Jaguars turned a blind eye toward the Rooney Rule and the ugly side of Urban Meyer's coaching history

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5 min read

For months, the NFL has tried to convince us that it has come to the revelation that Black lives matter, and that increasing the number of coaches of color on sidelines is a priority.

For years, the NFL has tried to convince us that it understands the scourge that is domestic violence, and the importance of protecting women and children from abusers.

And yet we are seeing once again that no matter what the NFL says publicly — for our purposes, the NFL is the league office on tony Park Avenue in New York — the team owners will do whatever they want.

The Jacksonville Jaguars introduced their new head coach on Friday, Urban Meyer.

Meyer has never before coached at the professional level, making his name and personal fortune off the backs of unpaid NCAA football players. He also hasn’t coached anywhere in two years, instead working as a Fox analyst. There also isn’t a great track record in the past 20 years or so of college coaches jumping to the NFL and having success; just ask Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier.

We’ll circle back to that later.

Meyer turned a blind eye to domestic violence

The last time we saw Meyer, he was at Ohio State in 2018 and embroiled in a controversy of his own making when it came to light that Meyer had known for years that one of his assistant coaches, Zach Smith, repeatedly abused his wife.

Meyer knew. Meyer’s wife Shelley knew.

It wasn’t until Courtney Smith filed a restraining order in 2018 and reporters started asking questions about Meyer protecting Zach Smith that there were any consequences for Smith and Meyer. They were of course questions Meyer did not appreciate because when you’re treated with such over-the-top reverence because you lead a winning football team and haven’t heard “no” for years, you don’t take too kindly to people holding you accountable.

After an investigation, Ohio State suspended Meyer for the first three games of the 2018 season. Meyer never publicly showed contrition, and even worse, left doubts as to whether he believed Courtney Smith, even though she had sent pictures of her abuse to Shelley Meyer.

And right on cue, as he’d done before at Florida, Meyer suddenly decided toward the end of the season to retire.

During his introductory news conference Friday, Meyer never addressed the situation with Smith, nor was he or Jaguars owner Shad Khan asked about it.

That’s likely how they prefer it.

Who wants to talk about the real-life, long-lasting consequences endured by a domestic violence survivor, consequences Meyer turned a blind eye to, when there’s a perennially mediocre football franchise hiring yet another head coach to celebrate?

Make no mistake: Smith’s actions are his own. But it is inexcusable that Meyer reportedly knew as far back as 2009 that Smith was abusing his wife and remained so invested in him because he’s a good football coach — you know, such a great leader of impressionable young men — that Meyer brought Smith with him from Florida to Ohio State and at one point talked Smith out of taking a promotion with Alabama.

In his introductory media conference with the Jaguars, Urban Meyer faced no questions about ex-assistant Zach Smith (left) and the abuse scandal from their time together at Ohio State. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
In his introductory media conference with the Jaguars, Urban Meyer faced no questions about ex-assistant Zach Smith (left) and the abuse scandal from their time together at Ohio State. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Florida legacy: Player arrests, Aaron Hernandez

Smith isn’t the only law-breaker Meyer protected. During his six seasons as coach at Florida, over 30 Gators players were arrested, some for misdemeanors like underage drinking and disorderly conduct, but there were also charges that included aggravated assault, repeatedly using the credit card of a woman who died in a motorcycle accident, and the multiple, violent transgressions of Aaron Hernandez.

But hey, Meyer brought two national championships to Gainesville, so what’s a little domestic violence by strangulation from a player as long as there’s a win on Saturday?

Just as the heat started to ramp up over the lawlessness by Gators players, Meyer retired for the first time, in 2010, citing health concerns. He returned to coaching in 2012 with Ohio State.

Rooney Rule remains a joke

Meyer was wrapping up his second year of retirement when he was approached by Khan, which brings us to the second part of this hire that stinks.

Publicly, the Jaguars reported that they interviewed four candidates for their head coaching job: Meyer, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Atlanta Falcons interim head coach/defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Bieniemy and Morris are Black, and Saleh is Arab American. (Saleh has since been hired by the New York Jets.)

Based on reporting from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, their interviews were all a sham.

Breer reported on Jan. 6 that Khan and the Jaguars had been in contact with Meyer for “close to a month, if not longer” and that the job was Meyer’s if he wanted it.

If that’s the case, the Jaguars did fulfill the letter of the Rooney Rule, but Khan doesn’t care one whit about its spirit.

It’s no different than in 2018 when the then-Oakland Raiders had essentially hired Jon Gruden as head coach before even firing Jack Del Rio, and then did a couple of transparently useless “interviews” with Black coaches to fulfill their obligation to the league.

Once again, what commissioner Roger Goodell tells all of us is important to the league is nothing but public relations spin. When it comes right down to it, NFL team owners don’t care what Goodell says, and aren’t concerned about the gross optics of a brutal league where over two-thirds of players are Black and good for entertainment. Then when it comes to coaching, candidates of color basically need to be unicorns who get held to a higher personal standard, always needing more experience, more play-calling reps, more something.

What’s a little domestic abuser protection and continued mocking of a toothless and insulting rule when there’s a coach to lure out of retirement in the hopes of winning some football games?

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