Sports

Urban Meyer to Make N.F.L. Jump With Jacksonville Jaguars

Urban Meyer, the former Ohio State and Florida head coach who retired in 2018, will return to the sidelines as the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, his first N.F.L. job.

“Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results,” Shad Khan, the team’s owner, said in a statement. “While Urban already enjoys a legacy in the game of football that few will ever match, his passion for the opportunity in front of him here in Jacksonville is powerful and unmistakable.”

Meyer, 56, was a spectacularly successful and highly paid collegiate coach, winning national titles with Florida in 2006 and 2008 and Ohio State in 2014. He previously had successful stints at Bowling Green and Utah.

In 2018, Meyer retired from the Ohio State job, citing health concerns, including headaches related to a congenital arachnoid cyst.

Meyer had been suspended for three games earlier that year after an investigation revealed he had protected a longtime assistant, Zach Smith, with a history of domestic abuse. One trustee of the university said the punishment was too lenient.

Meyer defended his actions and moved to another job in Ohio State’s athletic department.

“I believe I will not coach again,” he said at the time.

With Thursday’s announcement, Meyer is set to take over a Jaguars team that won its first game of the 2020 season against the Indianapolis Colts, then lost the following 15 games. When the season ended, Khan dismissed head coach Doug Marrone, who had taken the team to the A.F.C. championship game in 2017, but was 12-36 since.

The Jaguars’ abysmal record will give them the top pick in this year’s draft, a selection they are likely to use on quarterback Trevor Lawrence of Clemson. That could quickly bring an end to the starting job of Gardner Minshew, the colorful but erratically performing starter for most of the last two seasons.

Meyer already has a big following in Jacksonville, where many college football fans root for the Florida Gators, who play in Gainesville, just over an hour’s drive away. Meyer is the seventh coach of the Jaguars, who played their first N.F.L. game in 1995. The team has made the postseason only once since 2007.

Few coaches have enjoyed greater dominance over the college game, where Meyer was 187-32 over 17 years as a head coach and won national championships at Florida and Ohio State with his spread offenses that included quarterback Tim Tebow, the winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy, and Aaron Hernandez, the star tight end whose pro career ended after he was accused of murder. At Utah, where Meyer was 22-2 in two seasons, he coached Alex Smith, the top pick in the 2005 N.F.L. draft who now plays for the Washington Football Team.

But health troubles publicly trailed Meyer in the last decade of his career in the college ranks. In 2009, he announced that he would resign as Florida’s coach, only to reverse his decision a day later. At the time, he suggested “self-destructive” work habits were having a detrimental effect on his health. After a leave of absence, he went 8-5 the next season and exited Florida, saying it was “what’s best for the University of Florida, my players and myself and my family.”

He was absent from the sideline for just one season before Ohio State hired him and set a proud program toward another stirring run, including a championship in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff era.

It was at Ohio State, though, that Meyer’s career took its greatest scar. The university suspended Meyer for several games in 2018 after he failed to properly report domestic abuse allegations against an assistant coach and misled reporters about his knowledge of the assistant’s history. When Meyer retired from coaching at the university later that year, he again cited his health.

Still, Meyer remained a deeply appealing prospective coach. He was linked to openings, or potential vacancies, at the University of Southern California and the University of Texas, reportedly resisting the latter in recent months because of his health.

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