Yesterday, the Jacksonville Jaguars officially announced the hiring of a new general manager in former San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke. Since the end of November of last year, Baalke served as the Jaguars’ interim GM, and prior to that was the team’s director of player personnel under former GM Dave Caldwell.
Now, with the team’s head coach and general manager officially under the fold, the Jaguars will continue on with the process of building up the team’s coaching staff surrounding Urban Meyer, with what he hopes, are some of the brightest minds in football.
Shortly after making the announcement, the Jaguars put Baalke, along with owner Shad Khan and Meyer, in front of the Zoom camera to hold his first-ever press conference with the local media, addressing plenty of questions surrounding the power structure within the organization, his philosophy, and how Baalke has changed over the years since being with San Francisco.
Here are 3 takeaways from yesterday’s press conference:
1. Alignment will be key to the franchise’s success
One aspect of the Jaguars’ power structure within the organization that was made clear yesterday was that Baalke will be an asset for Meyer, rather than the one calling the shots.
Last week, Khan made it clear that the future of the team would center around the head coach, building the team’s philosophies from Meyer, with both Meyer and Baalke reporting directly to Khan.
On Thursday, Meyer and Baalke both made it clear that the alignment between the two, as well as the team’s owner, will be key for the franchise’s success.
“It’s a partnership,” Baalke said. “So, if you’re not aligned and you don’t think the same, and you don’t have the same vision, I think regardless of whether you’ve been here or not been here, you’re going to run into problems. The thing that I am very confident in is Coach Meyer and the vision he brings to this organization, as well as ownership. And I think the results will speak for themselves, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Baalke has worked with several head coaches in his past. In 2011, Baalke’s first year as the team’s head coach, the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh. Following Harbaugh’s departure, the 49ers hired Jim Tomsula and then in 2016, they hired Chip Kelly.
Certainly, there were issues involved with alignment in some of those cases, particularly with Harbaugh, and the relationship between Meyer and Baalke now will set the scene for how the franchise’s future will continue. But, Meyer doesn’t envision any issues happening in Jacksonville.
“The chance of success doesn’t exist unless you have a partner that’s completely aligned,” Meyer explained.
“[There’s] just no chance. I don’t want to equate college to pro because it is a lot different, but I’ve always looked at a partnership with [Ohio State Athletic Director] Gene Smith, with [former University of Florida Athletic Director] Jeremy Foley. It’s obviously much different issues you have to deal with. And I’ve been lucky, I’ve never had an alignment issue in my coaching career, and I don’t see that happening here.”
2. Baalke will be an asset to Meyer, but it appears to be Meyer’s show
The transition from college to the pros for Meyer will be one of the major hurdles the Jaguars’ head coach will have to leap over, especially in year one. While the alignment between the team’s head coach and its general manager will be key, however, Baalke will certainly be an asset for Meyer as he makes that transition.
“I’m a resource for coach, that’s the way I look at it,” said Baalke. “I provide a service where he can come in, he can bounce things off of me, because there’s going to be a lot of questions, there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to be first time for him.
“But in the short time I’ve been with him, the one thing I’ve realized, he’s a quick study. It’s not going to take him long to figure the rules out and everything that goes with it. And he certainly, as a coach, he knows his way around the practice field very well.”
The rules of the NFL, salary cap, and the overall structure of the pro league will be some of the knowledge Baalke will be able to provide to Meyer over his first year as the team’s head coach.
When asked who ultimately will become the decision maker when it comes to draft time, Meyer stepped up and answer the question himself, with an understanding, again, that alignment is key.
“I encourage debate, whether it’s when you’re game planning or you’re putting your roster [together], recruiting, whatever it may be,” said Meyer. “I know Shad and I have had great conversation and so Trent, so who will actually have it? I’m not that worried about that. I know that we are tied at the hip and alignment’s going to be the key.”
3. Baalke has learned plenty from his time away from the game
While Baalke was a GM for several years in the past, he was also away from the game since his departure from San Francisco until last season as the Jaguars’ director of player personnel.
While he was excited for the opportunity to join his old colleague in Caldwell in Jacksonville, he was not necessarily looking to jump at just any opportunity and that much was made clear due to his three-year hiatus from work.
“Again, you’re always looking for the right fit,” said Baalke. “I’ve been in this business for a long time and I think the fit is the critical aspect; it’s something that has to be there for you to have any success.”
“In this league there are 32 teams and I honestly believe 26 to 28 of them beat themselves before they ever even hit the field, for various reasons, and I’ve been a part of them. I know this: we share a vision here, between ownership, between the head coach, myself, that I think we’re very focused in on and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Often under heavy criticism for his work with the 49ers, Baalke has grown from his past experiences, gaining a better understanding of things while away from the game, he says.
“I’ve learned a lot about dealing and working with coaches, a lot about dealing and working with players, a lot about team building and what it takes. And spending a lot of time with Coach Meyer in the past couple of weeks, I’ve learned a tremendous amount.
“And I think life is a journey, I think learning is a journey, and I think every day you wake up—if you’re not waking up with the mentality that you’re going to learn something, you’re missing something.”
While he didn’t get into the particulars, Baalke did say he has changed in his years away from the game, hopefully, in his part, for the better.
“I think I’ve grown, I’ve grown in a lot of ways. When you’re out of the business, you get to look at the business through a different less. When you’re in it, you don’t have that luxury,” Baalke explained.
“Things are happening a lot quicker, you’ve got to make a lot of quicker decisions. This business is a difficult business, you’re not always going to be right, you’re not always going to be popular, which I’m totally comfortable with. But again, I think you grow with every experience.”
Bonus: Meyer is focused solely on building his staff
During the press conference, Meyer was asked about the draft and the various scenarios that could come from it. While Meyer mentioned that he and Baalke have already begun to discuss the NFL Draft and the potential No. 1 overall pick that the Jaguars currently hold, his focus right now is on hiring the right members for his staff.
“No, we’ve talked. That’s a three-month, two-month—I think we all know there’s a couple incredible players out there, but my focus has been on the staff,” said Meyer. “But to say we haven’t talked about it, of course we have, and that’s going to be a deep, deep dive.”
Though there have been plenty of rumors and reports, no one has officially been hired to be on Meyer’s staff at this time, something the team’s head coach says he hopes to have fleshed out and announced by next week.
“It’s [his focus has] been straight on this coaching staff. I want the guys in place by next week and then we’ll have incredible conversation. I’m just not prepared right now to talk about that.”