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Urban Meyer Will Win In The NFL – And He’d Better

Jay Mariotti

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Urban Jags

You can’t be as intense as Urban Meyer and not obsess about legacy. There are tourniquets in emergency rooms wound less tightly, as evident in the Fox Sports studio the last two seasons, and he struck me as a man tortured by the empty stomach of unfinished business. Yes, he won multiple national titles on the college level, but he also fled campuses left in flames by scandals.     

How would he be remembered? For his two championships at Florida, the way he nurtured Tim Tebow and turned him into a sports-and-religion cult? Or for a lawless program that enabled Aaron Hernandez amid 31 player arrests? Would he be saluted for lifting Ohio State into the top-three elite? Or scorned for his awkward exit after trying to protect an assistant coach, Zach Smith, from domestic abuse allegations? Or questioned for why health problems always surfaced in times of turmoil?     

He threw his entire being into his television work, but he couldn’t end his professional life talking to Reggie Bush and Brady Quinn every week, could he? There had to be something more in coaching, one last opportunity to hammer down the first paragraph of his obituary.     

That last chance found him in recent weeks, step by step, as if meant to be. The woeful New York Jets started winning games, tormenting their fans but stirring the suffering souls in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have devolved into such suckiness that London might be turned off to the NFL by their annual visits. Suddenly, quarterbacking savant and Southern boy Trevor Lawrence was the door prize as the No. 1 overall draft pick — and no one loves him more than Meyer, who sat on the set last year and called him “the best quarterback in college football, ever.’’ The Jets never were going to bring in Meyer. But Jacksonville? He’d grown chummy of late with Jaguars owner Shad Khan, sharing conversations on Khan’s yacht in Miami. And if Meyer was viewed as a cad in some American sectors, didn’t they still embrace him in north Florida for his triumphs down the road in Gainesville?     

The result Thursday was the most polarizing hire in recent NFL times. He didn’t get the $12 million annual salary floated as an original demand, but he’s only making slightly less than Bill Belichick, who has won six Super Bowls, and in the vicinity of Pete Carroll, Jon Gruden, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh, all winners of a Super Bowl. If you think it’s haywire, it’s the growing market price of NFL coaching — why shouldn’t Meyer make that much when Baylor’s Matt Rhule was handed almost $9 million annually by the Carolina Panthers?     

So, you might say Urban Meyer had better win. And win big. If he and Lawrence claim a championship together, he’ll be celebrated as one of the all-timer greats in his field, the rare coach to pull off the NFL/college perfecta.     

If he fails? Legions of Meyer detractors will be swimming in champagne schadenfreude, and the networks might not even have him back. One way or another, Sports Google will have finality.     

At 56, with his troublesome health history, a championship might be a stretch for Meyer because he might not coach beyond five years. But relieved of college coaching’s onerous burdens, including recruiting battles that grow wearisome, he will succeed quickly on the next level, I say. Not only does he inherit a potential Hall of Fame cornerstone in Lawrence, the Jaguars have the most salary-cap space in the league and a treasure trove of high draft picks. Armed with front-office power, he is positioned to control his destiny, pick and sign his preferred talent and become an instant favorite in a region that saw the Jaguars reach the AFC championship game in 2017, only to go 12-36 the last three seasons.     

Make no mistake, this was the only job for Meyer. He listened to the Los Angeles Chargers, where Justin Herbert has one sensational quarterbacking season in the books, but he has spent enough Fox assignment time in L.A. to know that franchise might never catch on. Besides, he had all the leverage in negotiating with the Jaguars. They needed him more than he needed them, struggling to build a strong fan base in the league’s fourth-smallest market and failing to cut a deal with the city in developing a mixed-use entertainment complex near an aging stadium. The Florida Times-Union, the city’s newspaper, accused Khan of trying to shake down the mayor for “a $65 million, no-interest, 50-year “loan’’ that operated like a cash grant. The city was loaning the money an providing the money to pay itself back.’’ If Jacksonville still doesn’t buy into the Jaguars with Meyer and Lawrence in town, Khan and the league might as well move the franchise — though, please, not to London, as rumored for years, given the logistical and travel problems presented by having one European team and 31 U.S. teams.     

The transition to NFL coaching shouldn’t be difficult for Meyer, who spent 17 years in four college programs. He cares too much, studies too much, lives the game too much to become the next Bobby Petrino, the most infamous recent college-to-pro flop. Or the next Chip Kelly, whose offensive innovation was figured out by the best defensive minds. Actually, the apt comparison is Carroll. He should be Meyer’s whisperer, his legacy fixer. Both were massively successful on the collegiate level, yet both found trouble that drove them out of their jobs. Carroll slipped away to the Seattle Seahawks, where he won a championship and, with general manager John Schneider, created one of the league’s strongest perennial franchises. With more than $90 million in cap room, 11 total draft choices this spring — four in the top 45 — and a core that includes talented weapons for Lawrence, Meyer can build a similar foundation.     

It’s paramount that success comes immediately. Otherwise, will they be calling another ambulance for him? I was in Atlanta in 2009 when Florida lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game, which flipped the script for Saban to rule the sport the next decade-plus. Meyer wound up in the hospital with chest pains, then announced he was resigning before un-resigning the next day. The episode, diagnosed as an esophagus issue, prompted him to reassess his priorities, and after a down season, he found a permanent escape hatch. Returning to his dream job at Ohio State, he went 83-9 and won a national title, but in Year Seven, he reported headaches from a congenital arachnoid cyst as the Smith drama was devouring the program. When he departed the program in December 2018, after serving a three-game unpaid suspension, he indicated he likely was retired for good.     

“I believe I will not coach again,’’ Meyer said.     

Who believed him? Who ever believes him?     

Which begs the question: How will a man who lost only nine games the last decade, and went 187-32 in his college career, deal with the inevitable losing that happens in the NFL? In the best-case scenario, Meyer would go 9-7 in his first season. How does he handle each of those seven losses?

“I’m ready to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars,” Meyer said in a statement. “Jacksonville has an enthusiastic fan base, and the fans deserve a winning team. With upcoming opportunities in the NFL Draft, and strong support from ownership, the Jaguars are well-positioned to become competitive. I’ve analyzed this decision from every angle — the time is right in Jacksonville, 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.”     

Excuse me. Did he say the Jaguars are positioned to become “competitive’’ without providing a time frame? Urban Meyer isn’t a man who settles for being competitive. Is he trying to tamp down expectations, knowing the Jags gave up a franchise-record 492 points last season?     

I know a man who already is voicing bigger goals. “This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere,” Khan said. “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.”     

Did he reference “excellence’’ and “results’’ in his statement?     

It’s a fascinating story, sure to drive arguments even in a pandemic. But will it end well? That first paragraph of the obit is waiting.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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