Will Shad Khan's status-quo approach suddenly yield better results?
That is the question I currently ponder.
Since purchasing the Jaguars in 2012, Khan's pro football club has won 41 regular-season contests and lost an astounding 116. During Khan's tenure as owner, loyal fans of the Big Cats have endured ten seasons of double-digit losses, with just one magical playoff run to show for it.
Looking back at how the Jaguars got here, a pattern of keeping the status quo for too long and then taking half-measures to course-correct emerges. Khan cleaned house following his first season as owner, relieving Mike Mularkey of his duties after just one season. Shad also fired general manager Gene Smith following a 2-14 2012 season. That's the last time that Shad Khan has wholly cleaned house.
Heading into 2013, the Jaguars hired Dave Caldwell to run the personnel department as the GM and the ever-positive Gus Bradley to coach up his team. Caldwell and Bradley sold Khan on a multi-year, full rebuild. They moved on from just about every player they inherited with extreme prejudice. The problem? Caldwell failed to put the pieces in place for Gus Bradley to succeed on the field. Whiffs in the draft and free agency plagued the franchise, and the wins never came. Bradley stayed on for four seasons as the head football coach in Jacksonville, limping to a 14-48 record. Khan fired Gus Bradley at the back end of the 2016 campaign.
This is where things got really interesting.
Khan kept Dave Caldwell on as general manager heading into 2017. But he took away most of his power, anointing the team's first-ever head coach Tom Coughlin, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations. After his unceremonious departure from the Jaguars in 2002, Coughlin went on to coach the New York Football Giants for 12 years, hoisting two Lombardi Trophies in the process. Bringing Tom back to Duval felt like the ultimate reunion. But keeping Dave Caldwell around, and naming interim head coach Doug Marrone the full-time head man, made this another half-measure.
But my goodness, did it work ... for a season. The first year of the Tom, Dave, and Doug Triumverate saw the Jaguars make it all the way to the AFC title game, where they fell to the Patriots due to some conservative coaching and one particularly questionable call by the officials. MJWD.
What we didn't know at the time was that behind the scenes, Tom Coughlin was alienating young players in almost every way imaginable, including illegally fining them for not rehabbing at the team's training facility in the offseason. All involved could feel his looming presence, and ultimately, this old-school disciplinarian's inability to follow the rules led to his demise. Quarterback Blake Bortles fell back to earth in 2018, and the team regressed with him. In 2019 Tom Coughlin bet the farm on Nick Foles being the savior, but he didn't even finish a game before sustaining an injury. We got some Mishew Magic that year, but the Jaguars still won only six games. After Tom, Dave, and Doug won 12 games (including the playoffs) in 2017, they won just 11 over the following two seasons.
The world learned just how dire the situation had become inside the building when the NFLPA released a scathing letter, warning free agents not to sign with the Jaguars due to Tom Coughlin's inability to follow the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Jaguars had been blacklisted.
It wasn't until that moment that Shad Khan decided to get rid of Tom Coughlin. It wasn't the losing or the misconduct behind the scenes; it was the embarrassment of being shamed in front of the NFL world that forced Shad Khan's hand.
But Khan somehow decided another half-measure was the ticket. He kept Dave Caldwell on as the GM after firing Tom Coughlin and kept Doug Marrone around too. Why, after double-digit losses in seven of his eight seasons as an NFL owner, did Khan keep the same two guys in charge?
Unsurprisingly, the Jaguars struggled in 2020, limping to a 1-15 record. Calais Campbell: traded. Nick Foles: traded. Yannick Ngakoue: traded. Jalen Ramsey: traded.
Following that fateful 2020 season that gave the Jaguars the number one overall pick and the opportunity to land a generational talent at quarterback, Khan took — you guessed it — another half-measure. Hiring Urban Meyer as the head coach was the flashiest move these Jaguars could have made. But promoting interim GM Trent Baalke, who had served as the team's director of player personnel, was another status-quo type move. Why?
Since hiring Urban Meyer, the Jaguars have been engulfed in drama and controversy. And what have they to show for it? Two measly wins, a broken offense, and a group of players and coaches that want nothing to do with Urban Meyer. After a recent report from NFL.com that claimed Urban Meyer was behind the benching of James Robinson, called his assistant coaches losers, and got in a shouting match with team leader Marvin Jones, Shad Khan decided to take action.
On Monday, Khan came down to Jacksonville and met with Urban, his coaching staff, the players, and even the local media. He didn't come to Jacksonville to make a change, to remove a tyrant from office; no, he came to sell his coaches, players, and loyal patrons on more of the same. More Urban Meyer. More status-quo. At least for the time being.
"I'm not impulsive," Khan told local media aboard his yacht," via Mark Long of the Associated Press. "I learned that a long time ago, with anything that's this important, you don't want to be impulsive. You want to look at exactly what I know first-hand, what people are telling me, and then collect that and do the right thing."
That doesn't exactly sound like an owner ready to make a move. But he continued: "I think we have a history of looking at the facts and doing the right thing," Khan said. "Wins and losses, this is a little bit different. I'm going to reflect on all of that and do what's the right thing for the team and the right thing for the city."
That last quote leaves this situation an ambiguous one. Khan will "reflect" and do what he feels is "the right thing." His version of the "right thing" certainly hasn't led to wins. And it hasn't led to any sustained success or stability.
Shad Khan once again finds himself at a crossroads. Will he keep the status quo with a head coach who has alienated members of his staff and roster? A man who has led his team to just two wins in 13 games after preaching about "winning now" all offseason? A "leader" who has sparked controversy at every turn?
Will he continue to employ Trent Baalke, a GM with a checkered history who has done little to supplement this roster with talent to support number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence?
I encourage Shad to reflect. Think back on your mistakes. Take the entire next month, if you need. When has keeping the status quo, or even taking half-measures, gotten this franchise anywhere? Does another year of controversy, blame-shifting, and incompetence sound like the "right thing?"
If Khan wants to win in Jacksonville, if he wants to keep star players in the building — and attract new ones — he needs to start with a clean slate.
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