With Urban Meyer leading the culture change and No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence installed as the franchise QB, things are looking up for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finally appear set up for sustainable success.
By Judy Battista | May 2, 2021
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was the day before his first draft as an NFL head coach, and Urban Meyer was standing on the deck of a Navy destroyer talking about misery.
"You have to embrace the misery of greatness," he told the dozens of young sailors arrayed before him on the USS Delbert D. Black. "It hurts. It's staring at a ceiling fan all night. Greatness is miserable. It's hard. Most of the time, people turn back. They grab their bag and go home."
This section of what would seem to be a standard motivational spiel has particular resonance in Jacksonville, where the football team and its fans know plenty about misery, but not much about greatness. Meyer, one of college football's most successful coaches but an NFL newbie, was hired by the Jaguars, heretofore one of the NFL's most anonymous, if inoffensive teams, to change that – to change everything, really.
Even before the biggest possible change was made when the Jaguars selected quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick Thursday night, Meyer's work had begun and was noticeable in ways big and small. His challenge is straightforward, but not simple. Change a culture that had allowed the Jaguars to settle into mediocrity and irrelevance months before the team can even take the field, indeed before Meyer can even talk to most players face to face.
Meyer appeared Wednesday morning in a custom-made golf shirt that bore the words "Own It" right where he would put his hand over his heart. That is Meyer's mantra here and that small bit of public accountability delights the team owner, Shad Khan, and is plastered on billboards and placards and, now, Meyer's clothing. There are fresh coats of paint at the team's stadium, improved food for the players, and plans for the imminent construction of a new, state-of-the-art building that will house football operations – a badly-needed upgrade of everything from the weight room to food services that are currently jammed into an aging stadium the team leases from the city.
Even Meyer's appearance at Naval Station Mayport is part of this extreme makeover, gridiron edition. New on the job, Meyer one day got a call from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suggested it would be good for the coach to get out into the community. Jacksonville is one of the NFL's smallest markets and years of languishing mostly far from the playoffs hasn't helped the profile of a team that, most recently, has been talked about largely for selling off its star players. So, Meyer has taken a tour of a local neighborhood not far from the stadium where the team hopes to increase its volunteer service. He has presented an award to a local schools superintendent. And, on Wednesday, he forged a tie with Jacksonville's military community, the largest of any NFL city.
It was Meyer's idea to reach out to the military – his father was in the Army and his sister in the Air Force, and he considers the military the ultimate in leadership – but he explained that appearance, on a day when most of his coaching contemporaries were deep in their draft bunkers, as an opportunity to get out of what he calls "the cave" and get some fresh air. Really, this is all about breathing new life into a team that, as much as anything, needed to be brought down to the studs and rebuilt.
A rebuild is helped immensely by having the No. 1 draft pick. Khan feels he had the first head coach pick, too, in Meyer. The combination has raised hopes that, finally, the Jaguars will ascend to the top of the NFL. And stay there.
"You don't want to have too much hyperbole, but it is transformational," Khan said in an interview earlier in the week. "It gives us the opportunity for sustainable and longterm success. That's what really eluded us. Three years ago, I thought, 'Okay, we really turned the corner.' We were even a Super Bowl darling. We even got off to a 3-1 start. That was September of 2018. And then obviously it's been a downhill ride. This feels like we have definitely turned the corner."