Rise of the Jaguars
From worst to first to… the Super Bowl? Our inside look at how the Jacksonville Jaguars removed the disease — Urban Meyer — and built something special with Doug Pederson.
This is the second installment of our 2023 NFL Kickoff features.
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nobody would blame him for wanting absolutely nothing to do with the past. But, hey, Super Bowl dreams fill the air. The sun’s out. There’s a slight breeze. Andrew “Dewey” Wingard feels no need to hustle into the locker room quite yet.
When the Jacksonville Jaguars safety hears this name again — Urban Meyer — he doesn’t recoil. Doesn’t shake his head or do anything that suggests we shouldn’t go there. He laughs, and proceeds to give zero F’s. Mainly because that 2021 NFL season was more insane than anyone realized.
“You have no idea,” Wingard says. “I could be here all f--king day.”
With this, he dives into Story No. 1.
Fresh off a 31-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks — a humiliating drubbing that dropped Urb’s crew to 1-6 — the Jaguars’ defense held a “Come to Jesus” meeting. Obviously, something needed to change. Now. Or this season would be effectively over. A slew of players chimed in with their thoughts, and Wingard’s take? The Jaguars had a rookie quarterback (in Trevor Lawrence), a rookie head coach (in Meyer), and it was on the defense to help them out. Quite benign. He wasn’t taking a shot. It was an indisputable fact that Meyer had never coached in the NFL before.
Word got back to Meyer.
That Monday night, the safety’s phone rang. Caller ID indicated that position coach, Chris Ash, was calling. Wingard answered, and… a different voice greeted him. It was Meyer.
“He says, ‘Dewey, why the hell did you call me a rookie head coach? Tell me why. If it was anybody else right now, you’d already be cut,’” Wingard relives. “Explain yourself to me is essentially what he said. So I had to freaking save face and tell him how much I love him and how he’s the greatest coach ever. … You’re sitting there on your off-night chilling and you get a call from your head coach: ‘Hey, I’m going to cut you if you don’t apologize for calling me a rookie head coach.’”
The threat was real. If Wingard didn’t apologize, he was toast.
The next day, the two met and Wingard told Meyer everything he wanted to hear.
Meyer rattled off his career record.
Meyer told him how many draft picks he’s sent to the NFL.
Meyer — surprise, surprise — did not last long in the big leagues. Gifted a divine talent in Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, one of this generation’s top college coaches led with the grace of a warthog in the pros. Honestly, it’s extraordinary how toxic Meyer made a football team in such a short amount of time. He wasn’t only a loser who compiled a 2-11 record. He was a disgrace. If he wasn’t skipping the team flight home to feel up a woman less than half his age, he was kicking his own kicker.
In came Doug Pederson. The Jaguars faced a similar defining moment in the middle of the season at 3-7, yet this time? They rallied. They won the AFC South at 9-8, pulled off the third-greatest playoff comeback in NFL history against the Los Angeles Chargers, and positioned themselves to now realistically hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It’s true: The Jaguars — the Jaguars! — suddenly have all the necessary ingredients to go the distance.
Go Long spent time with those at the heart of the operation in Duval County to figure out how this is possible, and the revival is stunning.
Life under Urban was worse than outsiders think.
Life under Pederson should serve as a blueprint for any team trying to win in today’s NFL.