Best decision of the year: Hiring of Doug Pederson transformed Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 07: Head coach Doug Pederson of the Jacksonville Jaguars hugs Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars after their 20-16 playoff clinching win against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field on January 07, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) (Mike Carlson, 2023 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nothing short of spectacular.

You can start at any point since Doug Pederson was hired as the Jaguars head coach and track his efforts and the improvement of the team and its impressive turnaround.

The hiring process was anything but typical. Jaguars owner Shad Khan interviewed Pederson first, but took weeks to settle on him as the replacement to Urban Meyer. When he did, Pederson set the tone in his introductory press conference when he said that it would not be an overnight fix to turn the Jaguars from a team with consecutive season holding the first pick in the draft to contenders.

Internally, he was saying something else.

At his first team meeting on April 11, Pederson told the players, “Everything we do from here on out is to win. And put it in your head right now, that we plan on playing in January and February.”

You can see Pederson’s message as part of the Sounds of the game here:

Pederson’s first task was to repair the culture of the franchise that had been trashed by Meyer and years of losing. Running backs coach Bernie Parmalee called it a “black cloud” that had been hovering over the franchise. Pederson knew the first step.

“Back on April 11, when I started with this group, we talked about the healing process and trust,” Pederson said in May. “I’ve seen this team grow from April 11 to today and how they’ve come together and a good, good group of leaders on this football team and how they’ve handled things and it’s just the right time.”

It didn’t take long for players to recognize the change.


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Pederson’s experience as a player and a Super Bowl-winning coach taught him how professionals needed to be handled. Meyer never understood that.

“You look at what he’s done here, just the energy, not only the Xs and Os and football stuff, but just the energy, the culture that we’ve created here that, obviously, he’s had a huge part in bringing here,” quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “It’s tough to do, especially in the first year and a bunch of new people. I just can’t say enough about the job he’s done and how much I love playing for him and appreciate him.”

It’s one thing to hear the players say it, it’s another thing to see them express it on the field. After the Jaguars beat the Titans to clinch the AFC South championship, Lawrence and Pederson hugged in an exuberant embrace on the sidelines. You can see the moment in the photo above. There weren’t many hugs last year, or reasons for them.

The comparison I made when Pederson took over was the challenge of turning a battleship. It was going to be a slow process. But after a five-loss October, the Jaguars accelerated that process thanks to three key factors.

First, Pederson was the same guy every day. No emotional meltdowns. No belittling of players. He never made it about himself. He just kept coaching and keeping the same cool, visor-wearing demeanor.

Take this as an example. On Thursday, just two days before the Jaguars’ playoff matchup with the Chargers, Pederson was asked about his feelings on the return to the playoffs. In typical Pederson fashion, his answer was not about himself.

“I’m excited for the team,” Pederson said. “Take me out of it. I’m excited for the guys. They’ve worked a lot, worked really hard to put themselves in this position. And where they’ve come from. (It) says a lot about the leadership of the group. And so I’m happy for them. It’s definitely a team effort.”

Players hear that and recognize the authenticity of those words.

Second, Pederson, along with offensive coordinator Press Taylor and quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy continued to work with Lawrence. That work bore fruit early in the season when the Jaguars pulled off big wins over the Colts and Chargers. But when Lawrence struggled, in particular in losses to the Texans in Jacksonville and the Broncos in London, Lawrence’s confidence began to falter for the first time in his career.

Then, as if a light switch were turned on, Lawrence returned from London a new man. Over the course of the next six weeks, Lawrence posted five games with a quarterback rating over 100. In that span, he threw 14 touchdowns and one interception, and the Jaguars went 4-2.

For the past three weeks, Lawrence hasn’t been as productive. Playing in the rain in New York, then in a mostly meaningless game in Houston followed by the slugfest against the Titans, Lawrence has thrown just one touchdown and one interception. While the Jaguars won all of those games, the offense hasn’t been as potent. It’s a fact Pederson doesn’t shy from.

“We’ve got to do a job this week in preparation. We’ve got to get our guys prepared, and we’ve got to get them focused in a little bit for whatever reason,” Pederson said this week. “I’m not concerned from the standpoint of we’ve kind of been through it this season. Obviously, now is not the time to take a step back, but really looking forward to this week of preparation for this game Saturday night.”

That’s the final major factor. Pederson has the credibility to say that one segment of the team isn’t performing. The way he acknowledges the shortcoming doesn’t come across as a personal attack because Pederson knows that before you can fix a weakness, you must identify it.

Last year, Meyer stood in front of reporters and spouting glowing compliments about players who may not have even been in the conversation. It was a deflection and, in some cases, outright dishonesty. We don’t get that from Pederson. His honest assessment of his team has weight because he and his staff have shown the ability to fix issues as the season goes on.

It’s been just over nine months since Pederson’s first meeting with the team. In that time, he has birthed a division champion and an ascending team that will be in the spotlight as a contender for the foreseeable future.

An overnight fix? No. But not far from it.

About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.