Gruden and Meyer: A lesson in leadership


Photo used with permission of Wikimedia Commons.

Former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden (left) and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer (right) displayed traits opposite of what a true leader would. As NFL head coaches, both men have failed more than just their players.

Nate Albin is a senior and editor-in-chief  for Fishers Tiger Times. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

     Only five weeks into the season, the NFL finds itself already with two head coaches worthy of firing for separate off-the-field actions. One, the Las Vegas Raiders’ Jon Gruden, has already resigned, but the other, Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach Urban Meyer, remains in place. These two, who are in one of the most visible leadership positions in the nation as NFL head coaches, have shown exactly how not to lead and the pair’s actions speak for themselves.

     First, Meyer made mistake after mistake during a weekend in Ohio. Following a last-second 24-21 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 30, Meyer spent the weekend in Columbus, where he was the head coach of The Ohio State University football team for six years. At a local bar, a video was taken of a young lady provocatively dancing on his leg. The team had a tumultuous offseason that included hiring a disgraced assistant, bringing back  a player who had not played football in years in Tim Tebow and violating NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) vaccination policy. This did not help a team already on a historic losing streak on and off the field.

     While Meyer’s situation involves recent mistakes, Gruden’s situation dates back nearly a decade. The Washington Football Team (WFT) recently underwent an investigation into a toxic work environment for “many years” while under the ownership of Dan Snyder, especially during the period in which Bruce Allen was team president. Allen was fired in 2019, and Snyder temporarily stepped aside from his day-to-day owner role earlier this year as a product of the investigation. The investigators examined around 650,000 emails, some of which were correspondence between Allen and Gruden. In these, the New York Times reported Gruden made racist remarks about then-NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith, homophobic slurs toward Michael Sam, the first openly-gay NFL player drafted, mysoginistic insults about female referees and various inappropriate comments about commissioner Roger Goodell.

     Both situations showed horrendous lapses in leadership. On NBC’s “Football Night in America,” Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy said he had never heard of an instance of the head coach of a team not travelling with players as Meyer did. Dungy, who was a football coach for 28 years, said the head coach sits in the front seat of the plane or bus, win or lose, to lead the team back home. On ESPN’s “First Take,” current ESPN analyst and former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson called out Gruden as a fraud. Johnson, who won Super Bowl XXXVII with Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, equated Gruden to a used car salesman that goes and talks behind others backs. It is clear that both men screwed up in such a way that clearly begs if they could ever win over their locker room, or any locker room, after these faults.

     For the past four years, I have attended FHS’ Student Leadership Retreat. Just a week ago, I was learning about what qualities a leader must bring to the table to be effective. It quickly becomes clear that neither Meyer or Gruden qualifies as a remotely strong leader. Each year, it is stressed to us that a leader acts for the best of others first, something Meyer especially did not do. A leader is also expected to be authentically themselves in order to create true relationships and bonds with team members. This is part of where Gruden failed massively.

     The reasons as to why Gruden is not a leader are obvious. While coaching the Raiders, one of his players, Carl Nassib, came out as the first openly-gay player on an active roster. In June, Gruden said, “what makes a man different is what makes him great,” but that quote offers a very different sentiment to what he said previously. Of course Gruden would not openly express his true beliefs in front of Nassib and the Raiders, but he is comfortable going to a private email and saying that gay players should not be drafted. Johnson was exactly right in his analysis of Gruden. He is a fraud. As a leader, you cannot fake it. You either are there for everyone on your team or you are not. Gruden was not.

     Meyer, while not as severely wrong as Gruden, is showing horrible leadership traits in his own right. Imagine how the players felt as Meyer did not board the team plane back to Jacksonville. The Jaguars have not won a game since Sept. 13 of last year. They have a rookie quarterback in Trevor Lawrence that has lost more games this year than he did in high school and college combined. In recent NFL history, the Jaguars have been a symbol of futility. This is a franchise in need of a culture change, yet here is Meyer actively making it worse. During tough times, a leader is supposed to be there. They are supposed to be the one that everyone can look to in dire times. When they were looking to him, he was not in his seat on the plane. If he were any sort of leader, he would do the one thing Gruden got right: resign. 

     Both men stood in positions that young men on their teams look up to as mentors. More importantly, those are positions that kids everywhere look at as examples of what leaders look like. From a young age, we are taught that the coaches of our youth teams will lead us in the right direction. I know that I have looked up to coaches, whether it be of my youth team or my favorite pro team. As someone who tries to lead, seeing people like Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden abuse power is infuriating. There is one thing I definitely already knew as a leader and these two proved it: a leader’s true intentions will always come out, for better or worse.