Clowns to crowns: Fan who started petition to fire Jaguars GM Baalke rethinks position after success

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One year ago this week, on Jan. 9, 2022, hundreds of Jacksonville Jaguars fans dressed as clowns filled the seats at TIAA Bank Field.

The red-nosed protest was a thinly-veiled shot aimed at the team’s leadership, including Jaguars owner Shad Khan and general manager Trent Baalke.

The manifested frustration came toward the end of yet another losing season in Jacksonville and followed the firing of head coach Urban Meyer, the former Florida Gators head coach who was supposed to bring the team back to the playoffs.

Austin Murad, a longtime Jaguars fan who lives in Virginia, wasn’t in the stadium wearing a clown wig, but he shared their frustrations.

A fan dressed as a clown hold up a sign during the first half of an NFL football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Murad, 27, was so disheartened by the lack of success, he started an online petition calling on the Jaguars to fire Baalke, the person who many people blamed for a lackluster roster and a head coach search that had dragged on for weeks.

“I was just bored on lunch, I said let me make this petition, went ahead made it, posted it on Twitter. I was tagging beat writers, annoying them, and just trying to get that out there, you know, just trying to gain any kind of traction for us to be heard,” he said.

The petition racked up nearly 4,000 signatures and #FireBaalke trended on Jags Twitter.

MORE: Jaguars Twitter takes shots at ‘clown’ owner Shad Khan after Trent Baalke report

“A lot of us wanted Trent Baalke gone too, because you kind of paired [Baalke and Meyer] together, honestly,” Murad said.

Fast forward to Jan. 9, 2023, Baalke is still here, but the Jaguars are now AFC South champions and set to host a playoff game for the first time in five years. And the hashtags calling for Baalke to be fired are long gone.

Murad — and thousands of other fans — are now rethinking the way they look at the Jaguars GM.

“Obviously, looking back, I’m still iffy, the verdict is not in on him quite yet, in my opinion, but it’s definitely not full-on fire Baalke train, in my opinion,” he said.

Khan resisted the calls from fans to fire the former San Francisco 49ers GM and instead decided to let him continue to rebuild the team with No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence leading the way.

Right now, it looks like that move paid off.

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“You look at even his draft class after that his first year on the job. I mean, we won’t give him credit for Trevor, but Travis Etienne looks like a home run, Walker Little now that he’s playing we’re, like, he’s good. Tyson Campbell, good. Andre Cisco, another starter in this league. And we’re all talking about players that are not just starters, like, players that are arguably going to be in the conversation for Pro Bowls over the next few years,” News4JAX sports anchor Jamal St. Cyr said.

“I thought his draft last year was honestly awesome,” Murad agreed.

In free agency, Baalke also made some big moves that some doubted, bringing in players like tight end Evan Engram, wide receivers Zay Jones and Christian Kirk, offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, defensive linemen Arden Key and Foley Fatukasi, linebacker Foye Oluokun, and cornerback Darious Williams.

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, left, and team owner Shad Kahn confer during the teams NFL football practice, Tuesday, July 26, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

All the free-agent signings by Baalke have had standout seasons.

Kirk had 1,000 yards receiving on the season, Engram set a record for most catches in a season by a tight end, Scherff is a highly-rated guard, Oluokun led the league in tackles, and Williams has emerged as a solid cornerback since moving to the outside.

“He didn’t miss,” St. Cyr said.

Rayshawn Jenkins, a 2021 free-agent signing, has also had an incredible year and made two of the biggest plays of the season during wins over the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans win to clinch the division.

Baalke was also widely praised for his trade for former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

“I think [Baalke] got a little bit of a bad rap because some things went down in San Francisco. There were some things where him and Jim Harbaugh clearly didn’t get along,” St. Cyr said.

But Baalke and new head coach Doug Pederson seem to be on the same page, and it’s showing up on the field in a big way.

“Doug has a clear sense of the kind of players that he wants for his scheme, and Trent knows that Doug is one of the better offensive coaches in the NFL, so he’s going to trust Doug’s input on some of those things,” St. Cyr said. “So it’s a collaborative thing where the two of them understand that.”

Murad said the best part about this moment is the fact that Jaguars fans are not talking about the draft — but instead — preparing for the playoffs. But he never expected things to turn around so fast.

“I had no idea, honestly. I mean, I had pretty good hopes. Thinking back I think my prediction was about seven or eight wins, and here we are at nine,” Murad said.

The Jaguars will now go for the 10th win of the season Saturday night at TIAA Bank Field during the AFC wild-card round.

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.