Jags Coaching First Impressions – It’s Looking Good, But…
By Zoltan Paksa
These three guys are coming together to make the Jaguars better than ever before. Source: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
I wanted to wait until after the Jaguars front office and coaching staff was more setled until I gave my first impressions. Now that the team has a new GM, a head coach and new coordinators I can express my impression about the changes. Although I am mostly positive about the new guys who will run the show in Northern Florida, it wouldn’t be the Jaguars without making some (to be exact 2) head scratching choices. Why? Because Jaguars.
Luckily Dave Caldwell was not one, and that’s the best news of the new hires. His first press conferences was amazing, with just 4 words (“Even if he’s released”) he earned respect from the fanbase and praise from the press. Although he is young, Caldwell has guts that’s for sure. It was also a good sign from owner Shad Khan as well who said when took over the franchise that he would leave the football decisions to the experts. Khan tried to get Tebow in the last offseason but didn’t want to make the same mistake twice: hiring someone for a specific player like ex-head coach Mike Mularkey for Blaine Gabbert. Caldwell can do whatever he (and new head coach Gus Bradley) wants with the the roster. Nothing (except Tebow) is off the table. I liked the way he handled the QB question as well. Gabbert and Henne will get a shot to prove themselves this summer but we will see new candidates from the draft and free agency as well.
Gus Bradley is set to make the Jaguars better than competitive in games. Source: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
I liked his head coach search and the element of surprise in it. Everybody penciled in Greg Roman to Jacksonville because he has close ties to Caldwell. Also everybody thought the Jaguars would follow the trend and pick an offensive minded head coach, it didn’t happen. After the Eagles let Gus Bradley go and hired Chip Kelly as head coach, the Jaguars GM reached out to the then-defensive coordinator of the Seahawks. After a 12 hour interview process, Caldwell knew he had found his coach. The interview ended Thursday at 1 AM. Bradley was announced as the new head man in Jacksonville at 10 AM on the same day. There were 8 head coach openings among the 32 head coaches of the NFL. 7 went to offensive minded coaches while only Jacksonville picked a defensive one. That tells me Caldwell is not afraid to buck the trend.
The other big plus was the head coach himself. Last year the Jaguars got a man who might have lost his job in Atlanta if the Jaguars didn’t hire him. This year the team will be coached by someone who was a top 2 finalist in Philadelphia, was recommended by Eagles GM Howie Roseman to Caldwell and who is praised by players (Leon Washington, Russell Wilson and Matt Hasselback) and coaches (Pete Caroll and Monte Kiffin) alike. Dallas defensive coordinator Kiffin even compared Bradley to Mike Tomlin:
"“He really is exceptional, you could tell. He’s not just a really, really smart coach; he’s got a great personality. He connects with the players really well. He reminds me of Mike Tomlin. We hired Mike at 29-years-old out of the University of Cincinnati. It didn’t take long to know that Mike was special, and I knew from Day 1 that Gus was special. He’ll be a head coach in the NFL. He’s got no panic. Some people do, it doesn’t mean they’re not really good coaches, but Gus, he’s special. When he interviews, he’ll knock your socks off. I’m not trying to pump him up, but I know what he is. He’s put it on tape up there.”"
Bradley’s press conference was very much like Kiffin describes here. He knocked everybody out of their socks. The always complaining fanbase and press were really impressed with him. A fellow Hungarian Jaguars fan who watched the introduction wrote this just a few minutes into the press conference: “After 3 questions I’m sold. We’ll be in good hands.” Last year he hated Mularkey and OC Bob Bratkowski from the start. If his energy is transferred to his players on Sundays, we won’t complain about the effort for a while.
Bradley has already announced his coordinators. I have serious issues issues with his defensive coordinator choice Bob Babich (more on that in a moment). His offense will be organized by Jedd Fisch, the former offensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes. He ran a pro style, creative and innovative offense in Miami. He also has 9 years of NFL experience and worked together for a year with Bradley in ’10 (he was the QB coach back then). He has a reputation for creating an offensive scheme based on his talent pool.
Keeping Jerry Sullivan was big for the Jaguars. Source: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
A few coaches from the old staff have already left. Some departures are a relief (like John Bonamego and Andy Heck), but some (like Greg Olson’s departure to Oakland, or Mel Tucker being the new defensive coordinator of the Bears) might hurt the team. There are two coaches who have chosen to stay. Jerry Sullivan (wide receivers) and Mark Duffner (linebackers) are keys to helping the transition run smoothly.
There were 2 things which have upset me so far under the new regime. One of them is the arrival of Chris Polian. He’ll be the director of pro personnel here, and I just hope he has minor influences on Caldwell’s decisions. Chris has the reputation of having the (not very liked) personality of his father Bill Polian but with much less talent at his job. His high round picks were questionable at best (Jerry Hughes, Donald Brown, Tony Ugoh etc.) and some have said he was responsible for the extremely weak roster which lead the Peyton Manning-less Colts to a 2-14 record and the 1st pick back in 2011. So now you can see why I hope his influences will not weigh heavily on Caldwell.
The other (and maybe the biggest) problem is Bob Babich. Trust me, I looked around to get information about him and, with exception of having a very likable and media-friendly personality, found nothing good about him. Michael C Wright who was the Jaguars beat-writer for the Florida Times-Union and who has covered the Bears since 2010 for ESPN Chicago wrote that he is not impressed with him as a DC candidate, doesn’t think he is defensive coordinator material and Mark Duffner is a better position coach than him.
Babich was the defensive coordinator for the Bears and it was a mess. When he took over from then defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the Bears were firth in total allowed yards and 3rd in points. In 2007 that fell to 18th and 21st then 21st and 5th in 2008. In his first 2 years he called the defensive plays and it went so terribly that Lovie Smith took that responsibility back in 2009. Babich produced these poor results with a much stronger defensive roster than the Jaguars currently have. He is far from a success story as a positional coach as well. He has failed to produce a decent SLB since Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were there when Babich arrived. The latest 3rd LB, Nich Roach, will be a free agent this spring and is not considered a keeper in Chicago… Some say, I worry too much about of Babich since Bradley will run the show on defense, but last time I checked Lovie Smith was considered a really good defensive mind and Babich still managed to screw up the defense when he was his coordinator. If he gets the playcalling duties again, that will seriously worry me.
But even with Chris Polian and Bob Babich, my impressions about the new regime are mostly positive. I do believe the Jaguars found their General Manager and Head Coach for the coming years, but since the roster is maybe the worst in the NFL right now talent-wise plus I see no real solution at the QB position this season (expect maybe if the Jaguars can draft Geno Smith in April) there is a tough road ahead. But at least they seem to head in the right direction and after so many miserable and wasted seasons that alone is a big step forward.
– Zoltan Paksa