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Exclusive Interview with Jags Columnist Gene Frenette

Big Cat Country is pleased to offer this fascinating interview with Florida Times-Union Sports Columnist Gene Frenette.  Gene's been working for the Times-Union, Jacksonville's Paper since 1983.  His weekly Jaguars Column offers an often critical eye toward the Jaguars but the insight is always well argued and thought provoking.  While I might disagree with some of his criticism, he's always got a point worth considering.  Gene was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, via email.  Visit Gene here and the Florida Times-Union Jaguar Coverage

River City Rage: Why did you become a Sports Journalist and how long have you been reporting in Jacksonville?

Gene Frenette: I've wanted to be a sports writer since I was a freshman in high
school. I grew up in Vermont and often read Jim Murray's syndicated
columns from the Los Angeles Times. He was my favorite writer growing
up. In my last year of Little League Baseball, my father gave up the
coaching duties and as a 12-year-old, my coach turned out to be a man
who was a well-known sports writer in my home state. When I was in
high school, he took me with him to high school games that he covered
and I kept some of the statistics for him. He then helped me get my
first job at age 16 with the local Sunday newspaper covering high
school sports. I worked all day Saturday and also came in for a
couple hours during the week to make phone calls to coaches. I got my
first full-time job in 1978 in Fort Pierce, Fla. working for the
daily newspaper there, then went to West Palm Beach in 1980 to cover
high school sports, then got my first gig in Jacksonville in 1981 at
the now defunct Jacksonville Journal, then the evening paper that was
owned by the same people that owned the Times-Union. When Morris
Communications bought the paper in May, 1983, that's when all the
reporters who were with the Journal also came to work for the T-U. I
started out covering Jacksonville University, then moved to the
Florida beat before becoming a columnist in 1988.

River City Rage: What do you think of Blogs, bloggers and the "blog-o-sphere" and where do you think bloggers fit in the world of Sports reporting?

Gene Frenette: To be honest, I struggle a bit with the whole blogging thing
because it gives people not trained in our industry a vehicle to act
like they are. Don't get me wrong, some bloggers are good writers and
have worthy opinions. But a lot of it is also pure nonsense with
little objectivity beyond venting and spewing opinions without a lot
of thought. Think of it this way: how would lawyers feel if by some
decree anybody could just start showing up in courtrooms and
prosecuting cases or representing the accused because they have a
desire to do it without having gone to law school or through other
proper channels. My guess is other lawyers and judges wouldn't take
too kindly to it if that was permitted. It's not the perfect analogy,
but you get my drift. However, I'm not so naive that I don't see
where this train is heading. Blogging is here to stay, and now sports
writers are having to do more of it for their own newspapers because
we're in the instant information age. Seldom do stories actually
break in your morning paper because a large percentage of people get
their info on the Internet. I could honestly see a time coming where
people who are sports writers do more instant blogging for the
Internet than actually writing stories for the newspaper product.

Keep Reading after the Fold!

River City Rage: Ok, the Jaguars have been consistently rising over the last three years yet seem to have hit a wall this year.  With the team at 5-4, what do you think this season will teach us about the state of the team?

Gene Frenette: From the very beginning, I felt the 2006 season would be a
crossroads year for the Jaguars on several fronts. With the terrific
home schedule and the team ascending under Jack Del Rio, it was
critical for them to continue that ascent and for Byron Leftwich to
establish in what is essentially his contract extension-evaluating
season (his deal expires after the 2007 season) that he's the long-
term answer at quarterback. So far, none of that has happened. Byron
is hurt again, and when you've established a pattern of not playing
for two years in a row, that's a major red flag, especially when
you've shown when you do play that you're just an average to above-
average starting quarterback in the NFL. Two losses to the Houston
Texans is not the look of a team bound for the playoffs. And if this
team fails to reach the postseason, that's a significant blow to the
progress that had been shown. However, there's no question that
injuries to Reggie Hayward, Mike Peterson and time lost by Marcus
Stroud have to be factored in, though the defense continues to do a
fabulous job despite their absence. The receiving corps right now is
the biggest problem confronting this team. You've got two first-round
draft picks on the field and their production is horribly inconsistent.

River City Rage: The Jaguars are largely a team that's designed to beat the Indianapolis Colts yet struggles (to say the least) against the Texans, what do you think has to happen for Jacksonville to reach the next level and take the AFC South?

Gene Frenette: For starters, it would help if Peyton Manning got hurt as often as
Leftwich, but since he's made 140-something consecutive starts since
coming into the NFL in 1998, that's probably not going to happen. I
do think, however, that the Colts' salary-cap issues will gradually
diminish their effectiveness over the next few years. This might be
their last real shot at a Super Bowl because they're going to do more
subtracting than adding to their roster in the coming years. Now as
long as they have Manning, who is still only 30-years-old, they're
probably going to be an AFC South contender for at least 5 more
years. It'll be the Jaguars' defense against the Colts offense for
the foreseeable future. The question is how much longer can 34-year-
old Marvin Harrison play at a Pro Bowl-type level and can they afford
to keep all the core members of the team like Swight Freeney, Reggie
Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn, Bob Sanders, to name a few. That
ridiculous $34 million signing bonus they gave Manning (wouldn't $25
million be enough) is going to cost them when it comes to keeping
parts of  his surrounding cast. But the Jaguars, more than anything,
must find a way to be more productive and explosive on offense. When
and if that happens, they can be a Super Bowl contender with that
defense to go with it.

River City Rage: Who's your favorite Jaguar player you've interviewed, covered, or met?

Gene Frenette: I don't have a favorite Jaguar player. I will mention some names
of guys that I've enjoyed interviewing because of how they conduct
themselves and their candor. This is no particular order. Of the
current ones, I have a high regard for  Deon Grant, Mike Peterson,
Fred Taylor, Kyle Brady, Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Paul Spicer,
Khalif Barnes, Ernest Wilford and Rashean Mathis for their ability to
articulate and provide insight to my questions. Many players (Rob
Meier, Marcedes Lewis, Brad Meester, Maurice Williams) are really
good guys, but may not be especially good in that way. Former players
that I'd put in that same category are Tony Boselli,  Rich Griffith
(who is possibly the nicest Jaguar in history), Mark Brunell (great
interview 1-on-1, but not in a group setting), Leon Searcy.

River City Rage: What are your thoughts about the future of professional football in Jacksonville?  Can the fans keep the team financially sound in the River City or will finances eventually force the Weavers hand?

Gene Frenette: I think Jacksonville is a challenging market because there's not a
lot of discretionary income here, compared to most NFL cities. The
Jaguars must rely on a higher percentage of the population to buy
tickets than elsewhere. That said, I don't think the Weavers would
ever move the team because all of their emotional ties and friends
are here. WW would never, in my opinion, move to LA no matter how
financially desperate things became for the reasons I just mentioned.
Now would he sell the team to someone who could move it in the
future? That would be a little more likely, but again, not a good
bet. Weaver wants to make it work here because he wants that as part
of his legacy. He's 71-years-old, will probably own the team for
another 10-15 years as long as his healthy is good, and who knows
what happens then because he has no heirs that want to do what he
does. For Jacksonville's sake, they better hope Wayne Weaver stays in
good health as long as possible.

River City Rage: Tom Coughlin is coming to town this weekend, as you obviously know, do you have any memories of the Coughlin era worth sharing as we reminisce to the early days of the Jaguars?

Gene Frenette: Just the usual stuff about Tom. He's a brilliant football coach,
especially on offense. He knows how to get points on the board, but
he's struggling now with a quarterback in Eli Manning who has hit a
wall and finds himself in a major slump. The Giants have won almost
in spite of Manning. The two things that stand out in my mind are the
1996 season, going from a team seemingly headed nowherre at 4-7 to
within one game of the Super Bowl. Everything fell the Jaguars' way
in the second half of that season. The 1999 season, of course, a rout
of the MIami Dolphins in Marino's last game followed by the disaster
the following week when Tennessee scored 26 unanswered points to win
33-14 and go to the Super Bowl.

River City Rage:  It seems that recent history is not looking good when it comes to the Jaguar's first round draft picks.  While we've gotten great depth out of our mid to late round guys, it's looking like Byron, Reggie, Matt and possibly Marcades all have question marks as to their future NFL success.  What are your thoughts on the Jaguars draft strategy in the first round and do you think their current first rounders (Marcades excluded, it's only his first year) will emerge into something solid for the Jags?

Gene Frenette: I have serous questoins about the first-round picks outside of
Marcedes Lewis  because he's only in his first year. I've always had
doubts about Reggie Williams' maturity, Matt Jones' work ethic and
Byron Leftwich's mechanics, though I think Byron can offset a lot of
it with good protection and a solid receiving corps. At least Byron
wants it badly and has the maturity you want in a quarterback.
Between Reggie and Matt, one of those guys has got to step up and
live up to their first-round draft status. Otherwise, I don't see
this offense being much more than average at best.

River City Rage: Final question, and a sappy one, what's your favorite sporting event to cover?

Gene Frenette: That's a tough one, but I'd have to go with the Final Four or any
part of the NCAA tournament. Just a great spectacle.

River City Rage: Gene, Thanks for your Time!