Now we come to our Top 5. As we begin to wrap up the countdown, the names are no longer in question. I hope you all are enjoying this walk through time, and are getting as hyped as I am for training camp and the season to kick off.
Our #5 member of the list, as some of you have correctly assumed, is our one and only non-player to make it.
Today, we honor the man that put together the greatest expansion franchise in NFL history...
#5. Tom Coughlin, Head Coach, 1995-2002
Following the announcement of Jacksonville being awarded the Jaguars, in November of 1993, owner Wayne Weaver almost immediately began his search for a general manager and head coach.
There was numerous speculation over just who would head the new franchise, and the most of the talk pointed towards recently fired Dallas Cowboys coach and GM, Jimmy Johnson. Johnson was coming off back to back Super Bowl championships with Dallas, and was by far the most popular and media friendly coach in the NFL. A report surfaced that Weaver met with Johnson in South Florida and offered him full control of the expansion team as GM and head coach, but Johnson turned him down for an opportunity in broadcasting and other ventures.
After being turned down by Johnson, Weaver continued his search interviewing several candidates, including a rising defensive coordinator by the name of Tony Dungy.
Finally, in February of 1994, Weaver announced he had found his man. His choice was Tom Coughlin, previously the head coach at Boston College and fairly unknown to the predominantly SEC and ACC focused North Florida region. Coughlin received the same deal offered originally to Johnson, full control of all personnel operations on and off the field. The decision to give Coughlin the GM position, would prove to be both one of the best and in the end one of the worst decisions, in Weaver's time as owner.
In his first off-season as GM, Coughlin began setting the building blocks for the franchises' early success. He signed DE Jeff Lageman, a former first round pick of the New York Jets, as his big free agent of the team's inaugural off-season to give the team a quality pass rusher on defense and a veteran presence. On the eve of the team's first draft, Coughlin traded a 3rd and 5th round pick to the Green Bay Packers for a backup quarterback by the name of Mark Brunell.
In the team's first ever draft, Coughlin selected USC stand out offensive tackle, Tony Boselli with the team's first ever draft choice. Later in the round, he took Tennessee running back James Stewart, followed by OT Brian DeMarco, LB Bryan Schwartz, FS Chris Hudson, and QB Rob Johnson, forming a roster of contributors that would become the base of the franchise's growth. The team made history in another way that off-season, as they signed their entire draft class in one day, something never seen before, or since, in the NFL.
With the team's stadium and practice fields still under construction in the Summer of '95, Coughlin took the team to Stevens Point, WI for their inaugural training camp. "Camp Coughlin" would become a legend for the scorching heat, intense often borderline illegal full-contact practices, and Coughlin's often militant rule over the practices.
He was almost maniacal in his ways, often installing rules that rubbed many of the veteran players the wrong way. Among the many tedious rules in the Wisconsin camp, was not allowing coaches to wear sunglasses, and banning the players from kneeling or having their helmets on the turf. One of the more memorable stories of Coughlin's "boot camp", came during a practice where veteran DE Ferric Collons was involved in an altercation with another teammate on the offensive line during a drill. In the scuffle, Collons threw the opposing lineman's helmet across the field. Coughlin furiously instructed him to go and retrieve the helmet, an order Collons refused. The team released Collons that same day.
The Jaguars ended up going 4-12 in their first season, setting an expansion record for wins. Though the record was still poor, the season allowed the team the ability to identify it's holes and establish it's future at several key positions, especially at left tackle and quarterback.
After an off-season spending spree that saw the team sign tackle Leon Searcy, wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Andre Rison, defensive end Clyde Simmons (signed in pre-season), and lose out on offer sheets to restricted free agents Quentin Coryatt, Todd Lyght, and Aeneas Williams, the Jaguars felt they were ready to make some noise in the the crowded AFC Central.
Following an Opening Day win against the defending conference champion Steelers, the Jaguars lost three straight and 6 of their first 9 games to go into their bye week with a dismal 3-6 record. Though 3-6 was normally not viewed as anything but expected for a second year franchise, the team was in every loss and had opportunities blown that would've made the record much more respectable. Couple that with the large amount of money spent in free agency and the surging success of the sister expansion team in Carolina, who were beginning a track towards a 12-4 season (though the Jags defeated them 24-14), and there was an overflow of negativity towards Coughlin and his handling of the team to that point.
The locker room was a divided one, particularly due to veteran receiver Andre Rison, who was beginning to form a mutiny between certain veteran players and Coughlin. After going back and forth with Rison for several weeks, he was released following an on field dispute with QB Mark Brunell during a loss to Pittsburgh. Following Rison's release, many speculated Coughlin had lost the team and perhaps should be fired as his old school college-style of coaching was just not working with the adult NFL veteran players. Then as things seemed to be falling apart around Coughlin, a funny thing happened, the team began to win.
As the weeks progressed following Rison's release, the Jaguars began winning games and coming together as a team, particularly on offense, which was Coughlin's specialty. Jimmy Smith, a purely special teams player Coughlin had signed off the street before training camp in '95 as a "camp body", was beginning to emerge as a capable deep threat NFL receiver, complimenting the newly acquired McCardell and giving Brunell a dependable target down field.
The team rolled off five consecutive wins, and in a sign of somewhat miraculous things to come, clinched a playoff berth after Falcons kicker Morten Anderson hooked a chip shot field goal in the season finale'. Coughlin led his troops into battles at Buffalo and Denver respectively, places where teams rarely were successful come the harsh Winters of the post-season, and twice pulled off consecutive upset victories to advance the team to it's first AFC title game, in only it's second year of existence.
Though the team failed to capitalize on the opportunity, the miracle run catapulted them to the national spotlight, and began a four year run of success that would make Coughlin and his Jags a house hold name.
Under his watch, the team would go on to make the playoffs in '97,'98, and '99, including two AFC Central division titles in the last playoff seasons. In 1999, the team set a franchise record for wins, going 14-2 and clinching the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Though for all his success as coach for the Jags in the regular season over the three year span, playoff success was relatively low. The Jaguars would lose in the Wild Card, Divisional, and AFC Championship games in that three year period.
The toughest blow came in January of 2000, when following a halftime lead against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC title game, the team came apart on the field and lost it's best chance at a Super Bowl appearance in front of nearly 78,000 people at then Alltel Stadium, 33-14.
Following the four year run of success under Coughlin's regime, the team began a deep dissent into mediocrity.
Injuries to key players and the bill from spending hand over fist in free agency to buy a championship, began to come to call for the team. Following it's second straight losing season in 2001 and the threat of major salary cap ramifications coming down from the NFL, Coughlin was forced to release the same veteran players, such as Boselli and McCardell, who were key to building his "Jaguars Camelot".
He was left with only a shell of the team he once had, come the 2002 season, and though he kept the team fighting til the end, a testament to his coaching style, they finished losing 5 of their last 6 games, finishing 6-10. After three straight losing seasons and a team that resembled more the '95 team than those that were consistently in the playoff picture, due mostly to Coughlin's decisions as GM, the fan outcry became too much for Weaver to ignore, and Coughlin was fired a few days after the conclusion of the season.
Though his decisions in free agency eventually cost the franchise gravely, his drafting, particularly in the first round was terrific. The team landed All-Pro caliber players Boselli, Kevin Hardy, Fred Taylor, Marcus Stroud, and John Henderson, under Coughlin's watch. Along with other draft picks who were solid contributors like Tony Brackens, Donovin Darius, Aaron Beasley, Fernando Bryant, Reynaldo Wynn, Brad Meester, Rob Meier, Maurice Williams, and David Garrard.
Despite the panning of fans locally, who were often overly infatuated with the Steve Spurrier collegiate offensive system of throwing out of shotgun every play, Coughlin was an offensive mastermind in the NFL game. Under his guidance the team developed and polished two All-Pro receivers in Smith and McCardell who had little interest elsewhere in the league. He also helped turn a back up in Mark Brunell, into one of the star quarterbacks of the late '90s. In his eight seasons as head coach, the Jaguars offense finished in the Top 10 of the NFL five times. His offensive coaching tree while in Jacksonville, consisted of both future NFL and college head coaches, such as Kevin Gilbride, Chris Palmer, and Bobby Petrino.
Coughlin finished his Jaguars coaching career with a record of 68-60, and a 4-4 record in the post-season. The Jaguars run of four consecutive playoff appearances, made them the most successful expansion franchise in NFL history.
He joined the New York Giants in 2004, and has since gone on to lead the team to two Super Bowl championships. Over the same time, the Jaguars have made two playoff appearances in between being muddled in mediocrity and are now on their second head coach since Coughlin's firing.
The Top-25 List:
#25. Aaron Beasley, CB, 1996-2001
#24. Bryan Barker, P, 1995-2000
#23. Donovin Darius, S, 1998-2006
#22. David Garrard, QB, 2002-2010
#21. Josh Scobee, K, 2004-Present
#20. Kyle Brady, TE, 1999-2006
#19. Kevin Hardy, LB, 1996-2001
#18. Brad Meester, C, 2000-Present
#17. Vince Manuwai, G, 2003-2010
#16. Mike Peterson, LB, 2003-2008
#15. Mike Hollis, K, 1995-2001
#14. Gary Walker, DT, 1999-2001
#13. Daryl Smith, LB, 2004-Present
#12. Leon Searcy, OT, 1996-2000
#11. Tony Brackens, DE, 1996-2004
#10. John Henderson, DT, 2002-2009
#9. Rashean Mathis, CB, 2003-Present
#8. Keenan McCardell, WR, 1996-2001
#7. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, 2006-Present
#6. Mark Brunell, QB, 1995-2003
#5. Tom Coughlin, Head Coach, 1995-2002
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