Tension boiling over between coach Urban Meyer, Jaguars players, staff amid 2-10 start

Months of tension surrounding Jaguars coach Urban Meyer has boiled over with multiple run-ins with players and other coaches in recent weeks, sources say, renewing questions in league circles about whether Meyer's stay in Jacksonville could end after just one tumultuous season.

At this point, there are no signs that Jaguars owner Shad Khan is seriously considering a change. One of the NFL's most patient and supportive owners, Khan dreamed for years of Meyer -- a three-time college national champion at Florida and Ohio State -- coaching his team and overhauling the culture of a franchise accustomed to losing, before finally luring him out of retirement in January. (A spokesman for Khan declined comment for this story.)

But sources say Meyer's repeated public comments shifting blame to players and coaches amid the team's 2-10 season have exacerbated frustration in the building with his hard-charging and sometimes condescending approach -- a style that many observers believed wouldn't work in the NFL even before the Jaguars hired him.

Entering Sunday's visit to Tennessee, the Jaguars have lost four games in a row and five out of six since their Week 7 bye, averaging just 10.7 points per game in that span. One of their best players, running back James Robinson, was benched last week under clouded circumstances. Franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence -- who has shown flashes of why Jacksonville selected him No. 1 overall in April's draft -- is completing just 58% of his passes for 2,514 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

And while the Jaguars opted not to fire Meyer in October after he stayed in Ohio instead of taking the team plane home after a Week 4 loss to the Bengals, only to be captured in viral videos at a bar with a young woman who's not his wife dancing close to his lap, sources say Meyer hasn't adjusted his approach.

In the past two weeks alone, sources say:

  • Receiver Marvin Jones -- one of the locker room's most respected and mild-mannered veterans -- became so angry with Meyer's public and private criticism of the receiver group that he left the facility until other staff members convinced him to come back and had a heated argument with Meyer during practice.
  • During a staff meeting, Meyer delivered a biting message that he's a winner and his assistant coaches are losers, according to several people informed of the contents of the meeting, challenging each coach individually to explain when they've ever won and forcing them to defend their résumés.
  • Contrary to his public statements that it was injury-related, Meyer ordered Robinson's benching after an opening-drive fumble in last week's 37-7 road loss to the Rams, then had running backs coach Bernie Parmalee stop Robinson from re-entering the game, insisting Carlos Hyde (who played for Meyer at Ohio State) stay in. Only after Lawrence questioned Meyer on the sideline about Robinson's absence was Robinson allowed to return late in the second quarter. (Speaking to reporters this week, Lawrence said: "Bottom line is James is one of our best players and he's got to be on the field and we addressed it, and I feel like we're in a good spot and the whole team, we're good.")

Several Jaguars players vented their frustration to Rams players after that game, sources say, reiterating a common complaint that Meyer -- who had no prior NFL experience -- doesn't treat them like adults. And the staff meeting follows a pattern of tense interactions between Meyer and his assistants dating back to the offseason. After opening the preseason with consecutive losses, for instance, sources say Meyer informed assistants that he was sick of being embarrassed and if the team didn't start winning immediately, some of them wouldn't be around for a second year.

There has been staff turnover since Meyer arrived in January, for a variety of reasons. Meyer's hand-picked strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle, resigned under pressure in February after renewed focus on the allegations of racial remarks that had led to Doyle's separation agreement at the University of Iowa in 2020. Special teams coordinator Brian Schneider took a leave of absence in May for personal reasons and did not return. Meyer's chief of staff, Fernando Lovo, left the team last month to return to the University of Texas. Tight ends coach Tyler Bowen is expected to become offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, according to college sports and recruiting site On3.com. And more staff changes are expected after the season, even assuming Meyer stays.

There have been other missteps. In July, the NFL fined the Jaguars $200,000 and Meyer $100,000 for violating rules on organized team activities and docked the team two OTA days in 2022. In September, the NFL Players Association announced it was launching an investigation after Meyer acknowledged to reporters that the team factored vaccination status into cutdown decisions. (The state of that investigation is unclear; 23 of 24 players cut were vaccinated.)

And of course there were the October viral videos, which were shot in the days following a 24-21 loss to the Bengals that dropped Jacksonville to 0-4. Meyer apologized publicly and to the team, telling players days later he had too much to drink and acted like an "(expletive) idiot." Khan released a somewhat tepid statement of support for Meyer, calling his conduct "inexcusable" and adding: "I appreciate Urban's remorse, which I believe is sincere. Now he must regain our trust and respect. That will require a personal commitment from Urban to everyone who supports, represents or plays for our team. I am confident he will deliver."

The Jaguars actually won two of their next four games, ending a 20-game franchise losing streak and giving Meyer his first NFL win -- over the Dolphins in London on Oct. 17 -- before stunning the Bills, 9-6, three weeks later. But they haven't won since, and signs of progress have faded. With a high-profile coach who -- along with Lawrence -- was supposed to bring fans back to TIAA Bank Field, the Jaguars currently rank 30th in the NFL in attendance.

Khan made his fortune in the car bumper business, learning the value of building processes over time, and he has applied that mentality to NFL ownership. He stuck with coach Gus Bradley into a fourth season despite Bradley's 14-48 record with a young, rebuilding team. Bradley's successor, Doug Marrone, lasted four full seasons, taking the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game after the 2017 season but finishing just 23-43 before his dismissal after last season.

In October, Khan told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport days after the Jaguars' first win in mid-October that he "absolutely" has faith in Meyer and expanded on his statement about the videos.

"I think this is NFL football," Khan said. "You're on stage all the time and you have to be absolutely self-aware."

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter.

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