JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A cellphone went off during Doug Marrone’s news conference Tuesday, and the Jacksonville Jaguars coach quickly responded that it would be a $500 fine for the reporter whose phone rang.
“We reduced it,” Marrone quipped.
Marrone’s response was a clear shot at former Jaguars executive Tom Coughlin, whose overbearing ways created rifts with players, coaches and front office personnel.
Owner Shad Khan fired Coughlin two weeks ago and decided Tuesday to retain Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell despite consecutive losing seasons. Khan made the announcement after what he described as “positive meetings” with Marrone, Caldwell, their staffs and several key players.
“This is not the time to consider an overhaul of our organization,” he said in a statement.
Khan expressed disappointment with the team’s 6-10 season. Jacksonville was 4-4 and in the hunt in the AFC South before losing five straight and falling out of playoff contention. The Jags dropped each of those by at least 17 points.
Marrone is 23-28 in three seasons, including 11-21 following a trip to the AFC title game in the 2017 season. Marrone was frustrated at times with the roster, the core of which Coughlin assembled, but believes there are enough pieces in place to be more competitive. Jacksonville lost seven games this season by double digits.
Marrone and Caldwell have two years remaining on their contracts, and Khan made it clear that expectations are high for 2020. They will report to Khan in a reorganized structure that will have both staffs working in a collaborative effort.
“We’re talking about taking our coaching staff with our scouting staff and really putting in it a true, true partnership where we’re meeting and talking and coming to decisions,” Marrone said. “When we do that, things become clearer on exactly what the vision is that we want.”
Jacksonville’s only vision the last three years was Coughlin’s - on the field and in the locker room. He ran the franchise similar to the way he did in the mid-1990s, beginning with his run-heavy offensive style and including the way he dealt with players. Coughlin tried to fine guys for every little misstep, from skipping yoga sessions to sitting on the bench during games.
The NFL Players Association ripped Jacksonville’s unbending taskmaster, saying that more than 25% of player grievances filed in the last two years have been against the Jaguars. An arbitrator recently ruled in favor of the NFLPA, negating the fines levied by Jacksonville in 2018. The union’s take: “You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club.”
Khan seemingly identified the old-school coach as the main problem. Coughlin’s heavy-handed approach upset players, leading to cornerback Jalen Ramsey forcing his trade to the Los Angeles Rams, as well as some assistants. Coughlin had difficulty making the transition from the sideline to the front office.
His position as executive vice president of football operations will not be filled. Marrone and Caldwell will report directly to Khan.
“I want to see what we produce under a new organizational structure in 2020,” Khan said. “Goals have been established. Accountability will be paramount.”
The revamped system leaves Marrone and Caldwell on equal footing.
“Certain teams have different structures in how they do that,” Caldwell said. “But my feeling at the places I’ve been that have had success when you have thoughtful processes in place with the coaches and scouts and ownership, you generally make better decisions than one person.
“It’s going to be something where everybody in the organization is going to be on the same page and everybody’s going to be moving forward.”
Even with the continuity, Jacksonville has a rebuilding project ahead. Marrone and Caldwell have two first-round draft picks, Nos. 9 and 20 overall, to help rebuild a roster that lacks talent and depth. Quarterback Gardner Minshew, defensive end Josh Allen and right tackle Jawaan Taylor are three standout rookies and building blocks in place for Marrone and Caldwell moving forward.
But there are plenty of holes, especially if the Jaguars part ways with several expensive veterans to create salary cap space.
One guy the Jags don’t want to lose is pending free agent defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who has 37 1/2 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in four seasons. Caldwell hopes to sign Ngakoue to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag to keep him in Jacksonville in 2020.
“He’s a tremendous player, even a better person,” Caldwell said. “How he handled his business this year was tremendous. I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back and he’s a Jacksonville Jaguar. Hopefully we can get that done where he’s here for a long period of time.”
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