Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer, who stepped down as Ohio State’s coach in 2018, will be the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He takes over a team that was 1-15 this season, but owns five of the top 65 picks in the upcoming draft and has almost $100 million in salary cap space. Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Urban Meyer has won everywhere he’s coached. Small colleges. Big-time programs. He’s been a difference maker at each stop during his storied career.

He’s ready to try something new: the NFL.

Meyer agreed to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, leaving the broadcast booth and returning to the sidelines after a two-year absence that followed another health scare.

Meyer, 56, was team owner Shad Khan’s top target for weeks, maybe even months, and the deal was signed shortly after their third and final meeting in seven days. They met last Friday on Khan’s yacht in Miami, again Wednesday, and once more at the Jaguars’ facility Thursday.

Hiring the longtime college coach with three national championships signifies a new direction for a franchise that has lost 105 of 144 games since Khan took over in 2012.

“This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere,” Khan said in a statement. “Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results.

“While Urban already enjoys a legacy in the game of football that few will ever match, his passion for the opportunity in front of him here in Jacksonville is powerful and unmistakable.”

Meyer went 187-32 – a staggering winning percentage of 85.3 – in stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and Ohio State (2012-18). He ranks seventh all time in college winning percentage, trailing only Notre Dame legends Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy among coaches at major programs.

But some doubts remain about Meyer’s ability to make a smooth transition to the NFL, where motivational tactics tend to be moot and losing multiple games every year is a given. Meyer never lost more than five times in any season as a college head coach; he went 83-9 at Ohio State.

Still, Meyer has been eyeing an NFL move for months. He researched the league with help from former players and friends, started assembling a potential staff and learned how the front office works. Meyer and Khan have been friends for years, building a relationship while both were living in Big Ten country.

“I’ve analyzed this decision from every angle — the time is right in Jacksonville,” Meyer said in a statement. “And the time is right for me to return to coaching. I’m excited about the future of this organization and our long-term prospect for success.”

Jacksonville was the most attractive opening. The Jaguars have 11 picks in the 2021 draft, including five in the top 65, and are nearly $100 million under the projected salary cap. Adding to the appeal: Khan, a billionaire businessman, has shown a penchant for patience and a willingness to spend big.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a lock to land in Jacksonville with the top draft pick and will be the centerpiece of the team’s latest rebuild.

Meyer replaces Doug Marrone, who was fired after losing the final 15 games in 2020. Marrone went 25-44 in four-plus seasons with the Jaguars, including 2-1 in the 2017 postseason. Marrone failed repeatedly to fill the team’s long-standing hole at quarterback, and Khan kept him and general manager Dave Caldwell around a year longer than many expected to make them clean up a fractured locker room and a stressed salary cap.

Khan also interviewed Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Atlanta defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

The general belief was the job was Meyer’s if he wanted it. He clearly did, with some stipulations.

He will have the leeway to put his touch on every aspect of the organization, the kind of overhaul Jacksonville hasn’t seen in nearly three decades of existence. Khan is switching to a coach-centric model that could give Meyer final say in personnel. Meyer and the next general manager will report to Khan, who wants to be more involved in the most significant roster decisions.

There’s little doubt, though, that Meyer will be calling the shots.

Meyer’s health remains a concern, though. He stepped down at Ohio State in 2018 mostly because of a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain, which required surgery in 2014 and bothered him throughout his final season with the Buckeyes. He also resigned at Florida for health reasons in December 2009, only to change his mind the following day and instead take a leave of absence.

He returned to coach in 2010 and then walked away again at the end of the season, a move that eventually angered many Florida faithful because he took the job at Ohio State less than a year later.

Meyer spent the last two years in an analyst role for Fox Sports, appearing weekly on the network’s college football pregame show.

RAMS: Jared Goff and Sean McVay say they had a healthy, productive disagreement last week about Goff’s readiness to return from thumb surgery.

They’re in complete accord this week, however: Goff is the best choice to lead the Rams on Saturday against Green Bay.

Goff will be the starting quarterback from the first time since he broke his right thumb in late December, while Goff’s replacement, John Wolford, will be inactive because of a neck injury.

THE NFL HAS clarified its eligibility requirements for the draft to allow college players who would’ve played a fourth season during the pandemic-altered 2020 season to be eligible.

In a memo sent to teams that was obtained by The Associated Press, the NFL said the 2020 season will be considered a season of participation for all college football student-athletes, including players who opted out, received a redshirt, were academically ineligible or attended schools that canceled or postponed their seasons.

In August, the NCAA granted players a fifth year of eligibility. A player who entered college in 2017, played three seasons and was still a member of his school’s team in 2020 is automatically eligible for the draft. This includes any players who opted out.

A player who entered college in 2016, red-shirted in one of the next four seasons and was still a member of his school’s team in 2020 is automatically eligible for the draft. This also includes any players who opted out.

A player who entered college in 2017 and already received a redshirt year, has to submit a petition for special eligibility to be eligible for the draft. This requirement also applies to players who entered college in 2018.

The procedures for underclassmen remain the same.

LIONS: Detroit agreed to terms with Brad Holmes to be its general manager, a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because the agreement had not been announced told The Associated Press.

Holmes led the Rams’ college scouting department for eight years and started his 18-year career with them as a public relations intern in 2003.

Holmes had a second interview in Detroit on Wednesday, meeting with the franchise’s leaders in person, and was impressive enough to land the job.

He will replace Bob Quinn, who was fired along with Coach Matt Patricia in November.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh’s playoff flameout cost offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and two assistants their jobs.

The team announced it would not renew the contracts of Fichtner, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, and secondary coach Tom Bradley following a 48-37 loss to Cleveland on Sunday night.

Coach Mike Tomlin hinted at major changes on Wednesday after Pittsburgh dropped five of its final six games following an 11-0 start and didn’t waste time getting started. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played well for long stretches in his return from right elbow surgery, the running game disappeared over the second half of the season and finished dead last in the NFL in both yards rushing and yards per carry.

“I think when you are dead last in anything, it is (personnel and scheme),” Tomlin said. “We better assess it as such. We will not accept our current position in that area. We cannot. We have to attack that and we will.”

Tomlin and Fichtner met as assistants at Arkansas State in the late 1990s and Tomlin hired Fichtner as a wide receivers coach shortly after replacing Bill Cowher in January 2007. Fichtner was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2010 before being elevated to offensive coordinator three years ago after the team let go of Todd Haley following a playoff loss to Jacksonville.

JETS: New York completed its in-person second interview with Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as its search for a head coach continues.

Smith had a remote meeting with the Jets on Monday. The team flew him in Wednesday to meet with team chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, team president Hymie Elhai and GM Joe Douglas. The visit continued through Thursday morning before Smith left the team facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.

Smith is the second of the nine candidates the Jets have interviewed to have an in-person sitdown with team officials. San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh met with New York on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading for an in-person interview with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 38-year-old Smith was also expected to meet with the Eagles and is one of the most popular coaching candidates.

BROWNS: Coach Kevin Stefanski returned to the team’s facility, 10 days after the first-year coach tested positive with the virus and after he missed Cleveland’s playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Instead of being on the sideline at Heinz Field, Stefanski was 135 miles away in his Ohio home, where he nervously paced in front of his TV as the Browns built an early 28-0 lead and held for a 48-37 victory – Cleveland’s first in the postseason in 26 years.

Stefanski will make his playoff debut on the sideline this week when the Browns play the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

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