JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Doug Pederson’s first goal when he arrived in Jacksonville was his most challenging.
How would Pederson go about convincing players to put their trust in him after the disastrous Urban Meyer experiment?
Living by the words he spoke.
The trust in Pederson was evident long before now, but the results have been far greater than anyone could have expected for a rebuilding franchise.
Jacksonville (9-8) is in the playoffs for the first time since 2017 after winning the AFC South last Saturday night, a worst-to-first turnaround. The reward is the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and a prime-time home game against the No. 5 Chargers (10-7) on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
How did Pederson get this kind of season out of a team that was reeling from the toxicity of Meyer and a span of irrelevance even before that?
Players have said Pederson treated them like grown men and focused on the culture more than anything upon his arrival.
Trust was fractured when the Jaguars hired Pederson. His goal was to work on the relationships before worrying about the Xs and Os.
“I just wanted them, kind of the biggest thing, was to get to know me. Really, not as the head coach but just as a guy, obviously in the head coaching role, but just to see that how they could gain my trust, and that was to be open and honest and transparent with them,” Pederson said.
“... You just slowly start gaining their trust. As we got into it, I think that’s when their tension maybe eased a little bit, and they got more comfortable with who I am and who I was at the time, and it just builds from there.”
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Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk wasn’t around for Meyer’s tenure but said that Pederson has a way of getting players to invest in their surroundings by doing the exact things that he preaches.
“I just think Doug is an incredible leader. When you are an incredible leader like that, there’s a lot of traits that you have to possess. One of the ones that he has is just connecting with everybody,” Kirk said.
“He connects with everybody within the locker room. He treats us fair, and he sticks to his word. He is always thinking about us, and he puts us first. To have a coach like that who is always going to put you in the right position to succeed, it’s pretty easy to buy into.”
Linebacker Josh Allen said after the win over Tennessee that Week 18 was made possible from that culture that was put in place back in the summer months.
“This standard was set back in training camp, so it didn’t just happen. It was throughout the process, throughout the weeks, throughout the rough days we had, throughout the bad losses we had, throughout the good wins we had, throughout the bad wins that we had,” Allen said. “It was just the love and the commitment that we can all win, and we trust each other. We do what we need to do, and we can stop anybody. We can beat anybody. Let’s do it.”
It’s a two-way street, Pederson said. With his openness and connection to players, he also said that the coaching staff had to be able to trust them to make plays and overcome difficult situations, too. That included an 0-for-October stretch that Pederson said calloused the team enough to be able to make it through anything.
“I really think that’s why we’re here. Being able to work through some of those issues and challenges back then and that’s part of this game. I’ve got to be able to trust the players just like they’ve got to be able to trust me, not only on the field, but off the field as well,” Pederson said. “Then, the players have to trust each other on the football field and off the football field as well. All those things that we went through, what they went through, has prepared us for moments like this.”