Former Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer discusses his firing, apologizes to Jacksonville

Urban Meyer can still remember how he felt upon being hired and the hope he held for a winning Jaguars franchise. He can still recall the visions he had of a packed house that he would help fill.

While he believes it will all come eventually for Jacksonville and owner Shad Khan, he just won't be the one to make it a reality.

Meyer was fired shortly after midnight on Thursday morning following a 2-11 start to his lone NFL season that was mired by controversy and negative headlines on and off the field.

In an exclusive interview with NFL.com, Meyer spoke publicly for the first time since his firing and expressed his disappointment in how his Jacksonville tenure unfolded.

"I just apologize to Jacksonville," Meyer said over the phone on Friday from Florida. "I love Jacksonville. It's one of the reasons I took the job. I still think Shad's a great owner. It's heart-breaking. I just had a dream of it becoming a destination place with a new facility he agreed to build and some day to walk into that stadium where it's standing room only. Because I know how bad the people of Jacksonville want it. So, I'm just heartbroken that we weren't able to do that. I still believe it's going to be done. It's too good of a place."

In the 23-minute-long interview, Meyer said he was "devastated," denied all accusations made against him in his final days, explained why he benched star running back James Robinson against the Rams and detailed where it got away on the field.

Meyer, one of the most successful college coaches in history, but who lost more NFL games in his first four weeks with the Jags (4) than he had in any single college season since 2007, also admitted that processing losing football games is a challenge he's yet to work through.

"I tell people, losing eats away at your soul," Meyer said. "Once you start losing, it's hard on everybody. I thought at one point, when we won two out of three, there was some momentum, great energy, the defense was really playing well. We were running the ball and then when that dried up on us, then we started turning the ball over. We had that bye week and then James Robinson gets hurt."

From that point, the offense stopped working.

Meyer's frustration and angst were perfectly encapsulated in his post-game handshake with his former assistant, Titans coach Mike Vrabel, as it appeared Meyer wanted to be anywhere but there, after the Jaguars were shut out 20-0 in what would be Meyer's final game with Jacksonville.

"Someone asked me about Vrabel's [handshake], we're really close," Meyer said. "That had nothing to do with him. That's probably one of my issues why I've thought some of the things I said: I can't take losing. I try to accept it, it just eats away at my soul. And I believe our players deserve better."

When Meyer was fired, he had four years left on his contract. The Jaguars terminated him for cause, per a source. Asked if there is an ongoing discussion with Jacksonville over his contract, Meyer declined comment. He also declined comment on if Khan made the right move. In the statement announcing the firing, Khan said, "I am bitterly disappointed to arrive at the conclusion that an immediate change is imperative for everyone."

Asked what he'll do next, Meyer said, "To be determined." He has not heard from anyone in the coaching world about a possible job.

Meyer was fired with a 2-11 record and the Jaguars at the bottom of the AFC, but issues with Meyer's tenure had been building for months.

In October, Meyer stayed in Ohio and did not fly back with the team after a "sickening" loss to the Bengals, and was then captured in videos at a bar with a young woman, who is not his wife, dancing close to his lap. Khan sent out a tersely worded statement saying the behavior was "inexcusable."

Last Saturday, NFL.com's Tom Pelissero reported several examples of tension boiling over within Meyer's operation, including team captain Marvin Jones leaving the facility due to Meyer's public and private criticism, the benching of Robinson, and Meyer delivering a biting message that he's a winner and his assistant coaches are losers, challenging each coach individually to explain when they've ever won.

This week, there was a report from The Tampa Bay Times quoting former Jags kicker Josh Lambo, who alleged Meyer kicked him while Lambo was stretching during a preseason practice.

To NFL.com, Meyer said the incident with Jones was not accurately portrayed (Jones spoke on the argument earlier this week), denied the incident with coaches and said the altercation with Lambo did not happen. According to a source, two players who saw the Lambo incident unfold discussed it with a Jaguars executive and described a different version of events.

"It was like, 'Wait a minute, where is this coming from?'" Meyer said. "I've certainly made a few mistakes but those weren't right."

As for benching Robinson, which left one of the NFL's best running backs on the sideline for an extended period of time against the Rams and which later invoked a public response from Trevor Lawrence, Meyer said the delay in getting the second-year RB back in the game was due to poor communication.

"We discussed it as a staff," Meyer said. "'When you see someone lose the ball or even see them be loose with the ball, get them out of the game, get their mind right and then get them back in.' When he fumbled, I said, 'Take him out.' We took him out and then we had lack of communication about when to put him back in."

Robinson and Meyer exchanged texts after he was fired, and Meyer described their relationship as "great."

Robinson wasn't his only star. In his rookie season, Lawrence -- one of the reasons Meyer took the job -- has struggled. Lots of talent and promise, but also a completion percentage of 58.2%, 14 interceptions against nine touchdowns, and a passer rating of 68.9.

Meyer was asked if he believes Lawrence will be a successful pro.

"He's going to be great," Meyer said. "He's 22 years old, thrust into a place that lost 15 straight games. He had some devastating injuries to his offensive skill guys -- (DJ) Chark went down and (Travis) Etienne, then (Jamal) Agnew and then our TE Dan Arnold. Those are our fast guys. And we had enough (talent), I'm not blaming that, but we had to be more creative. I just think we could've done better. But there is zero doubt Trevor is going to be a great NFL quarterback."

After a tumultuous week, Jaguars players met the media on Thursday to discuss the firing. Lawrence wished Meyer the best and said he appreciated the work done, but said "some changes had to be made."

"I wouldn't say 'relief,' but it brings some clarity and some direction moving forward," Lawrence told reporters. "We really want to go and finish this season strong. To be honest, it's been hard the last week with everything going on. There are a lot of things being stirred up -- on the outside, too. It didn't help. It made things a lot of work."

Interim coach Darrell Bevell told reporters that his message to the team was, "'We're not looking back; today's a new day.' … When these things happen, they're very tough and difficult situations to be put into. But it's one that I'm super-excited about. It's a great opportunity for us to be able to just get focused on these next four weeks."

Several times during our conversation, Meyer lamented the product on the field. He described coordinator Joe Cullen's defense as "really good. But we were really struggling on offense. If we just find a way to play a little better on offense, I think we could win some games."

He says that up until the team's Week 14 loss, he thought a turnaround was coming.

"I go back to the last game we played, and man, our defense kept going," he said. "And going. And our locker room was great and they kept just pushing and pushing and people kept going and not complaining. I really felt still in my heart once we get this ... my gosh we hadn't scored more than a touchdown in five weeks or whatever. Once we get this organized, we could flip this thing. I mean this year. Man. And I don't believe in blaming players, I don't believe in that. I was really disappointed."

The last-second win over the Dolphins in London on Oct. 17, with a national audience watching, appears to have been the high point of Meyer's first season. Meyer says the elation from that win was clear on the sideline and the team flight home.

"We won that sucker in London, it was like we won the Super Bowl for those guys," Meyer said. "Then we come back (after a 31-7 loss to Seattle) and beat the Bills (9-6) and it was like, 'OK here we go.' The defense was hanging in there and offense was making strides. And then after that, we couldn't score. I mean, couldn't score."

Meyer has always been known as a hard-charging coach, prodding and pushing to maximize performance. That, and stellar recruiting, were among the reasons he dominated college football and won three national titles.

"You push people really hard to find their greatness, but you treat them like gold," he said. "I thought that's what we're gonna do and we're gonna win. It was really going good for a while."

Meyer was asked if his style of coaching can work in the NFL and then in today's modern world -- a topic he spoke with ex-coach Jimmy Johnson about in the days since Meyer was fired.

"I think college has changed quite a bit, too," Meyer said. "Just society has changed. You think how hard you pushed. ... I believe there is greatness in everybody and it's the coach's job to find that greatness however you do that. Positive encouragement. Pushing them to be greater, making them work harder, identifying flaws and trying to fix [them]. I think everything is so fragile right now. And that includes coaching staffs. When I got into coaching, coaches weren't making this kind of money and they didn't have agents. Everything is so fragile where it used to be team, team, team. I remember talking about it in a staff meeting three days ago. I got into this profession because I had the greatest high school coach and it was all about team. All about the huddle.

"And then I found I loved the players," he continued. "I loved seeing players develop. Seeing Michael Thomas go from Michael Thomas to being the highest-paid WR in the NFL. And my gosh. Rudy Ford, who everyone told us he couldn't play, he's a great player. Dawuane Smoot, Cam Robinson. There was a narrative about those two players. [They are] as good [of] people and as good [of] players as I've ever coached. I always thought there is greatness in people, it's our job to find it."

Thinking back to a year ago, Meyer said he had no plans to coach. He was working at FOX and said he had "the perfect life."

Then he met Khan, who recruited him and lured him out from the TV desk. Meyer says he felt how badly Khan wanted to win and that, above all else, is the source of his frustration.

"I love our owner Shad, Shad's a great man," Meyer said. "Two reasons I took the job: One for him, the second reason was I loved Jacksonville and wanted to help turn around an organization that had been struggling."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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