Back to the future, Northeast Florida.
Urban Meyer is the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The seventh coach in franchise history, Meyer inherits a treasure trove of riches. The No. 1 overall pick. Eleven draft selections (as of this writing) in 2021. The fourth-most cap space this off-season. Not to mention building blocks in the likes of Pro Bowlers DJ Chark and Josh Allen (and Pro Bowl snubs, James Robinson and Myles Jack).
Meyer has never coached in the NFL. But after leading the University of Florida and Ohio State to national titles – with stints in television in between – it’s safe to say he’s made a lot of friends.
Several coaches are rumored to be on Meyer’s new staff; there’s also a handful this sports reporter would like to see instead. Here’s what the First Coast Sports team is hearing:
Scott Linehan (Passing Game Coordinator, LSU)
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported Thursday night that the former Cowboys and Lions offensive coordinator (and one-time NFL head coach) is a candidate for Jaguars’ offensive coordinator.
Linehan fits the description of a top-assistant to Meyer with loads of NFL experience. His Lions’ teams went from 27th in the league in total offense (2009) to 15th in the league (2010) to 4th in the league (2011). The rise of Matthew Stafford, drafted by the Lions in 2009, obviously played a major role – and, in turn, Linehan has experience mentoring No. 1 overall-draft selection quarterbacks. He came under fire during his time in Dallas for limiting Dak Prescott in favor of running the ball, but the Cowboys went from 31st in total offense in 2015 to 4th in 2016. Also, the Cowboys added a guy named Zeke Elliott in 2016 – but I digress.
The point is: love or hate his style, Linehan fits the bill for what many have said Meyer needs in an offensive coordinator. And his style, for what it’s worth, is at the root of Meyer’s own schematic evolution (and Dan Mullen’s, for that matter)
Brian Johnson (Offensive Coordinator, Florida)
As much as Dan Mullen is the primary play-caller in Gainesville, Johnson’s development of Kyle Trask and back-to-back, heralded receiving corps cannot be denied. Florida averaged more than 500 yards of offense per game this fall. He missed out on the South Carolina head coaching vacancy last month and Boise State's last week. Unless UF is to pull the rug on Mullen (more on that in a second), Johnson isn’t going to suddenly ascend to the lead job for the Gators.
Johnson played collegiately for Meyer at Utah. He also has never coached in the NFL.
Jim Caldwell (former NFL head coach)
Another name with NFL head coach and offensive coordinator experience (Colts 2009-2011 and Lions 2014-2017). Caldwell also served as associate head coach and quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis during Peyton Manning’s glory years and the OC for the 2013 Super Bowl champion Ravens. And yet, like Meyer, his roots are in college, including seven seasons as Wake Forest’s head coach.
Caldwell was brought on to help the Miami Dolphins in 2019, but took a leave of absence due to health concerns. Prior to that, he interviewed for the Packers vacant head coaching position. He has interviewed for the Texans' open head coaching position this year.
Dan Mullen (Head Coach, Florida)
Yeah, I know. I don’t buy this one either.
In my opinion, Mullen fancies himself as either the Gators head coach or an NFL head coach, with no in between. He had his fun playing second-fiddle to Meyer in the mid-2000s. But might reuniting with his old pal and getting a year or two of NFL experience as an OC (Mullen, like Meyer, has never coached in the league) help Mullen get a head coaching gig down the line?
Yeah, I don’t see it either.
Teryl Austin (Secondary Coach, Steelers)
Another crossover from Meyer’s past (defensive coordinator at Florida in 2010) and some of the other names on this list (Austin served as Caldwell’s defensive coordinator in Detroit). And, again: a candidate who has experience in the pro’s and in college.
Austin’s Lions finished second in the league in total defense his first year in Detroit before falling to the middle of the pack the following year. He’s had head coaching interviews since 2014. After being fired by the Bengals in 2018, Austin spent the past two years as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh. He’s been involved in Super Bowls with the Seahawks (defensive backs coach), Cardinals (DB coach), and Ravens (secondary coach).
Marvin Lewis (former Bengals head coach)
Like Jim Caldwell: could returning to a coordinator role lead to another crack at a head coaching job for ol' Marv? Since being let go by the Bengals in 2018 (after 16 seasons), Lewis has spent the last two years on the all-world staff Herm Edwards has constructed at Arizona State. Lewis served as co-defensive coordinator alongside Antonio Pierce this fall. Might Lewis be interested in joining another “super staff” in Jacksonville? He has interviewed for both the Jets and Lions head coaching vacancies (the Jets hired Robert Saleh late Thursday night).
Since many forget (he was in Cincinnati for 16 years): Lewis was hired by the Bengals after serving as defensive coordinator for the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed Ravens that won the 2001 Super Bowl, shattering nearly every record in the book. They allowed 970 rushing yards the entire regular season, an NFL record. The Jaguars had five games where they gave up more than 200-rushing yards in each game… and that was in 2019, before the 1-15 disaster that was 2020.
Morgan Scalley (Defensive Coordinator, Utah)
Utah’s defensive coordinator and a former player of Meyer’s when he was in Salt Lake City. Scalley has never coached in the pro’s or left the state of Utah for that matter (or the Utes program). An All-American defensive back, he served as a secondary and special teams coach until getting the promotion to defensive coordinator in 2016. The Utes finished in the top-three in the Pac-12 in total defense each of the past four seasons.
Charlie Strong (former college head coach)
Sources confirmed to ESPN’s Mike DiRocco that Strong has not decided to join Meyer’s staff as of this writing. But if we’re gonna get the band back together: Meyer’s long-time defensive guru has to be involved, right? After serving as defensive coordinator under Ron Zook, Strong stuck around in Gainesville, becoming Meyer’s assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach. Strong eventually went on to be the head coach at Louisville, Texas and South Florida. He spent the last season at Alabama (where all coaches go to revive their careers, right?) as a defensive analyst.
Strong does not have any experience coaching in the NFL. Maybe he would consider once again serving as a linebackers coach under Meyer, if the defensive coordinator spot goes to someone with more league experience? Speaking of other assistant coaches….
Additional Offensive Coaches
RB Mike Sanford
(Honestly, you could make the case this could be Mike Sanford Senior or Junior)
The elder Sanford served as Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah, overseeing Alex Smith’s meteoric rise and a win in the Fiesta Bowl. He coached running backs at Utah, Utah State and Western Kentucky. Aside from a two-year stint with the Chargers (1999-2001) as wide receivers coach, he has never coached in the NFL.
Neither has his son, the former Western Kentucky head coach and current Minnesota offensive coordinator. He also served as Utah State’s offensive coordinator in 2019, helping mold Jordan Love into a first-round pick.
WR Brian Hartline
The former Ohio State stand-out has served as Wide Receivers Coach at his alma mater since 2018, and also worked as a GA under Meyer in 2017.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Meyer wouldn’t be ransacking the Buckeyes coaching staff. But still, there will be a few names to watch.
TE Billy Gonzales
If Dan Mullen and Brian Johnson don’t make a jump this off-season… then maybe Gators’ passing game coordinator Billy Gonzales decides to reunite with Meyer instead. Gonzales was Meyer’s wide receivers coach at Florida from 2005-2009. He reunited with Mullen at Mississippi State in 2013 and then followed him back to Gainesville.
With three Gators wide receivers drafted a season ago and more to come in April (not to mention: some All-American tight end named Kyle Pitts), Gonzales’ track record is there. But he, too, does not have NFL experience.
OL Kevin Wilson
Again, another Ohio State assistant (currently serving as their offensive coordinator) who has never coached in the NFL. The Buckeyes will have to find a new quarterback in 2021… but with the pipeline of five and four-star recruits coming in, it might be hard for the 59-year old Wilson to give up such a steady gig. Wilson played center and guard at UNC Chapel Hill, and served as an offensive line coach and coordinator at more than a half dozen schools since 1987.
Another name to watch: former Florida assistant and current Colorado State head coach Steve Addazio. Again, like Wilson: not sure Addazio would give up such a nice gig as a head coach for the first NFL job of his career. But Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer says Addazio’s name has come up in discussions – and Breer has been on-the-money on the Meyer Train over the last month.
Offensive Quality Control Coach Alex Smith
Oh, hello there! I almost forgot Meyer was Smith's college coach. Smith, of course, had a Heisman finalist final season at Utah, and, eventually was selected No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft.
After Washington’s season ended last week, Smith has yet to decide whether he will be calling it a career or not (Washington is looking for a long-term answer at QB, and the 36-year old Smith is probably not that answer). If he does look to play again in 2021, perhaps Smith might be the savvy veteran Meyer chooses to serve as a mentor and back-up (or bridge) to Trevor Lawrence instead.
Additional Defensive Coaches
DL Anthony Weaver
Texas Defensive Coordinator and a former graduate assistant of Meyer’s at Florida. Jeremy Fowler reported this potential move Thursday morning. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle also confirmed this report.
LB Lovie Smith
NFL experience is an understatement. Smith spent eight years as the Bears head coach, as well as a defensive coach for the Buccaneers and Rams of the early 2000s. He cut his teeth as a linebackers coach at the college level, and most recently served as Illinois’ head coach.
DB Chris Ash
Another rumored name that Fowler also confirmed as gaining traction (Breer mentioned him, too). Ash, the former head coach at Rutgers and defensive coordinator at Texas and Ohio State, has never coached in the NFL.
Defensive Quality Control Coach Ryan Shazier
Another former player of Meyer’s and another guy with an incredible story of perseverance that would only add to the “winning” culture the Jaguars are trying to build. Shazier’s spinal contusion injury suffered in 2017 would eventually force him to retire, but he has remained active in the football community.
Other Football Personnel
First Coast Sports Analyst and Locked on Jaguars podcast host Tony Wiggins reported Thursday that Lovo, the Assistant AD for Football Operations at the University of Texas, is expected to join Meyer’s staff/front office in a similar role. Lovo spent the last four years in Austin… but his roots are in the Meyer Coaching Tree. A two-time graduate of the University of Florida, Lovo worked in operations both at Florida and Ohio State under Meyer.
Ohio State’s Athletic Director of Player Personnel is another name rumored to be coming along with Meyer to assist in both football operations and the front office. He's a Gator grad and Florida native, but has been with the Buckeyes since 2011. While one of Pantoni's primary roles at Ohio State is recruitment, he also oversees film evaluations, social/creative media, and travel/roster management.
Whether you like that Tony Khan has his hand in the Jaguars pot or it concerns you, rest assured: Meyer will be bringing his own guys in to work right alongside the younger Khan.
... I promise: we'll get to General Manger on Monday. That is if Meyer and Shad Khan don't reveal that position has been filled before then. The pair are scheduled to meet the media via Zoom Friday, at 11:30 a.m.
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Want to sound off about the Jaguars? Sports Anchor / Reporter Mia O'Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @MiaOBrienTV on Twitter.