tonic he needed.

You’ve been in the Jaguars locker room and you’ve seen the different ways players get themselves ready. They know what works for them. When to eat, how much sleep, rest and nutrition they need. What kind of workouts get them best prepared? I hope Urban has thought about that and the difference coaching grown men.

They’ll follow along with his schedule and the concepts, but there’s much more individualism in pro sports. He’ll will have to get used to that, not the other way around. College coaches who try to impose their will and their way in pro sports flame out pretty quickly. Hey, even Tom Coughlin adjusted when he was with the Giants and won two Super Bowls.

Look, you and I know you don’t have to be good, or even nice to be a good football coach. But you have to be respected by the players, the assistants, the people in your organization, the media and the fans. I’m sure Urban realizes that he doesn’t have that from the start with football fans here in North Florida.

Unlike a lot of hires where the coach has a bit of a honeymoon period while everybody sees where he takes the team, Meyer’s track record doesn’t afford him that. He’ll have to earn respect every step of the way.

There’s also the CEO aspect of the job where the head coach represents the organization. That matters a lot here in Jacksonville. Maybe more than other cities. The Jaguars head coach is the face of the team and has to be out there in some way as part of the community. That’ll be great to see Urban helping out at the Sulzbacher Center and speaking at Rotary Clubs spreading the good word of the Jaguars.

I hope occasionally losing on the NFL level doesn’t bother Urban too much. One fellow reporter said losing “crushed Urban’s soul” more than any other coach we’ve covered. That’s great on one level that he cares that much, luckily, he only lost thirty-two times in his entire college career. I mean, geez, the Jaguars lost fifteen times just LAST YEAR! He’ll remember losing five games in a season might have cost him his job in college. But wow, if he only loses five games a year with the Jaguars, we’ll erect a statue!

Anyway, I’ve taken way too much of your time. Looking forward to your General Manager pick and hopefully seeing more of you around, and winning in 2021!

Best, SK

Named one of the “50 Most Influential People in Jacksonville,” Sam Kouvaris is a columnist for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida. He also serves as the President and CEO of Pegasus Media Productions operating Samsportsline.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *