The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nobody believes Urban Meyer. That’s why he’s failing.

Urban Meyer’s Jacksonville Jaguars fell to 2-11 after losing to the Tennessee Titans. (Jeff Haynes/AP)
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You would call Urban Meyer a poseur, but he’s too evasive to hold any pose for long. His problem with the Jacksonville Jaguars seems to be mostly one of tone — he can’t seem to find a sincere one. Meyer has had to “address” his team, what, three times now over various mismanagement issues? But you can never pin any blame on him for a lousy performance or inner dissension. He’s cleaner than his white lies.

From the very beginning, with his demeaning labeling of guys as either “Winners” or “Losers” in training camp and his supercilious pronouncement that “Every man’s got a record,” you could tell Meyer badly misapprehended what it takes to lead in the NFL. He’s as close to a legit NFL head coach as a grackle is to an attack helicopter. The difference between pros and the worshipful spaniel-eyed kids Meyer barked at in college is that high performers in the NFL are almost impossible to manipulate with dishonest or counterfeit slogans. What turns their performance is the truth.

Nobody believes a word Meyer says. He’s 2-11, he bailed on his team after a loss to go grinding in a bar, and he doesn’t even seem to know which of his players rotate in and out of the game or why. Asked Monday whether safety Andre Cisco will see more action, Meyer replied: “Cisco is playing a little bit more, I believe. I don’t have his numbers in front of me.” Cisco wasn’t on the field for a single defensive snap against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

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And in that moment, it became entirely understandable why the Jaguars’ staff is leaking like an oil spill with stories about Meyer’s shallow conceits and over-his-head incompetence.

Ever since Meyer was lured off a TV set by Jaguars owner Shad Khan, he has been spouting airy platitudes that have as much substance as a young-adult novel. He could get away with that at Ohio State and Florida, backed by administrations willing to tolerate his mismanagement-scandals, such as 31 arrests among the Gators and the coddling of an alleged domestic abuser on his staff with the Buckeyes. He recruited top talent, benefited from a lot of mismatches and coated it all with organizational bromides. But it’s becoming clear that he knows absolutely nothing about real-world, elite competitive character. Don’t ever forget that he ran off Joe Burrow in favor of Dwayne Haskins — and labeled Haskins the can’t-miss prospect.

Imagine you’re a veteran in his locker room who has to listen to his froth about a “plus-two mentality.” What’s a plus-two mentality, you might ask? “If we ask you to go 10, go 12,” Meyer said. “When we ask you to go five reps, give us seven. It’s just a way of thinking.”

Actually, it’s just a way of blustering.

Hear how that must land on the ears of Malcom Brown, a seven-year veteran defensive tackle who spent four seasons with the champion New England Patriots under Bill Belichick and another two with the New Orleans Saints and Sean Payton. And now you have to listen to this hoaxer. Imagine you’re Jacob Hollister, the tight end who fought his way onto the Patriots’ roster as an undrafted free agent and then made the playoffs with the Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carroll, too. Or wide receiver Tavon Austin, who has worked under Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams and Matt LaFleur with the Green Bay Packers. Or Jaydon Mickens, the ultimate effort guy whom Bruce Arians elevated from his practice squad to win a ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.

You want these guys to give you two more reps, do you? You want them to elevate their mentality to your loftier standard?

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Meyer seems to have no awareness that his locker room is already populated by over-strivers with extreme mentalities. Every man on the practice field is in the rare 1.6 percent of those who made the transition from NCAA to NFL because they went the extra mile. They work in a league in which the injury rate is 100 percent and their contracts aren’t guaranteed. Here is what Meyer knows about elite effort: He hit .182 as a baseball farm leaguer before he went to the University of Cincinnati as a walk-on in 1985, where he made exactly two tackles.

The good NFL coaches begin exchanges with the fundamental mind-set that their players want to be great — and if their effort flags it’s usually because they’re discouraged by poor working conditions or a boss they don’t trust. The phrase “locker room talk” is associated with crudity, and there’s no question that exists. But the conversational tone within a championship NFL organization is highly nuanced, too, and the best NFL coaches speak the truth — in a language of diagnosis and distinction, not excessive recrimination or blame-shifting. Above all, they understand that the best performances don’t come from demand but rather from mutual belief in one another’s work.

If Meyer has lost the Jaguars’ locker room, and it appears he has, it may be because he managed it with something close to disrespect for the professionals who inhabit it. He demands an extra two reps and then takes a night off in a bar. He preaches personal responsibility and then ducks his own. “I’m very demanding of our coaches and expect guys to be held accountable for their positions,” he said Sunday. Like he’s the only demanding guy in the building. Like he’s the only one with standards. Small wonder if the disrespect has become entirely mutual.

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