JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars are 60 minutes away from ending the least satisfying season in franchise history.
They won fewer games last year, but this season’s embarrassments, both on and off the field, have left the team shaken, the fan base incensed, and the franchise at a crossroads.
So where did it all go wrong?
The easy answer is to point to the decision to hire Urban Meyer. And that would be right. But when asked about the season Thursday, several Jaguars veterans had additional thoughts, and the implication was hard to miss.
“To keep it short and simple, I would just say this organization, like dysfunction,” Jack said. “I feel like it falls on everybody’s shoulder. There’s not one person in particular, but it’s just kind of been a thing of where … like for example in the games, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We’ll be getting a drive and then we don’t get a stop on third down or maybe the offense has a hiccup that may set them back in second-and-long.
“We can’t beat ourselves. I’d say that this organization, that dysfunction leads to us beating ourselves to keep it short and like very politically correct. We have to tighten up a lot of little things that end up becoming big things. If I was to say what needs to be fixed, that would be it.”
Jack’s reference to “tighten up” is as much about the lack of attention to detail that prevailed during Meyer’s 11-game stint as head coach as anything. Jack’s running mate at linebacker, Damien Wilson, called this season the toughest of his seven-year NFL career.
“I don’t think there is one thing that you can put your finger on,” Wilson said. “It’s a collection of things, sometimes us as a defense is letting the offense down, or sometimes us as special teams is letting the defense down or the offense letting special teams down. It’s all together so it’s not just one thing that you can just point a finger at and say this is where it went wrong.”
Defensively, the Jaguars enjoyed a stretch of good play. After a slow start to the season, the Jaguars’ best defensive performance came on Nov. 7 when they held the Buffalo Bills to just six points. They had three other games where they held the opposition to 21 points or less, usually a recipe for a win in the NFL. But lately, the defense has faltered and the Jaguars enter the final weekend of the season surrendering 27.9 points per game, second-worst in the league.
“Against the Jets, the quarterback [Zach Wilson] had 100 yards rushing, so you can’t do that. If a quarterback has 100 yards rushing, you’re going to have a bad day,” Jaguars’ defensive coordinator Joe Cullen said. “Last week in New England, we had guys in place to make tackles, we missed tackles in the hole. We had guys at certain times out of gaps, so when that happens it’s not going to be a good day.”
Cullen received public support from Jack and Wilson on Thursday, but chances are he and the rest of the Jaguars’ coaching staff will be shown the door when the new coach is hired.
It’s rare that a staff of assistant coaches are retained, and when they are, it’s usually with some kind of continuity with the new head coach, like an assistant being elevated to the permanent role. Aside from that circumstance, it rarely works to hire a head coach and keep a group of assistants in place.
“Obviously I love Jacksonville. It’s a great place, a special place in my heart,” Cullen said. It’s my third time being here. The chips fall where they fall. I will leave it at that. I think obviously we had some really good moments this year. The middle of the year we were doing a great job and unfortunately, the last couple of games kind of fell off. [I’m] not going to give anything with COVID as an excuse, not practicing, everyone has those problems. Our job is to stop people and we didn’t do it in New England. We’re going to put our best foot forward and do it here.”
So where should the Jaguars go from here? The sentiment among Jaguars players is that they need strong, established leadership if they are to turn the franchise around.
“We just need, number one, a leader of men,” Jack said. “Somebody that when they say something, it holds weight. Everything’s detailed. You can tell it’s a finished product. Number two, it has to be somebody that it’s just about ball. It’s about winning. Whatever advantages or disadvantages that we may or may not have, we need to maximize our advantages and minimize our disadvantages, so whatever coach is about just winning. We just have to win.
“All that player-friendly, he’s a nice coach and all that, we don’t really care about that. We want to win. I mean me personally, I’m tired of losing. I just want a coach that’s, one, a leader of men and somebody that’s just truly, truly is all about ball and winning. All that other stuff doesn’t matter at all. I think that’s what we need as a culture.”
None of the candidates associated with the Jaguars fit that description better than Jim Caldwell. The former Colts and Lions head coach is among the coaches reported to be interviewed by the Jaguars, along with former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
The Jaguars have also requested interviews with Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. The Jaguars had a request to interview Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dann Quinn declined.