When Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was asked the question; what is different from the previous three regime changes under his reign as the owner in Jacksonville, his answer was simple.
“This time, I got it right.”
Or so he, and many, many others, believed when Urban Meyer was first announced to be joining the big leagues in the NFL. Meyer had won everywhere he had gone, and while controversy followed him during much of his career, it didn’t matter due to the trophies he could show off on his mantle.
That turned out to be the antithesis to what actually happened in Jacksonville. Meyer was out as the franchise’s head coach after just 13 weeks of football, marred with a brutally long list of controversies that would have had many coaches out of a job even before Meyer’s tenure was ended.
With the team now set to conduct interviews for its new head coach, there’s plenty to consider and to reflect on. The Jaguars are reportedly set to request interviews of at least six different coaches around the league that are with other teams, and two that are free agents in their own right.
Now is the time for Khan to act. The pressure he is under to get this thing right has never been greater. Through over a decade now of owning the franchise, it’s essentially all come to a head; and picking the right coach, general manager and path now will ultimately decide how he’s viewed through the frameworks of his legacy.
Khan currently has a record of 41-118 (in the regular season) through his 10 seasons as the Jaguars’ owner. Now he has an opportunity for a clean slate, and he ought to take it.
Meyer just couldn’t work
The signs for Meyer’s potential failure were easy to spot. While many championed the savvy, risky, move, there was reason to doubt it, and a reason for the risk involved.
Meyer’s tenure as a collegiate head coach was marred with controversy, not in the same vein as the controversies that took place in Jacksonville this season, but controversy would follow him to the NFL nonetheless.
There was plenty of rumors and speculation of cover-ups along with two hasty retirements that stirred up plenty of mixed emotions for college football fans at both Florida and Ohio State, respectively.
There was another issue involved, too. Meyer wasn’t known to be a QB whisperer or some incredible talent developer. No, he was a fantastic recruiter who, by all accounts, knew how to run a ship and steer it in the right direction before he simply couldn’t help but hit the final iceberg.
Meyer, known as a “‘dot the i’s and cross the t’s’” coach during his time with UF and OSU, simply wasn’t that with the Jaguars. He couldn't be anymore, he admitted.
“When there’s so much, I just reevaluated myself and the last half of my career at Ohio State, I didn’t micromanage everything because it’s also hard to sleep at night when you don’t ... And coaches, that’s their responsibility, it’s not my responsibility, it’s their responsibility,” Meyer said on Dec. 8.
“I hire a bunch of good people, coach the fundamentals as hard as possible, let them do their jobs and a lot of times I get in the way of that, I notice too.”
The hire, for all intents and purposes, was an abject failure, and Khan doesn’t have room for error on the next regime change.
But, the room for error isn’t because of Khan’s failures in the past, or reason to run him out of town the next time it doesn’t work. It’s because the franchise needs help, desperately, in order not to ruin a potential generational QB in Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence is the franchise, at least for the foreseeable future, and the next hire this time could be the difference between a dynasty and a laughing stock.
Lawrence’s importance cannot be overstated
There’s no doubt that Khan understands Lawrence’s importance, either. Speaking with a small group of local reporters on Dec. 13, Khan raved about his QB, understanding that he is the face of the franchise for now and into the future.
“I think he’s vital,” Khan said. ”And obviously I met him on zoom before we drafted him and so on. All I can tell you, I mean football is football, he is even better than advertised. Look at how he’s handled the last week, and I think it’s exemplary.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect. And I’ve got to tell you one thing. He told me the very first time I met him, there was a lot of stuff hanging around that looked – if you pick me, I’m going to retire as a Jaguars. Which was – I hate to say it, nobody’s ever said that to me.”
That’s the end goal in all of this, right? For Lawrence to retire as a Jaguar, earning a key to the city and perhaps a statue to boot. But, in order to do that, Khan has to have a clear vision with a more guarded approach when selecting a head coach.
For Khan and the Jaguars, the franchise is already starting to revolve itself around Lawrence.
There will be a new state-of-the-art performance center with plans for construction underway now. But, it was the temporary measures that Khan implemented that showcase just how much work has already gone into improving the area.
“I think this year look at everything we added on the fly where the elevator used to be,” said Khan.
“The walkway now we’ve got to go around because we have better use for the cocoon and the cryo chamber and all the other stuff that was added just this year. It was a significant investment and some of that was stuff Trevor had at Clemson so we wanted to make sure that was there. What we’re doing now is really the benchmark.”
Khan shared that the Los Angeles Rams were also going to be building a new performance center, one that will use Jacksonville as the benchmark.
The franchise is already headed down the path of building around Lawrence, both literally and figuratively. But, now Khan must make an actionable hire that will allow his QB to succeed in a manner that Meyer simply wasn’t capable of handling.
Lawrence has already taken a large leadership role within the Jaguars locker room, and will likely be a major player in who the team hires as its next head coach.
The blueprint is there for the Jaguars to get it right, they simply have to follow it and allow themselves to fulfill their destiny.
Shad Khan needs to adjust the organization’s structure, again
Meyer was brought in to be a CEO, someone who can handle the inner workings of an organization and bring it to success. He’s done that in the past. Winning at the collegiate level, but failed mightily when it came to the NFL stage.
That wasn’t the wrong part of Khan’s line of thinking when it came to hiring a coach of Meyer’s ilk, however. The structure of having a coach-oriented organization has been shown to work. But having one person in charge of literally everything is perhaps naïve, especially when considering a first-year coach.
Moving forward, Khan must re-organize his thoughts. While he has repeatedly stated that he has roster control. Meaning nothing is done without passing by his eyes at some point, his presence within the organization is minute, to say the least. His impact beyond hiring people and rubber stamping certain major moves is small.
He said it himself when speaking to reporters on that Monday evening on his Yacht. It’s “ceremonial,” in nature; his roster control.
“It’s more ceremonial, let’s face it,” he explained. “But when I didn’t have it, you would find out about it. And frankly, it was controversial earlier this year when I told people, ‘Hey, whoever the head coach is and whoever the GM is, I’m keeping it for a while until they’ve earned that.’ “
Certainly, that isn’t a big issue if there is an appropriate check and balance system within the organization itself. Khan had the right idea in 2017 when he brought in an Executive Vice President. The issue was the person he brought, Tom Coughlin, rubbed too many within the organization the wrong way, most importantly its players.
But, having a person as his eyes and ears within the building, and making sure the ship is steering in the right direction is vital for Khan moving forward.
At a glance, teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens certainly have those checks, at least within their own departments. The Chiefs, for example, have Brett Veach as the head-honcho, along with assistant GM Mike Borgonzi, executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles and senior director of player personnel Mike Bradway.
Contrast that with the Jaguars and you see Baalke, and roles such as senior personnel executive Tom Gamble, director of player assessment Ryan Stamper, director of college scouting Michael Davis and director of pro personnel DeJuan Polk.
There isn’t enough experience there with the ins and outs of both sides of the organization - coaching and player acquisition. Teams such as the Denver Broncos (John Elway) and the San Francisco 49ers (John Lynch) have adopted that sort of model.
That’s not sustainable.
Trent Baalke certainly isn’t an answer
Perhaps both a blessing and a curse, Khan has been far too patient in the past, sticking with coaches and general managers that didn’t work out in the end. On one hand, he is right in being patient. A lack of patience hasn’t always worked out either, just look at the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns for example.
However, when you take yourself out of the vacuum and look at it through a different set of lenses, it becomes far more clear when the time for patience is necessary and when it isn’t.
The retention, or lack thereof, of general manager Trent Baalke, is not an instance that Khan needs to be patient with. Over the last couple of days, a report surfaced from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport that Baalke would be retained through the coaching search and potentially work hand-in-hand with the team’s next coach, reporting directly to Khan.
Setting aside the fact that having both a coach and a GM reporting to Khan could have an adverse effect in its own right, something we touched on in the previous section, but having Baalke leading the charge is certainly a misstep.
And not just because Jaguars fans are leading a campaign expressing their disdain for the potential of Baalke’s retention.
I’ll never stop laughing pic.twitter.com/O4IYElasZc— Dilla (@E_Dilla) December 28, 2021
For context, a large contingent of Jaguars fans has changed their Twitter avatars to a clown donned with a mustache that appears to be similar to Khan’s mustache. As silly as it sounds, it has made an impact already, and it has been reported that people within the Jaguars organization have seen the backlash.
Note: Neither the Jaguars nor Khan himself has come out with a statement regarding Baalke’s reported retention. As of right now, he remains the team’s GM, but that could change at any time.
Simply looking at Baalke’s track record in the NFL, leaves a lot to be desired. While he was the GM with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2016, the franchise went to three straight championship games and one Super Bowl. The success would end there, however.
In those three seasons, Baalke was unable to build a roster that could have sustained success. In the three failed seasons following, resulting in a 15-32 record, that much would be realized and Baalke was let go, along with the third head coach of his regime, Chip Kelly.
From 2011-16, Baalke drafted just three Pro Bowl players, defensive end Aldon Smith (2012), defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (2018) and safety Eric Reid (2013). In fact, of the 61 players that Baalke selected from 2011-16, just three remain on the roster today: S Jaquiski Tartt (2015), DL Arik Armstead (2015) and S Jimmie Ward (2014).
Those classes included seven first-round picks and six second-round picks.
His free-agent classes left much to be desired, too.
With the Jaguars, Baalke became the team’s permanent GM, hired alongside Meyer to lead the ship. Still, the team has suffered in his first season, going 2-13. Baalke was also a part of the team’s worst record. 1-15, in team history as the director of player personnel through much of 2020.
Outside of Lawrence and CB Tyson Campbell, the Jaguars’ rookie class this season hasn’t made much of an impact.
Second-round pick LT Walker Little has played just 110 snaps, third-round pick S Andre Cisco has played just 123 (season-high 28 snaps in each of the past two weeks with RayShawn Jenkins on IR), fourth-round picks DT Jay Tufele (six snaps) and Jordan Smith (0) have barely seen the field.
Fifth-round pick TE Luke Farrell has played 188 snaps and sixth-round pick WR Jalen Camp didn’t make the opening-day 53-man roster.
Baalke’s reputation certainly precedes him.
As former MercuryNews columnist Tim Kawakami, now with The Athletic, put it in his piece shortly following Baalke and Jim Harbaugh’s breakup, the GM simply is all football, all the time.
That can lead to plenty of broken relationships over a simple disagreement; that makes it tough to cultivate the relationships necessary to run an NFL franchise.
“Football is the only thing for both men,” Kawakami said about both Baalke and Harbaugh, “ “and when they begin to disagree on football matters, even the littlest things become epic battlegrounds and the guy who loses the battle remembers it forever, so it only builds towards the next battle and the next one.”
Is that really the guy one should marry themselves to in the football world?
If the Jags retain Trent Baalke, that will certainly affect the candidate list for the HC job. https://t.co/tIcaTYI1Y2— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 28, 2021
And as the Jaguars get set to embark on yet another coaching search, that will be something Khan needs to keep in mind. To allow Baalke to even sit in on the interviews in the first place would be a misstep.
And, no, Khan doesn’t need Baalke to act as a consultant and conduct these interviews. As he stated on Jan. 4 of this year, in his post-season press conference after firing then-HC Doug Marrone, he’s done that before, and he is ready to take the lead himself.
“The advisors, consultants, whatever, we did that. This time around, I think I have a much better sense myself,” he said at the time.
“So I am the key decision-maker, but we do have people at the Jaguars. Mark Lamping would be one who will be working with these people, so they will be involved from that viewpoint. But when it comes to who the key decision-maker is going to be, I mean, you’re looking at him.”
So, Khan should once again take that lead, and perform a full reset for the first time as an owner since he did at the end of the 2012 season, firing both HC Mike Mularkey and GM Gene Smith.
Failed year after failed year for the Jaguars’ organization has finally come to a head, and a full reset is vital.
But make no mistake, if Baalke is retained, no one ought to blame a potential coach for being wary of signing onto a potentially sinking ship.
Certainly, Jaguars fans wouldn’t, and no one could blame them for feeling that way, either.