Urban Meyer made plenty of fireable mistakes, but mishandling Trevor Lawrence was unforgivable

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·NFL columnist
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As the smorgasbord of failures and embarrassments piled up, it was the lagging performance and measured concern of quarterback Trevor Lawrence that signaled the end for Urban Meyer.

Not the Chris Doyle fiasco. Not the offseason fines or Tim Tebow fantasy camp. Not skipping a team flight and the infamous viral bar video that followed. Not even allegedly kicking a former player during practice. To be sure, these incidents were all somewhere on the scale of being fireable.

But when it came to Jacksonville Jaguars ownership looking at the future of the franchise, only one of Meyer’s transgressions was utterly unforgivable:

Burning Lawrence’s rookie season to the ground, and losing the quarterback in the process.

Of course, it’s unlikely Lawrence will pile on here. Meyer is gone, what’s done is done, and the kid seems too smart to pop champagne corks over the career demise of his former head coach — even if Meyer earned every bit of it. Instead, the move here for Lawrence is to be above all of it, expressing some contrition that it didn’t work out with Meyer and looking toward the future as ownership does the dirty work.

But if you’ve been paying attention to the details from the start, the Meyer-Lawrence dynamic wasn't going to last on this trajectory. Particularly after the Niagara Falls of tea was spilled to NFL Network last weekend, in a bombshell report that is starting to look like it may have been teeing up Meyer to be fired for cause, rather than just some aggrieved whistleblowing. Clearly, someone in that organization wanted him gone. Likely someone high on the food chain, if not at the very top. And you can bet Lawrence’s fade under Meyer — along with some of the quarterback’s comments — became a flashing red light in the system.

Not only has Lawrence appeared to regress over the balance of the season, it’s notable that when Meyer was fired, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wasn’t pushed out the door with him. Instead, Bevell was promoted to interim head coach, suggesting the internal opinion is Lawrence’s struggles had less to do with his coordinator than with his head coach.

Frankly, that might have been more obvious if we had sorted out all the noise created by Meyer into separate boxes, and looked solely at his moments involving Lawrence.

Urban Meyer made a mess of his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But even then, it might've been forgiven were it not for how he mishandled Trevor Lawrence. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Urban Meyer made a mess of his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But even then, it might've been forgiven were it not for how he mishandled Trevor Lawrence. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

You could start with the counterfeit quarterback competition with Gardner Minshew, which was entirely drummed up by Meyer and came off like something a college coach would do. Not a single person with any sense in their head believed Minshew had any shot to start over the No. 1 pick in the draft. And yet Meyer created the charade anyway, before not only “awarding” the job to Lawrence, but thinking so little of Minshew that he quickly traded him away.

That's not exactly the best way to start your relationship with your presumed franchise quarterback, but if it had been the only dumb thing Meyer said or did regarding Lawrence, it might have been forgotten as an early nothingburger. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Next came Meyer skipping the team’s flight home following an October loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and then getting caught in a viral bar video cozying up to a woman who wasn’t his wife. The sensible move is to take your licks for a poor decision and not involve anyone else. And definitely don’t invoke your quarterback's name in the middle of your apology for no reason. Yet Meyer went there, referencing a warning he supposedly gave Lawrence about the dangers of a bachelor party in Las Vegas before his wedding. Why? To convince everyone he tries to give out good advice he apparently doesn't always follow.

Of course, that wasn’t the last face-palm moment. Meyer followed it up by suggesting he didn’t call a quarterback sneak in an October loss to the Tennessee Titans because Lawrence was “not quite comfortable” with the play. That was news to Lawrence, who straight up refuted it by telling reporters that it wasn’t true.

“No, I feel comfortable,” Lawrence said.

That’s a weird exchange for a coach and his rookie quarterback to have. Again, not the worst gaffe, but also not great for Meyer to again be drawing attention to Lawrence that was unwanted and appeared to be inaccurate.

The next Tennessee game? The 20-0 loss that served as Meyer’s last as head coach of the Jaguars? He admitted that in meetings afterward, there was a conversation about “what would be best for Trevor at this point.” That reads as potentially benching him, which would have resulted in a circus of coverage, although Meyer said the determination was made against it.

Therein lies the problem. Why expound on it in the first place? Is that a good or a bad seed to plant? Most coaches will say it’s the latter, and the best thing to do is shut up about those decisions.

People can say it’s nitpicking and looking for a problem between Meyer and Lawrence. They can debate what these moments all meant. But what can’t be debated is that Lawrence had been left to answer for Meyer’s decisions and behavior multiple times this season. And for a player who should be worrying about his own development, answering for a grown man who is supposed to be guiding him is a monumental problem.

Ownership had to see that crystalize in two comments from Lawrence. The first came when running back James Robinson was suddenly written out of the offensive plans.

Here's how Lawrence framed it:

“In my eyes, obviously, I’m the one that’s out [on the field seeing] all the pieces moving,” Lawrence said. “I see the whole picture. Bottom line is James is one of our best players and he’s got to be on the field and we addressed it. And I feel like we’re in a good spot and the whole team, we’re good. Whatever may have happened, I honestly don’t even know everything that went into it. … I’m playing the game and stuff happens on the sideline with coaching decisions. I don’t really get into that. But I know and I voiced my opinion: James is one of our best players and he’s got to be in the game. I think we’re all on the same page, so there’s no confusion there. We’re going to move forward. I know James is a hell of a player, so I want him out there.”

Yeeeeah. That’s not great. Ownership couldn’t have been happy to see that. Meyer said Robinson’s role on game day was the call of an assistant coach, which simply came off as absurd. If it was true, why would Meyer allow anyone but himself to determine whether a player Lawrence values is on the field?

It was just more drama, drama that Lawrence was feeling right up to the moment Meyer was fired. That's where his second comment comes in, just hours before the ax came down from ownership Wednesday:

“You’re always going to have some form of drama,” Lawrence said. “I’ve learned that the NFL is just more drama in general than college, no matter where you’re at. But you’re right. There’s been a lot. To your point, I do think that has to change and that’s something that we need to work on for sure. … [Y]ou can’t always be in the headlines. You just got to go play football and that’s where we’re trying to get and I have no doubt we’ll get there, but for sure [it has to change].”

Ultimately, that change came. For many reasons, both big and small. None was more paramount than what had been happening between Lawrence and his head coach. Ownership appeared to be ready to suffer through a lot of Meyer’s mistakes. But there was always going to be a price to pay when those mistakes started to undercut the development of the most important player on the roster.

That clearly happened. Ownership absolutely knew it. And the bill for it all finally came due late Wednesday night.

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