Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke first met 16 years ago, before the San Francisco 49ers drafted quarterback Alex Smith with the No. 1 pick in 2005.
Meyer was Smith’s college coach at Utah, and Baalke was a western region scout for the Niners.
They really got to know each other in the past two weeks in Jacksonville. And there’s little doubt they shared stories about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
Meyer went 4-0 against Harbaugh during his tenure at Ohio State; Baalke clashed with Harbaugh during their time in San Francisco and was the one who essentially pushed Harbaugh out the door after an 8-8 season that followed three consecutive trips to the NFC championship game.
Harbaugh might even serve as the unlikely bonding agent between Jacksonville’s new head coach and its new general manager.
The Jaguars officially announced Baalke as GM on Thursday, removing the interim tag from his title and pairing him with Meyer in what both of them called a “partnership” and an “alignment.”
Team owner Shad Khan said the duo is “aligned contractually.”
“How long that might be? I’m not ready to say, but it’s a long time, OK,” Khan said. “But I think this was really very, very important to me. … Don’t want to overstate it: it’s a defining moment for the franchise.”
Khan is switching to a coach-centric model in which Meyer and Baalke will both report to him to “have transparency and (fill) the needs and concerns of both parties without really getting filtered or have a chain of command.” Meyer, though, is expected to have final say over the roster and most everything else.
Baalke served as Jacksonville’s director of pro personnel in 2020, returning to a front-office role for the first time since San Francisco fired him and coach Chip Kelly following the 2016 season.
Baalke spent a dozen years with the 49ers, half as GM. He hired Harbaugh, who led the Niners to the NFC title game in each of his first three seasons and lost Super Bowl 47. Baalke also drafted quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round in 2011.
Before moving to Jacksonville, Baalke spent three years (2017-19) working as an operations consultant for the NFL.
“It’s an opportunity that I never knew would come again,” said Baalke, who already added longtime NFL personnel executive Tom Gamble to his staff. “Not many people get a second chance.”
It’s even more rare considering Baalke’s final two years in San Francisco included one-and-done coaches Jim Tomsula and Kelly.
“I think you learn at every stop,” Baalke said. “You learn more probably from the mistakes you made over your career than you do the positive things. I’ve learned a lot about handling, working with coaches, a lot about dealing and working with players, a lot about team building and what it takes.
“Spending a lot of time with Coach Meyer in the past couple weeks, I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I think life’s a journey. I think learning is a journey. I think every day when you wake up, if you’re not waking up with the mentality that you’re going to learn something, you’re missing something.”
Jacksonville had one of the league’s most attractive coach/GM openings. The Jaguars have 11 picks in the 2021 draft, including four in the top 45, and are nearly $100 million under the projected salary cap.
Although Alex Smith first brought them together, Meyer and Baalke might be forever linked by the 2021 No. 1 pick — a virtual lock to be Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.
“I think we all know there’s a couple incredible players out there, but my focus has been on the staff,” Meyer said. “To say we haven’t talked about it, of course we have. That’s going to be a deep, deep dive.”
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