JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One year ago today, Shad Khan fired Urban Meyer.
What a difference a year makes.
One year on, there isn’t a hint of the strife that was left in Meyer’s wake. The infighting, the lack of vision and trust, and most of all, the lack of respect. You won’t find that in Jacksonville now.
It was addition by subtraction, then the situation was made better by the best decision Khan has made since purchasing the Jaguars: he hired Doug Pederson.
The way Pederson has guided the ship this year is worthy of coach of the year consideration. He’s not going to win it because, well, this is Jacksonville and the Jaguars, at best, will finish one game over .500, but the way Pederson has handled the ups and downs of a season with a young team is notable.
“We’ve had great moments, we’ve had really bad moments, and I think that’s the one thing that we really needed was someone that’s stable,” said Lawrence. “[He] comes in every day, he’s always the same no matter what. We could have just won by 28 or just lost by whatever we lost to the Lions. It’s the same Monday morning. He doesn’t change. The plan doesn’t change. He never panics, and I think that just shows the confidence he has in us, and that’s reciprocated in the way we practice, the way that we prepare.”
The quarterback is on board and so, apparently, is everyone else in the locker room. It’s a far cry from the days of 2018 when the discontent from Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette and Yannick Ngakoue and others. When the stars are behind the coach, everyone else falls in line. That’s what has happened.
And why not?
When a team or a school fires a coach, they usually go in the opposite direction with the next hire. Just fired an old-school defensive coach? Hire a young offensive-minded guy. Just said goodbye to a coach who likes to run the ball and play defense? Hire a former passing game coordinator to revamp the offense.
Fire an egomaniacal, self-absorbed coach with no NFL experience who thought he could treat professionals like he did 18-year-old freshmen? Hire a chill, ego-less former Super Bowl-winning coach who relates to NFL players because he once was one.
Pederson is the polar opposite of Meyer.
And it is working out beautifully. Forget all the ways Pederson is superior to Meyer in the way he constructs his gameplans on a weekly basis, the way he treats his players is exemplary.
The old saying goes, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses,” applies to the NFL as well. So many players quit believing in Meyer in short order last year. They knew. Just like they know Pederson is the real deal. They don’t need to see his Super Bowl ring to be reminded. He exhibits it every day.
As for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, it is the biggest “opportunity” game for Jacksonville since they hosted the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night in 2017.
Because a win over America’s team matters nationally. It can change the perception of the Jaguars more dramatically than any win since that victory over Seattle. That includes the 2018 victory against the New England Patriots. By then, the national narrative was that the Jaguars were Super Bowl contenders after making the AFC championship game the season prior. Of course, we know what happened after that game. The Jaguars fell apart and had not recovered.
It may seem odd to be talking about a 5-8 football team as one being on the brink of changing the narrative, but after the Jaguars dismantled the Titans in Tennessee last Sunday, that’s exactly what is happening.
We are nine days away from Christmas and we have playoff scenarios for the Jaguars. Actual, real playoff scenarios.
The Jaguars won’t be out of the playoffs with a loss to the Cowboys, but a win would send notice to the rest of the NFL that these Jaguars are a different breed. Trevor Lawrence is establishing himself as a legitimate franchise quarterback. He’s spreading the ball around to all of his weapons. Over the past month, Christian Kirk, Marvin Jones, Zay Jones and Evan Engram have all had career days or major moments. Lawrence is feeling it right now and there is no sign that his hot streak is a fluke.
If the Jaguars can pull off the win over the Cowboys, it will make the dawn of a new era for Jaguars football. And it will have only taken a year after ridding the franchise of the worst hire in team history.