NFL

Health in mind, Meyer won’t be ‘nut’ at practice

  • Covered University of Florida for 13 seasons for ESPN.com and Florida Times-Union
  • Graduate of Jacksonville University
  • Multiple APSE award winner

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Urban Meyer is older and wiser, which he says should help keep him healthier as tries to turn around one of the NFL’s worst franchises.

Meyer’s health scares while he was the head coach at Florida and Ohio State — which were exacerbated by the stresses of running major programs and the immense pressure he put on himself to win — forced him to step away from the game. But the Jacksonville Jaguars’ newest head coach says he’s learned from those experiences and a new approach will help him avoid further problems.

Not that losing still won’t bother immensely, though.

“If you’re asking me if I’m going to enjoy losing, I think we all know the answer to that,” Meyer said Friday. “I’m older. It’s something I’m going to be very conscientious of. It’s something I’m going to watch very closely. I will be the head coach, but I’m going to hire great coaches that are going to be expected to do their job. I’m not going to be running around like a nut on the practice field. Those days are gone.

“I know what it’s supposed to look like and I want to be very demanding of everyone. It’s something I’m going to watch very closely.”

Meyer was diagnosed in January 2010 with esophageal spasms, which caused the severe chest pains he had been experiencing and sent him to the hospital the night after the 2009 SEC Championship game. He began taking medication, made significant lifestyle changes, took a short leave of absence, and eventually resumed coaching at Florida at the start of spring practice in March 2010. However, one day after the Gators’ final regular-season game in 2010 — a 31-7 loss at Florida State — Meyer announced he was resigning for good and his final game would be the Outback Bowl.

Meyer took the Ohio State job in November 2011 and over the next several years began experiencing severe headaches, which were related to an ongoing issue with a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain that was first discovered when he was an assistant at Notre Dame in 1998. He had surgery in 2014 to drain some fluid tied to the cyst and that helped for a while.

However, the severe headaches returned again and one forced him to his knees on the sideline during a game against Indiana in 2018. Meyer eventually announced on Dec. 4, 2018 that he was retiring from coaching after the Rose Bowl for health reasons.

Now he’s back in the game, this time at the highest level and tasked with fixing a franchise that has lost 10 or more games nine times in the last 10 years. Owner Shad Khan is going with a coach-centric model, which means Meyer will have input on the hiring of the general manager, and is having Meyer do a complete re-evaluation of the entire organization.

First up is assembling a staff — Meyer called the next week “a critical time for the Jacksonville Jaguars organization” — and then evaluating the current roster and prepping for free agency and the draft. Coaching in the NFL is a grind even in the offseason, especially if you’re making significant changes and trying to learn how things operate at the same time.

That’s why questions about Meyer’s health and whether his body can handle the stress better than it did at UF and Ohio State will persist for as long as he’s coaching. But he’s consulted with his family, physicians, colleagues and friends and believes he’s come up with an approach that will allow him to stay healthy.

“I’m very curious about the preventative [approach he can take] and that’s what I’ve looked into in great detail,” Meyer said. “I’m talking about the headache issues that I’ve dealt with. That’s something that I’m going to watch closely. I’ve had long, detailed conversations with people that have helped me through that [as well as] physicians that are very close to me.”

As for his family, which had not been shy about sharing their concerns about his health as his other coaching stops, Meyer says they’re on board with his decision to get back into coaching.

“We’ve had deep conversation, and they’re all in,” Meyer said of wife Shelly, daughters Gigi and Nikki, and son Nate. “They’ve all got their Jaguars T-shirts. They’re all grown now. That’s the biggest difference. To me, that’s a huge difference. You’re not missing as much. The difference is I got two grandkids that I plan to shuttle back and forth as much as I can. That’s very important to me. But the better part of my marriage is that’s essential.

“So they’re all in and they’re all Duval now.”

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