The issue first emerged in early October, in the days before Jon Gruden’s email scandal yanked the spotlight away from Urban Meyer’s Ohio misadventures. Will the Jaguars fire Urban Meyer “for cause,” cutting off his pay?
The fact that Meyer didn’t resign suggests that he didn’t want to waive his chance to get the balance of his contract. The fact that everything happened so fast after Josh Lambo created a fresh headline with an old story (from the team’s perspective) of being kicked at practice by Meyer suggests that (at best) the team had their “for cause” ducks in a row and that, at worst, they decided to pull the trigger now and worry about the money later.
A “for cause” firing can happen if a coach violates a material provision of his contract. The contracts typically used by all NFL teams include a “Good Moral Character” clause. Here’s an example of one: “At all times during the term of this Agreement, whether in the performance of his duties and responsibilities under this Agreement or otherwise, Coach shall conduct himself in accordance with the NFL and Club Personal Conduct Policies, high standards of honesty, morality and good conduct and shall refrain from taking any actions which could be construed as detrimental to the best interests of Club or the NFL. This shall include, but not be limited to, insubordination, drunkenness, any personal conduct on or off the job which could bring disgrace on or discredit to Club, the NFL or both. Coach shall conduct himself with regard to public conventions and morals, and shall not gamble or bet illegally or excessively or gamble at all on any football game or team sport, shall not use intoxicants or stimulants to excess or frequent places or associate with persons of questionable character, shall abide by all standards set forth by Club regarding appearance and standards of workmanship, shall not participate in any activity in violation of the NFL rules, constitution or bylaws, and shall not do or commit any act or thing which would tend to bring him, Club or the NFL into public hatred, contempt, scorn or ridicule, or that could shock or offend the community or ridicule public morals or decency or prejudice the NFL or Club or professional football generally.”
The language is broad, sweeping, and just vague enough to strike the balance between not being enforceable and being sufficiently malleable to apply to a wide range of situations.
If Meyer chooses to fight a “for cause” firing, he likely will have his hands tied by another common provision of NFL coaching contracts — the requirement that any disputes be resolved not in a court of law but by the Commissioner. That stacks the deck firmly in favor of the oligarchs who have hired and compensated the Commissioner, making it very difficult for the team to lose.
Besides, the team really doesn’t lose anything by holding firm. If Meyer fights this and in the unlikely event he wins, he’ll get what he would have gotten if he hadn’t been fired “for cause.”
Then there’s the question of whether Meyer is truly up for a fight. There could be other things that the team knows, and that the team would leak, if/when Meyer essentially sues the Jaguars. Although the in-house arbitration process doesn’t play out publicly like a court proceeding, Meyer has learned the hard way the ease with which those motivated to talk and those inclined to repeat what they have to say can come together to create all sorts of difficulties and challenges for an NFL head coach.
So if he was fired “for cause” and if there’s other stuff that we don’t yet know about, maybe his best move is to cut his losses and move on. Or to accept whatever cents-on-the-dollar settlement the team may offer (there’s a sense his base pay was in the range of $6.5 million annually) to allow everyone to put this behind them, for good.