It all came to a head, on Saturday when the Jaguars introduced their newest head coach, Doug Pederson to the media, fans and observers alike.
In attendance were many various staff members, Perdson’s family and friends, and plenty of reporters itching to get the latest from Jaguars owner Shad Khan and general manager Trent Baalke.
Heading into the day, there was a question of whether or not Baalke would even be in attendance.
With noise outside of the building that the Jaguars GM was a hindrance in a portion of the coaching search process and the rumor of a potential change within the front office, there was reason to believe Baalke’s presence would either be minute or gone altogether.
That wasn’t the case, though. No, Baalke remains as the team’s GM, and was in attendance, ready to answer questions as if nothing had changed from the conclusion of the season up to the point of hiring Pederson.
Though Pederson was at the center of the table during his presser, many - fair - questions were posed to Khan on how the front office structure will look moving forward, and what he made of the confusing and exhaustive search that just took place not long ago.
Khan made one thing clear, though, he didn’t consider firing Baalke, and it was simple, to him at least.
“I want to have really the best people to help me, simple as that,” Khan said when asked about what ultimately led him to retain Baalke as the team’s general manager.
Since Baalke remains under contract, there was no reason for him to announce his retention either, Khan said, alluding to the fact that there isn’t an announcement regarding team President Mark Lamping on a yearly basis, either.
Still, the focus wasn’t only on the team’s front office Saturday, there was also a coach involved. In Pederson, the Jaguars believe they got one of the best in the business, a Super Bowl winner and one who knows how to change a culture for the better.
His enthusiasm for the gig was note-worthy during the presser and immediately following it, and that’s a good thing for this team and the city of Jacksonville. A breath of fresh air.
With that, here are our 5 observations from Saturday’s press conference:
Pederson’s year off was much-needed, allowed for better focus
The Jaguars’ new head coach went through a lot last year, including the death of his brother, losing him to cancer. But, he also experienced some highs, including attending his eldest son’s wedding and spending a lot more time with his family.
Though he did have an opportunity to jump right back into the league after being fired by the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 11 of last year, he opted to take his time and make sure when he did return he would be focused and have the same enthusiasm for the game of football that he did when he first won a Super Bowl in 2018.
“I needed to step away and kind of just refocus myself,” Pederson said. “Kind of recenter everything about me. I knew still in my heart of hearts that I did want to coach and still be a head coach in this league and still be successful. That never left. I just needed the time to kind of just step away and kind of gather myself a little bit.”
Ultimately, Pederson saw an opportunity as this season was coming to an end. Watching the teams play, his competitive juices started to flow, he said. The former NFL QB who took snaps behind Brett Favre wanted to get in on the action again.
“I was excited for whatever opportunity came before me,” Pederson said, who had interviews with not only the Jaguars but also the New Orleans Saints during this cycle. “I had chances to interview with other clubs. This one really drew me in, and here I am and ready to go.”
Trevor Lawrence was certainly a draw to bring Pederson to Jacksonville
When evaluating what teams fit him best, Pederson says he took a look at the situation and who the QB was for each team, and if they had their franchise player. When he saw Lawrence and Jacksonville, he felt like the QB was in place.
Lawrence, who just finished his rookie season in the NFL, was selected first-overall by Jacksonville in last year’s draft. Coming into the NFL from Clemson, Lawrence was described as the next great QB, compared to the likes of Andrew Luck who entered the NFL in 2011, a generational player.
In speaking with various people around the league, even those coaches that played against Lawrence, Pederson was told nothing but great things and “kind of the sky’s the limit” for the young QB.
“It is unfortunate that things didn’t go necessarily smoothly this past year, but that’s behind us now,” said Pederson. “I’m just excited to come in here, roll up my sleeves, go to work, create a system that enhances his skill set, and be successful. I pride myself in that.”
Lawrence struggled last season in an offense that never quite got comfortable around him, nor with him. Whether due to play-calling or personnel issues, it was often an issue. He would go on to throw for just 3,641 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions on the year.
With Pederson now in the fold, the hope Jacksonville has is for him to train him up, and give him everything he needs to succeed, just as Pederson did with Carson Wentz years ago.
“We did it in my former place with Carson Wentz early in his career and really feel like that’s a strength that I can help and be a part of that.”
Pederson was able to shake hands with Lawrence as he entered the building on Saturday, meeting his future student and QB on the first day.
In a way, the draw Pederson had to Jacksonville was the inverse for Khan’s reason in bringing him to Jacksonville. Ultimately, it did center around Lawrence, but Pederson’s penchant for teaching the QB position was part of what made him most appealing, the Jaguars owner said.
“So in the end, I mean, we have someone who’s been there, a head coach, developer of quarterbacks, a man who creates a culture for players and coaches alike, a culture they’ll thrive in, and a leader who commands respect and inspires those around him. And a man who wins,” said Khan.
There will be some changes within the front office
Yes, while Baalke remains - for now - as the team’s GM, there will be plenty of change within the team’s front office. Khan made plenty of mention of just that when he spoke about the process it took to find a new head coach. The team not only used the time to find a coach appropriate for them but also to find out about other organizations and how they operated.
Ultimately, that led Khan to start the process of adding various members to the front office, including an EVP or Executive Vice President of Football Operations.
If that title sounds familiar to you, that’s because it used to be held by Tom Coughlin from 2017-19. He was relieved of his duties near the end of the 2019 season, and Jacksonville has yet to replace him. Well, according to Khan, that process is now underway.
“We’re looking at additional people to strengthen the front office,” Khan said when asked about the different dynamic. “Definitely we’re going to be strengthening the front office. NFL has a process. We’ll be following that, interviewing people, then coming up with a structure that helps us win.”
That process includes an EVP, along with someone underneath him, many have speculated an assistant GM. During the presser, Khan described the front office as “flat” not having enough depth. Adding positions such as EVP and potentially assistant GM will help strengthen that.
“We have filed [a] request with the NFL for EVP, so we’ll be doing that process. But definitely I think the interview process, I mean, we got great insights on how the organization under Trent is structured. So we need depth there, simple as that, experience. Both of those are what we’re working on.”
The request sent to the NFL is a formality, informing the league that they will begin the process of adding a key decision-maker, which would fall under the Rooney Rule, an obligation to interview at least two outside minority candidates for the position prior to making a decision on who ultimately will get the gig.
With a need for more structure within the building, the Jaguars will become far more stable once the front office is strengthened, allowing the best chance for Pederson and his team to compete for division titles and perhaps a Super Bowl title at some point.
As for Baalke, he says the re-structure will free him up to focus more on personnel.
“There’s nothing more important in an organization than the personnel,” he said. “Whether that’s players, coaches, scouts, support staff. It’s all about the people. It will allow me to focus directly on that, more importantly, free agency and the draft.”
Jaguars feel this won’t be an overnight fix
While the Jaguars targetted Pederson in part due to a need to develop Lawrence, Pederson understands that there’s more than just Lawrence on the team, and he will have to surround the young QB with plenty of talent in an effort to have the entire team succeed, too.
“Obviously, listen, he’s one player on this team,” Pederson began when asked about the young QB. “He’s a good player. But also watching the entire team —offense, defense, and special teams. Our job moving forward is to find more good pieces to put around him. So I’m excited from that standpoint.”
The Jaguars will have a slew of picks (12 selections in this year’s draft) and cap space (the second-most in the NFL). They have the resources in place to make this right.
“So there’s going to be some changes,” Baalke indicated.
“In this league, if you look at what Cincinnati did, we can make these changes fairly quickly. We’re going to go through it. The first thing is Doug and I sitting down with the rest of the staff once we get them in place and going through the roster and really putting a plan together for free agency, for the draft, and address the needs that we have.”
The staff will be born out over the next couple of weeks as Pederson gets a chance to review coaches he’d like to bring in.
But, this still won’t be a quick, overnight fix for Jacksonville. That’s something that is a change in philosophy from last year’s regime.
“This is not an overnight fix,” Pederson said in his opening statement. “This is not we’re just going to snap our fingers and start winning football games. Our goal is to win football games, but we’re going to do it one player, one coach, one person in the organization at a time.
“And I’ll challenge our team, and I’ll challenge our fans, it’s about ownership. It’s about support. It’s about leadership. And that’s what I’ll bring to the organization.”
Shad Khan says no coaches were scared off due to Baalke’s presence
Throughout the process, there was plenty of reports and speculation that indicated Baalke’s presence was an issue for the coaching search. According to Khan, though, none of that occurred, even with the myriad of reports explaining otherwise.
“The candidates — I mean, we had discussions on how we’re structured, open, candid discussions, and there was no one — and Trent was there,” Khan said about the process and what discussions occurred about the front office and those currently running it.
“Just like I think the harmony between the head coach and general manager, I think is very, very important. So these are open, adult discussions. So there was no one who said, okay, I don’t want to be part of it. I think everyone continued the process.”
Still, there were reports of Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich coming close to being hired by Jacksonville only to change his mind due to the team’s reluctance to part ways with Baalke, allowing Leftwich to bring in his own staff members.
It appears as though that never occurred, at least according to Khan as no coach was officially offered the job, or at least never met any of the players.
“No,” Khan said when asked about other coaches offered the job. “I think we never got to the point of having them talk to our players at that point.”
Whether or not a coach talks to players and offers them the job has any correlation doesn’t mean much. The point remains, Khan, says there was no offering, as simple as that.
Still, even if there was trepidation before, it doesn’t matter now with Pederson now under the fold in Jacksonville and the team already in the process of upgrading and changing the front office anyway. Collaboration will be necessary, and it appears Pederson has already felt those efforts from Baalke.
“That’s what draws you to organizations where the head coach has also some say in picking the ingredients, so to speak,” said Pederson. “And I think that’s important because we’re the ones out there coaching these players and getting them right on game day. I just love the fact that we can get in a room and we can dialogue and make these hard decisions.”