Before Jaguars owner Shad Khan issued a statement strongly suggesting that he won’t be firing coach Urban Meyer, rumors and speculation were building as to whether Khan would try to fire Meyer “for cause.” It’s still a possibility.
While Khan may hope that Meyer will quit (and in turn waive his right to ongoing pay) or may want to negotiate a middle-ground severance package, Khan could still take an aggressive position, firing Meyer for cause, refusing to pay him, and sitting back and waiting for Meyer to fight it.
Fighting it, based on the language teams conventionally use in these agreements, means having the Commissioner resolve it. That’s a stacked deck in favor of the team, especially since (in this specific case) firing Meyer now means not taking Meyer to London next week for one of two NFL games to be played there this year. Although the NFL craves more media attention in England, this isn’t the kind of media attention the league covets, anywhere. If the Jaguars fire Meyer, the NFL avoids the potential embarrassments and complications arising from his time in and around Trafalgar Square.
A “for cause” firing can happen if the coach breaches a material provision of his contract, and the coaching contracts typically used by NFL teams include a “Good Moral Character” clause.
“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,” a comparable contract obtained by PFT explains. “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.”
It’s vague. It’s broad. And it’s ultimately decided by the Commissioner, who is employed by Khan and his 31 partners.
The stakes would nevertheless be high. The general sense in league circles is that Meyer is making $10 million per year. The number of years of the deal, and more importantly the number of years that are fully guaranteed, could make this a problem costing as much as $50 million or $60 million, minus what he has earned so far this year.
Khan’s assessment of the broader risks and rewards should include the benefit to the organization of making a change now, the possibility that he’ll resign at some point, and the chances that he’ll do something else that would make a case for a for-cause firing even stronger. Khan also would have to be willing to set aside his own pride and ego and admit that he made a serious mistake, something he may not be inclined to do.
Regardless of where things go from here, it feels much more like the beginning of the end than the end of the beginning. The team already was 0-4 before Meyer’s misadventures in Ohio. Recent events won’t make it any easier to stop a historic losing streak, which currently is at 19 games and counting.