In Jags to Riches Prisco and Oehser of the Florida Times Union cover the wildly successful 1996 season of Jacksonville’s pro football team, a surprising development because the Jaguars were in only their second year and had compiled a dismal 4-12 record in their first.
An expansion team in a city that had sought a pro grid franchise since 1979, its concentration had been on signing young athletes, with the expectation that they would be ready to make a major move in three years. And, although coach and general manager Tom Coughlin had gotten off to a bad start with the team members, he was an important contributor because he judged players solely on their ability and drive and not on their press clippings, according to the authors. In his first year, Coughlin’s coaching reflected more of his college than his pro background: gradually he relaxed many of his rules, and the team was better for it. Most amazing was the record, since, after 11 games, it stood at 4-7; then came five straight wins in the regular season and play-off victories against highly favored Buffalo and Denver.”
Readers are given a first-hand look at what the authors called the second-year team’s “Cinderella season”. The book begins with Oesher and Prisco sharing how their journeys covering the Jaguars began and highlighting how sports writers live for a great story. The tale of the Jaguars’ 1996 season is that great story. The story starts at the beginning to help readers better understand the position the ‘96 Jaguars found themselves in.
Described as, “A city so passionate about football, they figured, might be a solid site for a franchise”, Jags to Riches takes a look back at Jacksonville’s quest for a team, from the Jacksonville Colts in 1979 to the acquisition of the NFL’s 30th franchise in 1993. There were similar conversations to those we are having now. For example, the debate between taxpayers, the city, and TD Jax! as to who would fund the $112 million Gator Bowl renovations.
After a lackluster 4-12 inaugural season, many thought the lack of depth and injuries led to the decline in 1995. The Jaguars organization began to connect the puzzle pieces to get the team back on track in coach Tom Coughlin’s three-year plan (make the playoffs in the third year and the Super Bowl the following year).
The season began with an unexpected victory against defending AFC Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by three consecutive losses. Questions such as “Why did the defense play well one week, then poorly the next? Why did the offense do the same?” surrounded the team.
The book chronicles the team searching for the answers to their questions, growing as leaders on and off the field, the change in Coughlin’s coaching style, and more. The young team not only found their identity, they found a way to win and fell one play shy of going to the Super Bowl, after most people doubted them.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jags to Riches. While I had done a little research on the birth of the Jaguars and the 1995 and 1996 seasons while working on articles, the first-hand experience gave me a new perspective and insight into the beginning of the Jaguars organization and the team’s first two seasons. Have you read Jags to Riches? Share with us your thoughts in the comments.