Much like the leaves of autumn, the pages of the 2016 calendar continue to fall, and both continue to signal one thing: change is coming. For the Jaguars, those changes seem to be pretty clear. The head coach will almost certainly be fired, while the general manager and quarterback are also on thin ice. But the biggest change in Jacksonville shouldn’t be the changing leaves, or the departure of just the head coach; it should be a complete shift in culture surrounding the Jaguars.
Ever since Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley arrived in 2013, the message has been pretty clear for the Jacksonville Jaguars: ‘just get better’. It was an idea that made some sense on the surface for the first two years; with the talent they had, they weren’t going to win many games, so instead of focusing on that and being disappointed with the results, just focus on making yourself better and eventually the wins will come. There are two problems with this thought process, though: one, telling a professional football team to not worry about results is probably never a good idea, even if it is a young and talent-deprived team. Two: the message never changed once the Jaguars got older and more talented.
What does that leave you with? It leaves you with a culture surrounding the team that is tainted by losing, and that has now developed into complacency on some levels. Gus Bradley never demanded more of his players, and now a culture has set in that it is ok to lose as long as you try and you get better. That is a very hard mindset to break, especially for the guy who was the one that instilled it in the first place. It’s the classic chill manager vs. hard-ass manager theory. Everyone prefers to work for the laid-back boss that doesn’t demand things, because it’s a less stressful environment, and it allows you to goof off or not take things as seriously. However, the hard-ass manager that holds people accountable will almost always yield better results. I’m not saying you have to have a coach who yells and kick things to motivate your players, but you do have to have one who doesn’t accept losing, which is what Gus Bradley does.
Here’s the other problem with that situation: once you start out being everybody’s friend, you can’t reverse course and start being demanding. Nobody will respect you enough to change. This is a classic example in a lot of different work environments, but one I’m a little more familiar with is actually with kids and teaching. If you as a teacher come in the first day and lay down the law, chances are the kids will respect you, and you will have an organized classroom. You can then soften up as the year goes on, because the kids have already accepted that you’re in charge. On the other hand, if you come in trying to be every kid’s friend and are super relaxed with them, you will soon be dealing with a chaotic environment. You can’t then flip a switch and try to lay down the law, because the kids have learned that they don’t have to listen to you. They don’t see you as authoritative or a disciplinarian.
I think we saw some of this yesterday with the Jaguars. One week removed from voicing his frustration with his lack of playing time to the media, Sen’Derrick Marks had a RIDICULOUS encroachment penalty that kept the game alive for the Lions. Afterwards, Gus Bradley seemed to be fuming with Marks, and was clearly upset on the sidelines. Even the TV announcers were commenting on how visually angry Bradley was, noting that he is usually a really calm guy. If Gus had held players accountable like this from day one, he might have a better situation on his hands. Waiting until year four to try to demand responsibility just won’t work.
We’ve kind of seen this already this year, when players like Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson, and Jared Odrick got unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and even some ejections. Gus Bradley tried to chide the players for their actions, but it seemed to be mostly brushed aside. This was especially true for Ramsey, who after being called out by Bradley to the media saying Jalen’s actions were unacceptable, then told reporters that he would do it again if given the opportunity. That is blatant defiance, and it shows that there is no respect for the head coach. This is something that was recently reported by Albert Breer in the MMQB. Just as a quick reminder, this is what Breer had to say about the Jaguars’ situation.
And it’s not like Bortles is the only issue. Keeping the team together might be a bigger one. The staff has had a harder time getting the latest wave of rookies and free-agent additions to buy into Gus Bradley’s program, which has contributed to the discipline problems everyone saw in losses to Oakland and Tennessee
As if the list of problems Gus and the Jaguars had on their hands wasn’t long enough, they are currently dealing with another culture wrinkle: they now have acquired players who aren’t going to put up with losing. This is good news for the Jaguars and their fans moving forward, as it means that there will be someone to lead the charge for a new culture once the new regime is hired. Right now, however, it is causing a visual culture clash. This is most evident when examining players like Jalen Ramsey and Telvin Smith. Telvin has been pretty vocal about winning and playing hard for some time now, and after an emotional week where his brother was killed and his son was born, Telvin was understandably very emotional after the game.
Heavy Jags locker room. Telvin Smith full of emotion. Consoled by coaches and teammates. Stayed in uniform for long time. #ASJax— Brent Martineau (@BrentASJax) November 20, 2016
Granted, I’m sure Telvin’s emotions after the game were more centered around his personal life, but I’m also sure that this loss and being guaranteed another losing season didn’t help matters.
Aside from Marks and Smith, there were some other Jags who voiced their frustrations during and after the game. Davon House has spoken to the media before about his reduced role this season, and was quick to point out his frustrations again.
Among those surprised Peyton Thompson replaced Colvin was Davon House.— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) November 20, 2016
"I’m just tired of this. Tired of it," House said of reduced role
Crazy man smh— Davon House (@DavonHouse) November 20, 2016
Now, it should be noted that both Marks and House’s irritations stem from their own playing time, and not necessarily the constant losing. However, I don’t think that it’s too much of a leap to think that those two things go hand in hand. These players believe that they are better options than what is on the field currently, and with better options playing, they might yield better results.
While Marks, House, and Smith have all made points that are worth noting, nobody is opposing this current culture and losing streak quite like Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey has now accrued more losses in less than one season in the NFL than he did his entire time at Florida State University. Losing is not something Jalen is ready to accept, as evidenced by the emotions he displayed on the sideline at the end of the game on Sunday.
This guy deserves a new coach. https://t.co/bAh1pdB9ky— Melissa Jacobs (@thefootballgirl) November 20, 2016
We're gonna get some fire quotes from Jalen Ramsey when Gus Bradley is fired. https://t.co/NBEL0AtZ5O— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) November 20, 2016
Ramsey, visually frustrated, seems to yell “I’m tired of losing!”, and then can be seen with tears in his eyes. He was then shown shaking his head in disbelief, followed by what appears to be cursing.
So, this is what it has come to for the Jacksonville Jaguars under this regime. We have players calling out coaches to the media, players in tears on the sideline, and for the cherry on top, we are staring down a worse record than last year. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Jags will fire Gus Bradley at the end of this season. Let’s hope that with his departure, the culture he brought will also vanish.
If it doesn’t, it probably means not much will have changed for the Jaguars the next time the leaves start to fall.