In Rise of the Jaguars, Dunne provides perspective through the lens of safety Andrew Wingard and coaches Press Taylor and Chad Hall.
Wingard told a story of Meyer’s response after he found out Wingard called him a rookie head coach. It was just a note in a player meeting that the team had an inexperienced coach and quarterback, so the defense needed to step up.
“You’re sitting there on your off-night chilling and you get a call from your head coach: ‘Hey, I’m going to cut you if you don’t apologize for calling me a rookie head coach.’”
The threat was real. If Wingard didn’t apologize, he was toast.
The next day, the two met and Wingard told Meyer everything he wanted to hear.
Meyer rattled off his career record.
Meyer told him how many draft picks he’s sent to the NFL.
Taylor described how today’s Jaguars coaches want the players to believe in themselves and “play with conviction.” According to Wingard, the team played with fear under Meyer.
During training camp, all 90 players were on thin ice. “It’s just fear,” Wingard says. “Fear. Playing in fear.” Meyer would conduct winner-loser drills in which he verbally announced a “winner” and a “loser” every rep of every drill. That doesn’t sound nearly as bad in theory as it was in practice.
Drill to drill to drill. Day to day to day.
Players became terrified of making mistakes. Nobody played freely.
“The way he’d describe you, you basically weren’t allowed to fail,” Wingard says. “So basically, this humongous fear of failure was in the locker room. If you mess up, Urban’s going to say, ‘You’re a loser. You don’t belong with me. You still love your wife. You’re still a good person. But you’re a loser. You’re not my type of guy.’ That type of stuff. He’d say that to guys.”
As for the viral video of Meyer in an Ohio bar, he was “just as bad trying to clean up his mess.”
When players read the national reports indicating that Meyer had called a team meeting and apologized, they rolled their eyes. This never happened. The head coach didn’t have the guts to stand in front of the entire roster and apologize. Instead, he shuffled into each position room and stammered through various word salads. Or, as Wingard reenacts in his DB room: “Uh… uh… look guys. This, this and this happened. Is everything OK? Does anyone want to say anything?” Nobody said anything. Urban left. Urban went on to brag at his Wednesday presser that had “a very pointed conversation” with the team “owning the stupid mistake that I made.”
Fortunately for Jacksonville, the Josh Lambo kicking incident allowed the franchise to fire Meyer for cause. And “everything changed on Feb. 4, 2022 with the decision to hire Doug Pederson as the next head coach.”
Taylor and Hall reflected on the culture in Jacksonville.
Inside his office, Taylor begins by citing character as a true “competitive advantage.” In a league built to go 9-8 and 8-9, he believes character can easily get you a few extra wins. That’s how Jacksonville has approached all player acquisition.
“If you’re not bought in,” Taylor says, “if you don’t prepare like a professional, you’re going to stick out in a bad way. I think guys know that now. Now, we’re at the point in Year 2 where our guys identify guys who fit and guys who don’t fit. So, they can come to us quickly whether it’s an undrafted free agent, a free agent we brought in, a draft pick: ‘Hey, we need to talk to this guy.’ … We’re able to have that player-led environment now.”
...When the Jaguars threw millions of dollars around in free agency a year ago, they paid up for pros they knew would set the tone in practice. Now, it’s set. And that’s what makes the perspective of Chad Hall also fascinating. Hall left the Buffalo Bills to become the Jaguars’ new wide receivers coach last February and recognized a well-oiled machine immediately. Not only are “players allowed to be themselves” in Jacksonville, Hall says, but they genuinely strive “to be the hardest-working group in the NFL.”
Wingard said of the coaching staff:
“They’re not scared to put goals out there. Yeah, we can have a goal. We can go win a Super Bowl. Some people are scared to have goals because if you say something, ‘OK, there’s going to be an expectation on you.’ We’re like, ‘OK, cool.’ Our only expectation that matters is what’s within. Who cares if you say you’re going to win a Super Bowl and the media starts to pick it up? … We have the balls to try.”
He also thinks Pederson has something to prove after a messy divorce in Philadelphia.
“He’s definitely calloused from that,” Wingard says. “He won’t admit it, but he brought Philly a Super Bowl and, ‘Oh, you’re going to fire me?’ He’s fired up. He has a fire in his belly.
“That translates down. I can feel it.”
Read the full feature story here.