My first big assignment out of college in the early 1990s was occasionally covering home games of the Buffalo Bills. I once found myself walking alongside Marv Levy, the accomplished, polished head coach whose talented, zany players respected and adored him. I asked him why. He replied:
“I treat them like men.”
Ten years later, I found myself alone on a training camp field with Andy Reid, an unaccomplished, unpolished taskmaster whose first season as an NFL head coach had ended 5-11. Still, his talented, zany players already respected and adored him. I asked him why. He replied:
“They respect me because I respect every one of them.”
Urban Meyer did not treat his Jaguars players like men. Urban Meyer did not respect every one of them. And, so, Urban Meyer got fired. He’s the latest in a line of modern college coaches for whom the NFL and its weekly accountability was too much to handle.
Just like Chip Kelly.
Kelly, an underdog overachiever at Oregon, lasted nearly three seasons with the Eagles. Meyer, a big winner at Florida and Ohio State, lasted only 13 games, of which he lost 11, won two, and was just semi-present for all; on Sunday, he thought Jaguars safety Andre Cisco had played, when he hadn’t.
Both behaved the way they had in their college fiefdoms: Kelly, condescending from Eugene, Ore.; Meyer, aloof in both Gainesville, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio.
“[Some NFL coaches] see us as slaves,” one former Eagle told me (that player is white).
Kelly walked down the Eagles’ hallways, eyes blinkered, ignoring players who resided low on the roster and Eagles associates whose names he never bothered to learn. He got rid of both DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy during their prime, and he smeared them as they left. Kelly’s ego grew so large that he blew off owner Jeffrey Lurie’s holiday party, a sin that even Lurie could not forgive. Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson led a chorus of discontent in which he called Kelly a “dictator.”
» READ MORE: Lane Johnson calls Chip Kelly a dictator
So cold was Kelly’s demeanor that owner Lurie replaced him with Stuart Smalley.
And no, you don’t need as much emotional intelligence as Doug Pederson, and you don’t need to say the word “connection” in every third sentence, like Nick Sirianni does, but it helps if you don’t kick your players. Like, literally kick them. It is delicious that a story about Meyer kicking a kicker finally got him kicked out of Jacksonville, but this union was always doomed, like a Jennifer Lopez marriage.
Meyer’s tenure was brief, but busy.
Dumb & Dumber
Meyer, who is married, made big news in October when a viral video of him surfaced showing him touching another woman’s backside at his bar in Columbus after Meyer declined to return on the team plane after a loss at Cincinnati. Jags owner Shad Khan, one of the few owners less competent than Jerry Jones, issued a statement that Meyer had to “Regain our trust and respect.”
Meyer respects no one, and, so, he failed. He has failed almost constantly since January, when Khan coaxed him out of retirement to hire him over accomplished NFL names like Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich, the offensive coordinators at Super Bowl LV.
Meyer’s ignorance and impotence have been fascinating to watch.
Meyer lured his former quarterback at Florida, Tim Tebow, out of retirement — baseball retirement — to convert him to tight end, at the age of 34. After reading that sentence, pause here to allow your brain to reset.
In October, Meyer said he wanted his then-winless team to gain 250 yards passing and 250 yards rushing in the same game. This had been done just 52 times in NFL history, according to stathead.com, and never by Jacksonville.
Earlier this month, Meyer cast himself as a winner while reportedly calling his assistant coaches losers, according to NFL.com. Notably, Meyer hired these assistant coaches.
Meyer also reportedly criticized the receivers so often and with such virulence that veteran Marvin Jones left the facility; then, upon his return, argued with Meyer on the practice field.
The tipping point came Wednesday when the Tampa Bay Times published a devastating story that involved player abuse. Former Jags kicker Josh Lambo said Meyer, at a practice in August, kicked the kicker while he was stretching. He then said to Lambo, “Hey Dips—t, make your f—ing kicks!” When Lambo protested, Meyer replied, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f—k I want.”
Well, not anymore.
Hoist with their own petard
Not every college coach whose career dies in the NFL drowns in his own hubris, but the biggest failures usually do.
Nick Saban, Lane Johnson recalled, won big at LSU but flamed out with the Dolphins: “He went to the pros, and tried to do the same thing with professional athletes he did with college kids.”
Saban wasn’t the worst, and he wasn’t alone. Louisville loser Bobby Petrino proved to be a snake before and after his 13-game stint with the Falcons. Rutgers mirage Greg Schiano proved to be more style than substance in Tampa Bay. Famous disappointments like Steve Spurrier and Butch Davis had more issues with personnel, staff, and scheme than with chemistry.
While Kelly had problems adapting his offense to NFL play, it was, ultimately, his domineering and dismissive personality that cost him his job with one game to play in the 2015 season.
A disconnect between college coaches and NFL players is logical. A college coach arrives in the NFL having served as the face of a billion-dollar corporation poorly masked as an institution of higher learning. There, largely in backwater towns dependent on the schools for their economies and emboldened by billion-dollar TV deals, he has operated with utter impunity, on and off the field, for years. It’s a hard habit to break.
College coaches who have been bullies for decades simply do not fit the profile of a person who would respect a man who is younger, less powerful, and less knowledgeable than they are — even if that person is an NFL player.
A college roster is comprised of powerless young men whose entire future depends on their coach, and the men who coach them can be horrid. I’ve heard bully-boy college coaches make fun of players’ girlfriends, parents, and hometowns. That doesn’t happen in today’s NFL, where players make guaranteed money and have the support of a labor union.
I would have loved to have seen Chip Kelly wisecrack about Zach Ertz’s wife, Julie.
Then again, if that ever happened, Julie probably would’ve shown up and kicked Chip’s butt herself.
This is not to say Levy, 96, or Reid, 63, were pushovers.
If you can remember 1999, you might point to Reid’s masochistic punishment of George Hegamin, when, as a rookie head coach, Big Red made Big George push a blocking sled up and down the field after a preseason practice. You might not remember why: Hegamin had gone AWOL the day before because he was demoted from the first team.
Not one player had any sympathy for George Hegamin, and that included George Hegamin. But all of them had greater respect for Andy Reid.
Yes, Reid punished Hegamin, and he cut him two weeks later, but he never disrespected him. Players demand that sort of treatment.
That’s why Andy Reid one day will join Marv Levy in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And that’s why Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly never will.