I am a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I wear my I-don't-remember-the-year coaches' sideline polo almost every week and occasionally brandish my now-throwback Maurice Jones-Drew or Paul Spicer jerseys. I grew up with the team and enjoyed their success and did not enjoy their lack of success.
I do not have much experience in analyzing a football team, but really, who does? Who among the legions of sports writers has actually played the game, instead choosing the path of least resistance and moving on to write about their favorite team(s) with at least a little bit of sarcasm included? I have a love of the game, a father as a coach of a middle school football team but who has imparted on me much knowledge, and my own observations to guide me.
With that, I would like to unequivocally say that the Jacksonville Jaguars are bad because of their General Manager.
Gene Smith, the well-coiffed, soft-spoken, intelligent-looking General Manager of the Jaguars, got in his position by being a scout for the team since its inception. Gene's eye for talent got him promoted to the position of GM after the reign of Shack Harris ended.
I never knew what it was like to long for the days of Shack Harris until now.
Last year, the awfulness of the team was attributed to the coaching. Jack Del Rio did not survive the season, and several members of his offensive coaching staff left for alternate employment after the 2011 season ended. Was it really the coaching? Let us examine the evidence, which is presently located to the north and west of the great town we call Jacksonville. Let's look to Atlanta, where Dirk Koetter, the former offensive coordinator of the Jaguars, is now the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons currently have an 8-1 record. The Falcons have talent including Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Michael Turner. Did Koetter drastically change his system? Did Koetter, perhaps, make a change in the offseason of his entire offensive philosophy and playbook, making both him and the Falcons' offense learn an entirely new system? Surely not. No, perhaps the fact is that the Falcons are in possession of talent. Talent acquired by their general manager and head coach. Running Dirk Koetter's offense. Surely, if the team had employed individuals that were sufficiently talented, the Koetter offense would have been a success in Jacksonville.
Let's also look to the quarterback position. Since Mark Brunell left (also known as "was forced out"), each quarterback for the Jaguarshas had flashes of brilliance with the undertone of steady mediocrity and/or middle-of-the-pack-ness. The one exception to this has been David Garrard, who the Jaguars cut instead of letting him have surgery on his back and remain on the roster right before the 2011 season started, relying on a McCown brother (not the good one) to carry the team (he couldn't) until super-rookie Blaine "Sunshine" Gabbert was ready.
That lasted an entire two games.
Is Blaine having to learn a second new offense in as many years? Yes. Is he having some trouble adapting to the pro game? Also, yes. Does he also have the qualities that Rob Johnson, Jay Feely and Jonathan Quinn showed before the Jaguars either cut them or traded them for a ridiculous draft pick? Yes.
The quarterback makes the team happen and if you don't believe that, look at Peyton Manning in Denver, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, or on the other end of the spectrum, Cam Newton in Carolina and Mark Sanchez in New York. You want a specific case of this as relates to the Jaguars? 2007 was the last time that the Jaguars made an appearance in the postseason. The Jags gave us an exciting Wild Card playoff win against the Steelers. David Garrard was the quarterback. Who were your starting wide receivers that year? Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford, and Matt Jones.
Terrible Trio, huh?
With emerging talent like Cecil Shorts, and resources like Laurent Robinson and Marcedes Lewis, Blaine should be able to put up more than 10 points a game... but he can't do it.
Sunshine was, of course, drafted by GM Gene Smith. Mr. Smith believed in Blaine Gabbert SO MUCH that the Jaguars were a NON-FACTOR in signing Peyton Manning in this past offseason. An absolute, ridiculous non-factor. Peyton has a home in Miami and Jacksonville is like an hour flight away. He could've gone to spend a couple of days with his kids during the week and been back to practice with no jet lag. There was a new owner in town and he was willing to write some big checks. And yet, no effort to get Manning in teal whatsoever. Despite the obvious short-term benefits to the team, and the obvious long-term benefits to Gabbert getting to study under a modern-day NFL legend, Gene sat on his thumb and made no effort.
Gene Smith has whiffed on nearly every draft pick he has made. Cecil Shorts is emerging as a pretty good WR and Derek Cox is a good CB when healthy. Name another decent player he has drafted other than that, please. Justin Blackmon is taking FOREVER to get acclimated to the NFL game. Meanwhile, Mohamed Sanu is in Cincinnati throwing passes and catching them too.
Unfortunately, the Jaguars are saddled with one of their previous owner's last bad decisions: a contract extension for Gene Smith. However, they should pay the man to walk out the door. Get someone into Everbank Field who will spend in free agency, who will build a winner, and who will hit home runs on draft picks instead of "singles and doubles."
Gene Smith's time in Jacksonville is over, and whoever comes in to make the first or second pick in the 2013 NFL Draft needs to be brought in by Shad Khan to win and win soon.