By Stephen Juza
January 17th, 2021
On January 14th, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced Urban Meyer as their new head coach, turning the keys of the franchise over to a coach who has no NFL experience. Heading into the offseason, they have the first pick in the draft with a generational quarterback talent available in Trevor Lawrence, and they have the most cap space of any team. It could be a very quick turnaround for the franchise, with the ability to change much of the roster that finished 1-15 in 2020.
However, hiring a coach without NFL experience is usually a risky proposition in NFL history. Since 1980, Meyer will be the twelfth head coach to be hired without any NFL coaching experience. Three of the twelve coached in other professional leagues, either the CFL or the USFL, while the other nine had coached exclusively in college. Success is a mixed bag from this group, a trend that the Jaguars hope Meyer will break.
The gold standard of this group is either Jimmy Johnson or Barry Switzer. Both were hired by the Dallas Cowboys, and they are two of the three coaches who have won both a college national championship and a Super Bowl (Pete Carroll is the other). Between Johnson’s hiring in 1989 and Switzer resigning from the team in 1997, the team went 84-60, with three Super Bowl titles. In fact, from 1991 to 1996, the Cowboys went 70-26, good for a winning percentage of 73%. These coaching hires can clearly pay dividends for a team.
Meyer is the most accomplished coach from this group of twelve and his college success matches closely with Switzer and Johnson. He found success wherever he coached. He won three national championships, two with Florida and one with Ohio State, and had an undefeated season at Utah. In fact, he is only the second coach to win a national championship at multiple schools, preceded by current Alabama coach Nick Saban.
However, success is not a sure thing. Even removing Johnson and Switzer, there are accomplished names in the group. Steve Spurrier and Dennis Erickson both won college championships and Hugh Campbell won five Grey Cups in the CFL. But the remaining nine coaches have an average winning percentage of 37% and failed to win a single playoff game in their combined 34 seasons.
At a pivotal moment in their franchise, the Jaguars are putting all their eggs in the Urban Meyer basket. Meyer has already said that whoever the team drafts first in April will be one of the most important professional decisions in his career. With a successful draft in April, the Jaguars could be set up for success for years to come.
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