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Don't judge a coach by his college cover: Where Meyer flounders, Kingsbury succeeds

Johnny Venerable Avatar
December 11, 2021

Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer is having a disastrous first season in the NFL. After moving from the college ranks to the pro game, with a brief retirement stint mixed in, Meyer appears to be completely overwhelmed.

First, it was an embarrassing bar scene following a Thursday Night Football loss to Cincinnati, in which the former Buckeyes head coach was seen “having a good time” instead of flying back with the Jaguars. That spectacle prompted team owner Shad Khan to release a statement regarding Meyers actions.

Next up was a report from NFL Network’s Mike Silver, suggesting that Meyer “currently has zero credibility in that stadium” and “I don’t know how he’s gonna function.”

If those reports weren’t bad enough, then came Saturday’s story from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero in which “months of tension surrounding Urban Meyer has boiled over with multiple run-ins with players and other coaches in recent weeks.” Part of the tension Pelissero referred to stems from a staff meeting in which Meyer berated his coaching staff, calling them “losers” and demanding that they “defend their résumés.” Pelissero speculated that Meyer’s tenure in Jacksonville could end after the 2021 season (if not sooner).

Which brings us to Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has become a roaring success since moving from Texas Tech to the NFL. Unlike Meyer, who was largely met with support after being courted by Jacksonville ownership, the decision to hire Kingsbury was a major risk by the Cardinals front office.

The Cardinals had just fired first-year coach Steve Wilks after a 3-13 campaign in which the former defensive coordinator was over his head nearly every week. During that 2012 season, Arizona sported one of the worst offenses of the past 20 years, which prompted president Michael Bidwill and GM Steve Keim to make a quick change; a change that was universally met with pushback and negativity from mainstream media.

Until this season, Kingsbury had been viewed as a failed college coach who would eventually be exposed by the pro game. This despite making the 2019 Cardinals competitive in nearly every outing, while transforming their antiquated offense into the 13th-ranked unit in Team DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Keep in mind that this was in a division that sported three teams above .500, including the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers (13-3).

By comparison, Meyer inherited a a team in an AFC South that fielded the disastrous Houston Texans and the inconsistent Indianapolis Colts.

Both Meyer and Kingsbury benefited from taking over after their respective franchises had landed the draft’s top pick. Kingsbury famously lobbied Keim and the scouts to go with undersized quarterback Kyler Murray, who also had his share of critics at the professional level. Meyer got Trevor Lawrence, previously labeled as the “best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck,” but the results have been a mixed bag.

While Kingsbury has managed to elevate Murray to Pro Bowl status, Jacksonville brass is already questioning its decision to pair the franchise savior with the erratic Meyer, who announced an “open competition” between Lawrence and incumbent starter Gardner Minshew.

When the Cardinals drafted Murray, Kingsbury had the sense to name the former Oklahoma standout as the team’s starter well before OTAs.

Since his first start as a pro against the Detroit Lions, Murray has looked the part of a franchise quarterback. The same can’t be said for Lawrence, who like Meyer, is having an awful rookie season with more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine). Compare that to Murray’s rookie season (20 TDs, 12 INTs) in which Kingsbury specifically schemed an offense to highlight his QB’s unique talents en route to NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

While Meyer is older (57) and possibly rigid, Kingsbury is young (42) and appears to be in tune with today’s generation of players.

The relatability and humility that is consistently on display from Kingsbury is something that Meyer has seemingly lacked from the start with the Jaguars. Perhaps it’s because Meyer himself had very little exposure to the pro game, where as Kingsbury spent eight seasons as a player between the NFL and CFL. Before his arrival with the Cardinals, Kingsbury had already developed a strong rapport with NFL staples Bill Belichick and Sean McVay, each of whom speak glowingly of the 10-2 “coach of the year” contender.

Meyer, meanwhile, has struggled to build up quality NFL content and has resorted to privately shaming members of his own staff. This long after blundering the hiring of sports performance director Chris Doyle, who was eventually dismissed by Meyer following accusations of bullying and racism from his time at the University of Iowa.

If this situation has taught us anything, perhaps it’s to reserve judgment before picking apart a coach’s résumé after making the leap from college to pros. Let’s not forget the praise heaped upon the Carolina Panthers after their expensive acquisition of former Baylor coach Matt Rhule. Not even two years into his tenure, there is already speculation that Rhule could bolt back to the collegiate level following another disappointing season.

So while Rhule and Meyer continue to flounder their way to NFL irrelevance, Kingsbury is preparing to lock up his team’s first postseason birth since 2015. The Cardinals’ success is the envy of most NFL teams, and that’s due in large part to Kingsbury’s ability to acclimate to the pro game.

For every Urban Meyer, Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino, there’s a Kliff Kingsbury who can show all the doubters that his NFL success is as real as the satisfaction he has gained from it.

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