Gene Frenette: Urban Meyer needs Jaguars to defuse DistractionGate by winning games
Just because the 72-hour Urban Meyer Apology Tour has presumably reached a finish line, and his players are properly circling the wagons around their embattled coach, it doesn’t mean all is well in the Jaguars’ house.
There’s still a lot of mess to clean up, starting with the process of Meyer missteps not impeding the preparation for Sunday’s home matchup with the despised Tennessee Titans.
So, it’d be nice to not have another close-your-eyes-kids video pop up to add to DistractionGate.
Fortunately for Meyer, since Wednesday just happened to be quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s 22nd birthday, it gave him a perfect opening to lead off his pre-practice speech to the team.
When there’s still a bit of tension hovering over an organization, you take whatever positives you can to bring up the team energy and tone down the air of uneasiness.
Urban Meyer history:A timeline of the Jaguars coach from Gators and Buckeyes to bar video
More from Gene Frenette:The Urban Meyer bar videos are a problem. Shad Khan, the solution is up to you.
It’s been a rough three or four days for Meyer. The last thing a winless NFL coach and married father needed was being caught on an embarrassing video, one where he got way too cozy with a young woman during a birthday party last Friday at his restaurant/bar in Columbus.
Meyer sent social media into a frenzy with his personal misconduct. It has forced him to publicly go into groveling mode, trying to make things right with his wife, Shelley, his three kids, Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan, the fans and everybody connected to the organization.
Not exactly being the master of public relations, Meyer probably didn’t earn any points at home by referring to his despicable behavior on that video as a “speed bump” when asked about repairing the damage to his marriage.
Trevor Lawrence and Josh Allen back up Urban Meyer
Like the Jaguars’ on-field play, the Meyer PR skill set still needs some work. The good news for him is two of his high-profile players — Lawrence and pass-rusher Josh Allen — did the expected thing Wednesday by publicly supporting their coach.
“I’d say, of our leadership committee, I had at least 8-10 phone calls where they called me and they were over-the-top supportive and said, ‘We got you, man. We will move forward,’" Meyer said. “The common thing was, ‘Coach, we have all done stupid things.’"
The difference, of course, is Meyer is 57 years old and should have known better than to act like a college frat boy. But the bigger issue now is the massive challenge of trying to regain locker room trust and credibility.
Lawrence affirmed Meyer’s stance of the players being united behind him. However, there’s no way of properly gauging that without media access to the locker room, which has been barred for over a year due to COVID-19 protocols.
All we have to go on is Lawrence and Allen insisting that numerous meetings with Meyer, both with position groups and players individually, were a positive step in the right direction.
“I know a lot of the guys respected it, how he addressed us [Wednesday] morning,” said Lawrence. “Most of us have had separate conversations, individual one-on-one conversations with him and I think he’s handled it well to this point. Obviously, it’s not an easy situation and you don’t want to be in the situation, but I think he’s done right by us.
"We are a team and we are sticking together. Just because something happens that puts a little stress on it, that doesn’t mean you just give up and you go your separate ways. You figure it out and you work through it. . . . Nothing’s changed. We’re still really tight, so we’re just looking forward to playing the Titans this weekend and getting back on track.”
How will the Jags prepare for the Titans?
Oh, yeah, almost forgot about the Titans. You know, that hated AFC South rival up in Nashville? The one that has beaten the Jaguars in nine of their last 11 meetings and relishes pounding opponents into submission with NFL leading rusher Derrick Henry.
If Meyer has even a puncher’s chance of fulfilling Khan’s wish of regaining the trust and respect of the team, of somehow making a comeback from what the coach labeled a “stupid mistake,” then doesn’t it have to start with beating the Titans?
After all, winning is the ultimate NFL elixir. So when a team has lost 19 consecutive games, seven short of tying the all-time record, and the head coach adds to that burden by creating a massive PR mess, there’s only one remedy to remove all that stench.
Not that a victory over the Titans makes up for an 0-4 start or instantly makes the disingenuous Meyer a model citizen, but the last thing the team and coach need right now is the Titans coming into TIAA Bank Field and making it 20 straight Ls.
Meyer has probably lost his teacher’s-pet status with Khan for the time being and also rankled a good portion of the fan base. He would normally still be on sort of a honeymoon period as the Jaguars rebuild around Lawrence, but his feel-good story has evaporated with DistractionGate.
Let’s be real about something: if this same video had surfaced when Meyer was coaching at Florida or Ohio State, he would already be fired, national championships be damned. Whatever clause in his contracts that pertained to moral turpitude would be invoked and Meyer would have been out the door.
But this is the NFL, where almost any player or coach – so long as they’re considered paramount to winning — can stay gainfully employed despite many assorted transgressions.
As long as there’s no more incriminating video, Meyer can move on with the business of getting his team ready for the Titans. But can he see to it that the Jaguars don’t lose focus amid the circus that he brought on himself?
“I’m in a fight to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Meyer. “As of now, no, I don’t see that one bit.”
Whether the Jaguars feel compelled to win for Meyer, or win in spite of him, what is most important is beating the Titans to put a stop to a pile of negativity.
The alternative of a losing streak reaching 20 doesn’t figure to be pretty.
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