It's always cool when you get to know an NFL coach, but it's even cooler when the coach you get to know is your neighbor and is one of the more respected position coaches in the league.
This past week, I sat down with Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver coach Jerry Sullivan, who has been with the team since 2012 and has been a coach in high school, college, and the NFL for 42 years. We talked about his thoughts on the Jaguars 2015 season so far, how the Jaguars receivers have progressed, and what life is like being an NFL coach.
Q: How do you feel about the Jaguars progression as a team throughout your tenure as the team's wide receivers coach?
A: Well, I came here in 2012 with Coach [Mike] Mularkey; it was a hard year because we didn't fare well, by the end of the year the staff was terminated and that's always difficult. Mike's a good football coach but that's just the nature of the business. Then Gus [Bradley] came in, and I didn't have any background with him, but I was fortunate enough to stay on with the new staff. The team has come along over the past couple years, we've had a lot of young guys come along which you don't get any credit for, it's all about the bottom line.
This year, you can see this team is a lot more competitive, we have competed well. No excuses for defeats we have taken, like to Indianapolis [Colts] and Tampa Bay [Buccaneers], but we have definitely stayed competitive. In the [Buffalo] Bills game in London, we played up and down but stayed competitive until the end. The offense drove the field at the end to score and the defense held Buffalo on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 to seal the win. I think this win can be a real building block and hopefully we can pick up and continue on from here.
Q: What are the positives and negatives of coaching such a young group of receivers, including three second-year receivers and a rookie? Are they coming along at the pace you expected?
A: I've always set a high expectation level for my guys, and even though they are young they are coming along at the pace I expected. You look at Anquan Boldin, who I had as a rookie out in Arizona for a year and he had 101 receptions for 1,377 years and 8 touchdowns. He was a first-team Pro Bowl guy as a rookie.
Now, I don't set expectations to be anything like that but I look for a lot out of my guys. This is a unique group and not only are they very good football players, but they are high character people. It's fun to coach them.
Q: Are there any types of receivers or skill sets you think the Jaguars receiving corps is missing?
A: Well, every team would like to have a guy with blazing speed, but you sometimes have to sacrifice, sometimes you'll get a guy who's blazing fast but can't play football very well. You know, we're just progressing along and I am happy with what I have, I'm honored to coach the receivers I have, and I have no regrets about wanting someone else.
Q: When he's healthy, can Marqise Lee be a true difference maker for this offense? How much does the team miss him when he's hurt?
A: Well, [Lee] has been through a series of injuries, we want him back and he's working to come back, and he's going to have to integrate himself back into the offense. We will have to see how he comes along, but he can definitely help the offense. It's just a time element thing.
Q: Are you confident that "The Allens" (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns) can be an elite tandem at wide receiver, maybe even comparable to Jacksonville's very own "Thunder and Lightning" (Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith)?
A: You know, you can't predict the future, and I don't like to do that, but they are certainly put together, mentally and emotionally, to be that kind of team. As time goes along, we'll see. Like I said, I don't like to predict the future, but I'd like to think they will, over time, continue to flourish. They are both humble and motivated to be successful. That is a nice pre-requisite for success.
Q: In the NFL, receivers can't seem to thrive without a good quarterback. Do you believe that Blake Bortles is "the guy"?
A: Oh yeah. In any league, high school, college, pro, the function of the quarterback is a huge factor in determining success. Blake has a lot of great characteristics that you'd like. He's athletic, he's mobile, he's tough mentally, and he is internally driven to perfect his game. Will [Blake's progression] happen right before your eyes? No, but it will happen over time.
Q: On a more personal note, how do you like it here in Jacksonville?
A: I like it. I like living out here on the "peninsula", as I say, it's definitely a nice area to live in. It is more than likely that I will finish my career here, however that's to be determined.
Q: You have 42 years of coaching experience, and you know how to develop an elite receiver. Did you ever envision this when you were younger, that one day you'd be one of the more respected position coaches in the NFL?
A: You know, when you start out, it's like when you just start to swim, you just try to stay afloat. When I was a coach in college, I had to earn my stripes. I was mentored at LSU by coach Bill Arnsparger, who, if you look at the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins team, he was the architect of that defense. He was one of the more decorated coaches in the history of the NFL.
I learned from his mentoring and people see the product that I was putting out, and I began to move up into the NFL. I let other people define how they see what I do, the legacy of what I do coaching wise. I appreciate what is said about me, but I don't look for it.
Q: Do you see the Jaguars turning it around after the bye week, and build on the win over Buffalo, and potentially be a playoff team this year?
A: Well, like I said I don't like to predict, I'm not a prophet, we just need to take it one week at a time. This upcoming week we play the [New York] Jets, who have one of the best defenses in the NFL. You know, hopefully what we just accomplished as a team will have some benefits for us, in terms of our growth as we go on through the season. Hopefully, that [making the playoffs] can happen.