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Urban Meyer Will Win In The NFL – And He’d Better

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Urban Jags

You can’t be as intense as Urban Meyer and not obsess about legacy. There are tourniquets in emergency rooms wound less tightly, as evident in the Fox Sports studio the last two seasons, and he struck me as a man tortured by the empty stomach of unfinished business. Yes, he won multiple national titles on the college level, but he also fled campuses left in flames by scandals.     

How would he be remembered? For his two championships at Florida, the way he nurtured Tim Tebow and turned him into a sports-and-religion cult? Or for a lawless program that enabled Aaron Hernandez amid 31 player arrests? Would he be saluted for lifting Ohio State into the top-three elite? Or scorned for his awkward exit after trying to protect an assistant coach, Zach Smith, from domestic abuse allegations? Or questioned for why health problems always surfaced in times of turmoil?     

He threw his entire being into his television work, but he couldn’t end his professional life talking to Reggie Bush and Brady Quinn every week, could he? There had to be something more in coaching, one last opportunity to hammer down the first paragraph of his obituary.     

That last chance found him in recent weeks, step by step, as if meant to be. The woeful New York Jets started winning games, tormenting their fans but stirring the suffering souls in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have devolved into such suckiness that London might be turned off to the NFL by their annual visits. Suddenly, quarterbacking savant and Southern boy Trevor Lawrence was the door prize as the No. 1 overall draft pick — and no one loves him more than Meyer, who sat on the set last year and called him “the best quarterback in college football, ever.’’ The Jets never were going to bring in Meyer. But Jacksonville? He’d grown chummy of late with Jaguars owner Shad Khan, sharing conversations on Khan’s yacht in Miami. And if Meyer was viewed as a cad in some American sectors, didn’t they still embrace him in north Florida for his triumphs down the road in Gainesville?     

The result Thursday was the most polarizing hire in recent NFL times. He didn’t get the $12 million annual salary floated as an original demand, but he’s only making slightly less than Bill Belichick, who has won six Super Bowls, and in the vicinity of Pete Carroll, Jon Gruden, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh, all winners of a Super Bowl. If you think it’s haywire, it’s the growing market price of NFL coaching — why shouldn’t Meyer make that much when Baylor’s Matt Rhule was handed almost $9 million annually by the Carolina Panthers?     

So, you might say Urban Meyer had better win. And win big. If he and Lawrence claim a championship together, he’ll be celebrated as one of the all-timer greats in his field, the rare coach to pull off the NFL/college perfecta.     

If he fails? Legions of Meyer detractors will be swimming in champagne schadenfreude, and the networks might not even have him back. One way or another, Sports Google will have finality.     

At 56, with his troublesome health history, a championship might be a stretch for Meyer because he might not coach beyond five years. But relieved of college coaching’s onerous burdens, including recruiting battles that grow wearisome, he will succeed quickly on the next level, I say. Not only does he inherit a potential Hall of Fame cornerstone in Lawrence, the Jaguars have the most salary-cap space in the league and a treasure trove of high draft picks. Armed with front-office power, he is positioned to control his destiny, pick and sign his preferred talent and become an instant favorite in a region that saw the Jaguars reach the AFC championship game in 2017, only to go 12-36 the last three seasons.     

Make no mistake, this was the only job for Meyer. He listened to the Los Angeles Chargers, where Justin Herbert has one sensational quarterbacking season in the books, but he has spent enough Fox assignment time in L.A. to know that franchise might never catch on. Besides, he had all the leverage in negotiating with the Jaguars. They needed him more than he needed them, struggling to build a strong fan base in the league’s fourth-smallest market and failing to cut a deal with the city in developing a mixed-use entertainment complex near an aging stadium. The Florida Times-Union, the city’s newspaper, accused Khan of trying to shake down the mayor for “a $65 million, no-interest, 50-year “loan’’ that operated like a cash grant. The city was loaning the money an providing the money to pay itself back.’’ If Jacksonville still doesn’t buy into the Jaguars with Meyer and Lawrence in town, Khan and the league might as well move the franchise — though, please, not to London, as rumored for years, given the logistical and travel problems presented by having one European team and 31 U.S. teams.     

The transition to NFL coaching shouldn’t be difficult for Meyer, who spent 17 years in four college programs. He cares too much, studies too much, lives the game too much to become the next Bobby Petrino, the most infamous recent college-to-pro flop. Or the next Chip Kelly, whose offensive innovation was figured out by the best defensive minds. Actually, the apt comparison is Carroll. He should be Meyer’s whisperer, his legacy fixer. Both were massively successful on the collegiate level, yet both found trouble that drove them out of their jobs. Carroll slipped away to the Seattle Seahawks, where he won a championship and, with general manager John Schneider, created one of the league’s strongest perennial franchises. With more than $90 million in cap room, 11 total draft choices this spring — four in the top 45 — and a core that includes talented weapons for Lawrence, Meyer can build a similar foundation.     

It’s paramount that success comes immediately. Otherwise, will they be calling another ambulance for him? I was in Atlanta in 2009 when Florida lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game, which flipped the script for Saban to rule the sport the next decade-plus. Meyer wound up in the hospital with chest pains, then announced he was resigning before un-resigning the next day. The episode, diagnosed as an esophagus issue, prompted him to reassess his priorities, and after a down season, he found a permanent escape hatch. Returning to his dream job at Ohio State, he went 83-9 and won a national title, but in Year Seven, he reported headaches from a congenital arachnoid cyst as the Smith drama was devouring the program. When he departed the program in December 2018, after serving a three-game unpaid suspension, he indicated he likely was retired for good.     

“I believe I will not coach again,’’ Meyer said.     

Who believed him? Who ever believes him?     

Which begs the question: How will a man who lost only nine games the last decade, and went 187-32 in his college career, deal with the inevitable losing that happens in the NFL? In the best-case scenario, Meyer would go 9-7 in his first season. How does he handle each of those seven losses?

“I’m ready to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars,” Meyer said in a statement. “Jacksonville has an enthusiastic fan base, and the fans deserve a winning team. With upcoming opportunities in the NFL Draft, and strong support from ownership, the Jaguars are well-positioned to become competitive. I’ve analyzed this decision from every angle — the time is right in Jacksonville, and the time is right for me to return to coaching. I’m excited about the future of this organization and our long term prospect for success.”     

Excuse me. Did he say the Jaguars are positioned to become “competitive’’ without providing a time frame? Urban Meyer isn’t a man who settles for being competitive. Is he trying to tamp down expectations, knowing the Jags gave up a franchise-record 492 points last season?     

I know a man who already is voicing bigger goals. “This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere,” Khan said. “Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results. While Urban already enjoys a legacy in the game of football that few will ever match, his passion for the opportunity in front of him here in Jacksonville is powerful and unmistakable.”     

Did he reference “excellence’’ and “results’’ in his statement?     

It’s a fascinating story, sure to drive arguments even in a pandemic. But will it end well? That first paragraph of the obit is waiting.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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