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Jaguars fire coach Urban Meyer amid season filled with controversy

Urban Meyer was fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday morning just 13 games in his career as an NFL head coach. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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IRVING, Tex. — The Jacksonville Jaguars fired Urban Meyer as their coach Thursday morning, four games shy of Meyer completing a turbulent first season filled with embarrassing public blunders.

Meyer became the latest prominent college coach to fail to duplicate his success after making the jump to the NFL. He had arrived in Jacksonville amid much fanfare in January when team owner Shad Khan lured him out of retirement.

But the Jaguars lost 11 of Meyer’s 13 games, and his missteps accumulated. The latest came Wednesday evening, when the Tampa Bay Times reported that former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo accused Meyer of kicking him in the leg on the practice field during the preseason, which Meyer denied.

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The Jaguars announced the dismissal early Thursday morning, hours after Khan attended an NFL owners’ meeting Wednesday in the Dallas area.

“After deliberation over many weeks and a thorough analysis of the entirety of Urban’s tenure with our team, I am bitterly disappointed to arrive at the conclusion that an immediate change is imperative for everyone,” Khan said in a written statement released by the team. “I informed Urban of the change this evening. As I stated in October, regaining our trust and respect was essential. Regrettably, it did not happen.

“In the spirit of closure and recharging our players, staff and fan base, I will not comment further until some point following the conclusion of the NFL season.”

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Meyer, 57, joins Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz, Chip Kelly and others on the list of prominent college coaches who could not make things work in the NFL. Meyer spent 17 seasons in the college ranks at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, winning more than 85 percent of his games and securing two national championships at Florida and another at Ohio State.

Meyer stepped aside at Ohio State in December 2018, citing health concerns among the issues as he headed into what was supposed to be a retirement from coaching.

“I believe I will not coach again,” Meyer said then.

Khan called Meyer’s hiring “a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere.” But Meyer was becoming a first-time NFL head coach at age 56. And he was inheriting a Jaguars team that was coming off a one-win season in 2020.

Meyer and the Jaguars suffered through a miserable season, even after the team used the top pick in the NFL draft on quarterback Trevor Lawrence. And the Jaguars were not only losing with their usual low profile. They were losing while suffering a seemingly ceaseless string of disconcerting episodes, most recently Lambo’s accusation.

“I’m in a lunge position. Left leg forward, right leg back,” Lambo told the Tampa Bay Times. “... Urban Meyer, while I’m in that stretch position, comes up to me and says, ‘Hey dips---, make your f---ing kicks!’ And kicks me in the leg.”

Meyer denied Lambo’s allegation. But the Jaguars apparently considered it more than they could continue to take.

“It certainly wasn’t as hard as he could’ve done it, but it certainly wasn’t a love tap,” Lambo said. “Truthfully, I’d register it as a five [out of 10]. Which in the workplace, I don’t care if it’s football or not, the boss can’t strike an employee. And for a second, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Pardon my vulgarity, I said, ‘Don’t you ever f---ing kick me again!’ And his response was: ‘I’m the head ball coach. I’ll kick you whenever the f--- I want.’ ”

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NFL Network reported this past weekend that Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones had to be convinced in recent weeks to return to the team’s facility after he left in anger because of Meyer’s criticism of the team’s wideouts and that Jones had a heated argument with Meyer during a practice. The network also reported that Meyer told his assistant coaches during a staff meeting that he is a winner and they are losers.

Meyer denied the report and publicly threatened to fire any employee responsible for leaking disparaging information. Even then, it did not appear that Khan intended to move on from Meyer, at least not immediately. But the revelation of the incident involving Lambo apparently prompted Khan to act after months of unflattering episodes.

In October, the team issued a public reprimand of Meyer when Khan called Meyer’s off-field conduct “inexcusable” and said the coach “must regain our trust and respect” after video surfaced of Meyer in a Columbus, Ohio, bar with a young woman dancing alongside him. Meyer, who had remained in Ohio and had not immediately accompanied the Jaguars back to Jacksonville following a defeat at Cincinnati that dropped the team’s record to 0-4, issued a public apology.

In late August, just before the season, the NFL Players Association said it would open an investigation into comments made by Meyer. He had said that the Jaguars considered players’ vaccination status while making their roster decisions.

“Everyone was considered,” Meyer said then. “That was part of the production. Let’s start talking about this and then also: Is he vaccinated or not? Can I say that that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.”

The Jaguars later said that “no player was released because of their vaccination status.”

Meyer signed his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida, Tim Tebow, in May despite the fact that Tebow was about to turn 34 and last played in an NFL game in 2012. Tebow retired from baseball in February after spending five years in the New York Mets’ minor league system. Tebow attempted to make the Jaguars’ roster as a tight end but was released in August.

In February, the Jaguars announced the resignation of strength coach Chris Doyle, one day after adding him to Meyer’s staff as the director of sports performance. That move came hours after the diversity group that works closely with the NFL on its minority hiring, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, called the hire “simply unacceptable.” Doyle was accused of mistreating players and making racist comments while at the University of Iowa.

“Chris Doyle came to us this evening to submit his resignation and we have accepted,” the Jaguars said at the time in a written statement originally attributed to Meyer and later revised to be attributed to Meyer and General Manager Trent Baalke.

In Thursday’s statement, Khan said the Jaguars tabbed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to serve as their interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Baalke was retained as the team’s general manager.

Des Bieler in Washington contributed to this report.

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