Long before Urban Meyer took on the challenge of reviving the Jacksonville Jaguars and before his national championships, he was an Atlanta Braves prospect.
Urban Meyer has taken on a new challenge. One of only two college football coaches to win national championships with two different programs, Meyer on Friday was named head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
It will be the first NFL experience for the 56-year-old Meyer, who amassed a 187-32 record in 17 seasons as a collegiate head coach and won three national titles, in 2006 and 2008 with Florida and again in 2014 at Ohio State.
That puts Meyer in rare company. Only he and Nick Saban (LSU in 2003, Alabama six times including 2020) have coached two schools to national championships and now he wants to join Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Pete Carroll as the only coaches to couple a national championship with a Super Bowl title.
But long before all of the coaching accolades on the gridiron, Meyer was an outstanding football and baseball player at Saint John School in Ashtabula, Ohio, roughly an hour northeast of Cleveland along the southern shore of Lake Erie. He walked on as a defensive back to the University of Cincinnati.
Meyer, however, was also taken by the Atlanta Braves in the 13th round of the MLB June Amateur Draft in 1982 and after signing was assigned to the club’s Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Drafted as a shortstop, Meyer bounced around the infield while playing behind future major league shortstop Andres Thomas.
He also struggled at the plate, posting a slash line of just .170/.267/.245 in 20 games. In 61 plate appearances, Meyer had two triples and five RBI to go with six walks and nine strikeouts.
He returned for the 1983 season, but the lower tier of the Braves organization had a surplus of infielders. Throw in a chronic elbow problem and Meyer’s second season didn’t look much better than his first.
He played nine games with the Gulf Coast Braves and another 15 for the Rookie-level Pulaski Braves in the Appalachian League. His slash line was just .193/.365/.281 with one homer and six RBI in 77 plate appearances, with 16 walks and 15 strikeouts.
According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, who discussed Meyer’s baseball days in a 2015 article, the present-day football coach was ready to walk away from pro baseball after that initial go-round in Florida. His father intimated something about Urban never being allowed into the family home again and Meyer opted to return for a second season.
But after the 1983 campaign, Meyer was waived by the Braves organization by a former Braves player no less. Yes, his release papers were signed by Atlanta’s farm director at the time, a former big league outfielder of some renown, Hank Aaron.
Meyer’s career as a college football coach began as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in sports administration. He became a linebackers coach at Illinois State in 1988 and moved to the other side of the ball, coaching quarterbacks and receivers, the following season.
That was followed by a five-year stint as receivers coach at Colorado State and another five seasons coaching the receivers at Notre Dame. He got his first head coaching gig at Bowling Green in 2001 and after a 17-6 mark over two seasons was hired at Utah.
He led the Utes to a 22-2 record in two seasons, including a 12-0 mark and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2004 before heading to Florida. Meyer’s Gators were 65-15 in six seasons before he resigned for health reasons. After a year away, he returned to coaching at Ohio State and was 83-9 over seven seasons before resigning again for health-related reasons after the 2018 season.
Can Meyer succeed where many other coaches have failed in the transition from college to the NFL? That remains to be seen.
But if it doesn’t work out, it won’t be because Meyer didn’t take a healthy swing at the opportunity.