jaguars caught in urban jungle
By George Somerville
This week the Jacksonville Jaguars rolled into London for the 8th time in their history, demonstrating that they really are the UK’s team.
Jacksonville flew into London on Friday morning and decamped to their leafy suburban residence for the next few days.
The pandemic has put paid to the week long festival of football that the UK and the Jaguars has become accustomed to. This week is less Super Bowl and more taking care of business – rightly so given the Jags start to the season and the spotlight Urban Meyer and his Jaguars find themselves under.
Trouble in Paradise
The Jaguars are an intriguing story this year.
As a college voyeur first and foremost, it is fascinating to me that the Jags cashed in (most if not all) their chips to secure a winning head college coach (albeit with flaws) and the #1 draft pick, Clemson wunderkind Trevor Lawrence.
To date this gamble – if this is indeed a gamble – does not show signs of paying off. The Jags are winless and their Head Coach, after an ill advised stopover in his home state of Ohio, is under pressure.
In the week that The Raiders fired Head Coach Jon Gruden, speculation mounts as to how much longer Meyer lasts.
This road has two routes. He stays and is given a chance to turnaround the early season woes the Jags are experiencing. Or he goes and the Jags write off what turns out to be painful and costly exercise.
Of course the latter scenario is not just a situation where owner Shad Khan loses patience with his Head Coach. Meyer has previous for succumbing to the pressures of the college game. A National Championship winner in the rarest of fashions – with two teams, first Florida and then Ohio State, Urban Meyer is a tried and tested winner. Of that there is no doubt.
But in both of these situations, most publicly in Columbus, the pressure got to Meyer and he left. His health has long been an issue for a coach who will be remembered as amongst the best in the college game. Equally, many will remember the images of Urban Meyer crouched on the sidelines as the pain in his head became excruciating. Once Meyer left Oho State he confirmed that he had been diagnosed with a congenital arachnoid cyst in the brain. While Meyer had surgery in 2014, the day to day strains and stress of managing a NFL franchise are still very much front and centre in his thoughts.
The Jaguar Has Landed
As I sit here the quiet Hertfordshire air is punctuated with loud and intense hip hop. Yes, the NFL is in town. The Jags have set up a full size locker room adjacent to their hotel facilities, giving them a home from home locker room feel. And let’s be honest; the Jags have more UK experience than any other NFL team, so they really should by now know what works and what doesn’t. And most importantly what should give them a competitive advantage over their opponent.
Head coach Meyer acknowledged the work that had been done behind the scenes,
“You know when I first heard I was coming to London, I asked our players – this whole trip was designed by our leadership committee, from the time we get here, what we do, all that type of thing.
The players love it. The environment tomorrow, this will be my first obviously but there’s a bunch of players that have experienced it. It’s a beautiful stadium – the way you are treated, the way you guys treat us. This is great for everyone”.
Of course it wasn’t long before the question of Meyer’s shortcomings over the last few weeks was brought up.
Few in the waiting press corps were going to miss the opportunity to press the Head Coach on both his relationship with the ownership and his reflections on what has happened in the last few weeks.
On rebuilding trust with ownership , Meyer wouldn’t be easily drawn into these discussions, only saying that “we’ve spoken several times” before going on to say how focused the team was on the game.
On the opportunity to escape the pressure of Jacksonville, Meyer was not in agreement,
“Jacksonville has been great, our fans have been outstanding – they want to win”
Meyer was asked about his decision to stay in Ohio post the Cincinnati game which led to the situation he finds himself in now. Meyer expanded a little but not greatly,
“I gave the players three days off, the coaches two days off. That’s when I stayed back to see my two grandsons.
Yeah I look back now…I spoke to our GM about it, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Yeah…that’s something I won’t do”.
The Pressure Of The Game
Meyer was asked about the pressure he was feeling both from a results and recent issues perspective. This is how he started his press conference,
“I don’t look at anything personally. I look at our team and how hard they have worked and how close they have come and the improvements we have made.
This is a great opportunity and we are happy to be here. I don’t look at anything by myself. We have a heck of a locker room and the guys are working their tails off”.
The Rock Is Going To Break
Meyer was very keen to promote the positive atmosphere around the team. Prior to finishing practice, but away from the media, it was clear that the team was engaging in some form of bonding exercise – which resulted in a lot of noise and laughter. If you were of the cynical nature, which I am clearly not – it is possible that this was designed to promote a unified roster. Of course it is also entirely possible that the team was having a great practice and awesome time. Meyer said this of the atmosphere. around the franchise,
“(we have a) very unique group that we are dealing with here”.
“The rock is going to break. Facts are facts about losing games but its also a fact that (we are making) steady progress and this is the NFL. We have really good leadership on this team, a really good locker room on this team, they want to win and they practice – it’s the only way to handle it”.
Of course Meyer’s coaching CV in college is an exceptional one, and here is a coach who has won a lot. At Florida and Ohio State, he was expected to win week in, week out. Which he did and also won two National Championships. So he has his own expectations to meet also. I asked him how he goes about managing his own expectations. Meyer had his to say,
“At the places you mention you win by two touchdowns and it’s “what happened?”, “why did you play so poorly?”…..here you look across the field each week and there’s great teams each week”
Meyer went on,
“It’s not something I was shocked by. It’s very different. But once again, I’m at the point in my career where this is about a group of players. I’ve always been about the players, always been about the locker room.
Sports performance and opportunity to go win the game. That’s all I care about”.
Get The Darned Ball
One thing Urban Meyer was quite clear on, is where they have to improve upon if they are to win Sunday’s game against Miami. It is on defense and they must force turnovers,
Meyer said, before continuing,
” Right now we are the worst in the league, I believe. We are not getting any on defense. We have improved – at the start of the season we were horrible. Last weekend we had two, one right at the end of the game.
You’re not going to win. Fifty years ago to fifty years from now. Get the darned turnover on defense – we’ve been close. We work extremely hard on it. You take care of the ball on offense and go get the ball on defense. That’s what you’ve got to do and we haven’t done that”.
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.