With the Cleveland Browns opener against the Kansas City Chiefs not kicking off until 4:25 p.m., many eyes in Ohio will be fixed on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Urban Meyer, a St. John graduate, is set to make his NFL debut on Sunday as the Jacksonville head coach. Meyer and the Jags start their season on the road against AFC South rival Houston Texans. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“We didn’t expect [Meyer to become an NFL coach],” said Rick Pugliese, a St. John School graduate. “At one point I was hoping it was going to be the Browns.”
Meyer spent 17 seasons coaching at the college level. He had stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-2010) and Ohio State (2012-2018). He left the Buckeyes due to health concerns after posting an 83-9 record in Columbus and a 187-32 mark overall.
Meyer won the 2006 and 2008 BCS National Championships while coaching the Gators.
He lifted the trophy again after winning the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship while at Ohio State in 2014. He is one of three coaches to win a national title with two different schools.
Shortly after retiring from college coaching, Meyer became a member of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, which led into the network’s showcase game on Saturday afternoon.
Tom Penna, another St. John alumnus, always saw the coach returning to the sideline.
“If you watched him on that FOX show he did, most of the time he was coaching on that show,” Penna said. “He’s designing plays. I kept telling my buddies, ‘He’s coming back.’ He’s a coach. That’s what he does.”
Pugliese didn’t think Meyer would make the jump to the NFL. Rumors swirled around the Meyer going to the Cleveland Browns dating back to his time with the Buckeyes.
Pugliese thought Meyer would stay in television after leaving his “dream job” in Columbus. He didn’t think Meyer would return to college football since he was a Buckeye at heart.
“Once the Browns job was gone, I didn’t think he’d ever go to the pros,” Pugliese said. “He loved college football and he loved coaching.”
Meyer was named Jacksonville’s head coach in January after a couple years at FOX. The Jaguars, who went 1-15 under Doug Marrone in 2020, signed free agents on both sides of the ball to improve the roster’s talent. They also drafted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first-overall pick.
Despite the new coach and improved roster, Jacksonville has historically been a losing franchise. The Jags own a 177-239 record since their first season in 1995 and they have yet to reach the Super Bowl. From 2010-20 Jacksonville has a 44-116 record with its only playoff appearance coming in 2017 following a 10-6 season.
“You gotta remember, in NFL football you lose seven games, you still got a chance at the playoffs,” Penna said. “College is a different animal. If you lose one game you’re out of the playoffs all together unless you get lucky and things go your way.
“He can take losing if he knows he can get to the playoffs, that’s what I believe anyway.”
Penna said Meyer’s jump from the college ranks to the NFL is a point of pride for Ashtabula.
He said it is a big moment for Meyer, the city and anyone that knows him. Plus it gives fans something to cheer in addition to the Browns.
“Now we get an extra game to watch on Sunday,” Penna said. “Local guy ... we all want him to do good. It’s a plus for all of us, I guess.”