When Gus Bradley was fired, I tried to look back and think about why he failed. What made this new HC, someone who was seen as one of the brightest young minds in the game during his time in Seattle, fail so miserably when he came to Jacksonville? A lot of fans, especially older fans, like to attribute it to his failure to run a tight ship and hold players accountable. However, I don’t buy that at all, as there are many “players coaches” like that who are successful. I believe the real reason Gus Bradley failed was because he failed to organize a talented staff that could support him in his first-ever tenure as an NFL Head Coach. My fear is that Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin could make the same mistake in their regime and ultimately suffer the same fate as Bradley (failure, not the whole “worst head coach in history” thing).
Jedd Fisch: Offensive Coordinator
Jedd Fisch, Bradley’s first offensive coordinator, was not a terrible choice for the job, but he didn't have the experience of being an NFL OC that Bradley needed. Generally, defensive coaches try to hire experienced veteran OCs to run their offense and let the HC focus on the rest of the team. Fisch does not fit this description. He had been an OC for the Miami Hurricanes and Minnesota Golden Gophers in college football, but only worked as an assistant in the NFL. He had stints with the Texans, Ravens, Broncos and Seahawks, but only worked as a position coach for a combined 2 years in Denver and Seattle. The college offense doesn’t always translate to the NFL game, and his lack of understanding about how NFL offenses work was apparent from the beginning. He didn’t really understand how much more important the run game is in the NFL than in college and wasn’t able to create a running game with any creativity to it. Add this poor play-calling and the lack of talent we had at the time and you realize that he had no chance of success. Now, I’m not sure that a veteran could have done much better with the awful rosters we had in 2013 and 2014, but good play-calling can change so much for an offense.
Bob Babich: Defensive Coordinator
Unlike Fisch, this hire was a horrible decision. Prior to joining the Jaguars in 2013, Babich had worked under Lovie Smith in Chicago as a linebacker coach and defensive coordinator. Babich primarily served as a linebacker coach, but was promoted to DC in 2007 and later demoted back to linebacker coach 3 years later. When Smith was fired from Chicago, new coach Marc Trestman also chose to release several other coaches, including Babich. Where does this fired position coach go next? You guessed it! Straight to our defensive coordinator position! This should automatically draw some red flags. This guy was demoted from DC and then fired from his position coaching job, but then received a promotion in Jacksonville. This was undoubtedly the worst hire Bradley made and a big reason that our defense was crap for 2 of Babich’s 3 years (and even in the okay year, our ability to sack the QB inflated the stats and appearance of the defense). It was also a weird fit schematically, as Babich had worked under Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 scheme for his entire NFL career, while Bradley was famous for his Cover 3 looks in Seattle. People like to blame the defenses of past on Bradley because of his background, but it’s more than likely Babich’s fault even more than Bradley’s.
Greg Olson: Offensive Coordinator
This was probably the most interesting hire of Gus Bradley’s tenure. Olson had an up-and-down track record as an offensive coordinator, with highs like the 2006 Rams season and his first few years with the Buccaneers from 2009-2011. However, he’s also been fired multiple times and his offenses tended to get worse the longer he stayed. This hire was a solid attempt by Gus Bradley to fix the Jedd Fisch mistake. Unlike Fisch, Olson had experience and had successful seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator. He was also known to be a quarterback “guru” after his work with Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay and Derek Carr in Oakland, so Bradley hoped that Olson could replicate his success with Blake Bortles. However, the fan reaction was incredibly poor when Olson was hired, primarily due to accounts from fans of his former teams (Oakland fans primarily). I was a big fan of the hire when it happened because I thought that he could turn Blake Bortles into an elite quarterback. This hire turned out to be pretty bad, despite Blake Bortles’ “success” in 2015. Olson’s offenses were inconsistent and most plays that were successful were the result of improvisation by Bortles and the receivers. In my opinion, the problem with Olson was that his play-calling was never creative enough to help create yards when his players weren’t performing well. Bland runs up the middle, constant screens and predictable long passes were staples of his tenure in Jacksonville, especially during the 2016 season. Was this hire bad from the start? No, but there were signs that Olson would fail in Jacksonville that were ignored by Gus Bradley when he made the hire.
Todd Wash: Defensive Coordinator
After Babich was fired at the end of 2015, the Jaguars undertook one of the most awkward interview processes to eventually find a candidate who was already in the building. Wash, formerly the D-Line coach and run-defense coordinator under Babich, was retained by Bradley after Babich’s departure and was involved in every interview for a new defensive coordinator. So basically, the employee got to interview his future bosses. Eventually, Bradley just decided to hire Wash, who was probably the favorite all along. Wash’s single season in Jacksonville was really good, but there are legitimate questions over how much of that was on Wash and how much was a result of new talent. The only player who experienced dramatic improvement was Johnathan Cyprien, who went from a horrible safety to a solid defender. However, I really think that Wash did nothing to contribute to the overall improvement of the defense outside of increasing their discipline a bit (but again, that could be the result of more talent). However, Wash didn’t hurt the defense and his unit was the only reason some of our games were even close, so he has to be evaluated positively for his one year.
The “New” Era
I know what you’re thinking: Travis, Gus Bradley has been gone for over a month and we are entering a new stage in Jaguars history. However, I think that Marrone will face some of the same struggles that Bradley did because of his choices for the coordinator jobs. He retained Todd Wash, which could end up being a smart decision, but could also bite him in the butt. Marrone’s good season in Buffalo was due to his extraordinary defense, led by Mike Pettine (an experienced DC who would become a HC the next season) and Jim Schwartz (a former HC and defensive mastermind). Can Wash’s defense be as good as Marrone’s Buffalo defenses were? They’ll probably need to be in order to carry this team in 2017, so we have to see if Wash’s inexperience hurts his defense’s potential. Offensively, I think they made a pretty bad mistake in hiring Nathaniel Hackett. He’s never been a good coordinator in the NFL and has yet to lead a good offense in his limited seasons in the NFL. However, his ties to Marrone landed him a position that he probably isn’t ready for, which could hurt Marrone’s chances for success as the HC of the Jaguars.
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