Urban Meyer’s best landing spots for a college football return, from LSU to USC

Imagine the scene on Nov. 5, 2022.

Five-star New Orleans quarterback and LSU commit Arch Manning is at Tiger Stadium. No. 1 Alabama is in town looking to add to a 37-game winning streak. Death Valley is in a froth when LSU emerges from the tunnel.

And Urban Meyer is in front leading the way. 

This isn’t the only back-to-school scenario for Meyer. You can paint a picture for USC, Florida State and a few other major programs that would be able to compete for a national championship if Meyer got back in the college game. 

Meyer’s time with the Jacksonville Jaguars is going to be short. The Jaguars are 0-4. Jacksonville owner Shad Khan reprimanded Meyer for “inexcusable behavior” on Monday. Meyer did not travel with the team after a loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 30, and a video of a woman dancing close to his lap went viral two days later.

Meyer is a punchline on a punchless team, and that makes it easy to start predicting the expiration date on this NFL experiment gone wrong. Jacksonville can afford to be impatient knowing it’s about finding the right long-term coach with No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence. 

Meyer isn’t the first hyper-successful college coach who tried the NFL and it just did not work out. He has 187 wins at the college level. Three coaches with more college wins — Lou Holtz, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier — all lasted two seasons or less in the NFL. Of course, the Meyer tenure is starting to look like Bobby Petrino, who lasted 13 games with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 before bolting for the Arkansas job.

It’s clear Meyer belongs in one of two places. One is in the television studio, where he was fantastic on FOX’s “Big Noon Kickoff” for two seasons. The other is at a Power 5 school capable of competing for national championships.

Meyer is one of the top-five college coaches of all time. He’s also a complicated hire given the controversy that trailed that success at Florida and Ohio State. The latest embarrassment with Jacksonville is simply more viral material. Can a big-time college football program go back to the well with Meyer again? 

The USC Vacancy

Meyer has an .853 winning percentage in college.

The answer is almost always “Yes.” Where could Meyer wind up if he goes back to school?

USC is one of those places. Meyer was rumored to be in the running while he was a studio analyst. The Trojans fired Clay Helton after two games this season. If anybody can replicate what Pete Carroll did on the field at USC, it’s Meyer. But if that were the case, why didn’t the Trojans do this last offseason? Meyer also said “no chance” to the speculation on Sept. 15. How would he answer that question now?  

BENDER: Where USC should turn for next coach

Old Rival Florida State

Florida State will get talked about, even if that is the most-unlikely pairing. Mike Norvell is struggling in his second season, and the Seminoles have struggled in the ACC since Jimbo Fisher left. Meyer getting hired at Florida would be similar to when Rick Pitino was hired by Louisville. Hard feeliings for a rival were put aside in that case.

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Of course, winning soothes a lot of feelings, and the Seminoles haven’t been doing a lot of that lately. Still, it feels like a reach that FSU would hire the old Gator fresh off a failed stint in nearby Jacksonville.

Back To The SEC

That leaves LSU. The Tigers are dealing with their own mess right now. LSU is under NCAA investigation in football and basketball. There is a Title IX lawsuit against Orgeron which alleges the coach failed to report the alleged rape of a student by former running back Derrius Guice.

The Tigers also are 3-2 on the field and the schedule gets worse in 2021. Would that program be able to hire Meyer with his baggage and their baggage? That is a lot of weight to carry around and there always is a high risk for backfire, right? Petrino ended badly at Arkansas, but he also took the Razorbacks to a Sugar Bowl appearance. That balance between “might” or “right” typically tilts in favor of victories.

The NFL failure won’t be a factor either. Saban became the greatest college football coach of all time after leaving the Dolphins. Holtz won Notre Dame’s last national championship post-Jets, and Spurrier led South Carolina to the SEC championship game after his Redskins stint.

Of all the potential escape pods for Meyer, the SEC will always make the most sense.

Imagine Meyer taking that LSU job in 2022. The Tigers open with Florida State in the Louisiana Superdome. LSU plays Florida at The Swamp on Oct. 15. That all leads up to Alabama on Nov. 22. The Crimson Tide won 55-17 in their last visit to Death Valley.

How much would that line shift if Meyer, did in fact, come out of that tunnel? 

LSU won’t be the only school asking that question this offseason. 

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