JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars fired top executive Tom Coughlin on Wednesday, parting ways with the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach a little more than a day after the NFL Players Union took a sledgehammer to his reputation.
Coughlin served as executive vice-president of football operations since 2017. It was his second stint with Jacksonville, the expansion franchise he helped build from the ground up in the mid-1990s.
The unbending taskmaster had been in trouble for weeks because of the team’s sagging record and several questionable roster moves. The NFLPA seemingly forced Khan’s hand after an arbitrator’s decision to undo millions in fines imposed by Coughlin himself.
The NFLPA said Monday that more than 25% of player grievances filed in the last two years have been against the Jaguars. The union’s take: “You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club.”
“I determined earlier this fall that making this move at the conclusion of the 2019 season would be in everyone’s best interests,” Khan said in a statement. “But, in recent days, I reconsidered and decided to make this change immediately.
“I thank Tom for his efforts, not only over the past three years but for all he did from our very first season, 25 years ago, to put the Jacksonville Jaguars on the map.”
Khan said general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone will each report directly to him on an interim basis.
“My expectations, and those of our fans, for our final two games and the 2020 season are high,” Khan added.
The NFLPA grievances are a product of Coughlin’s peccadillos, many of which come from a good place — that of an old-school coach who always believed that football was more than just a business.
But the rules that once seemed trifling — no sunglasses, all meetings start 5 minutes early — took a more sinister tone since Coughlin’s return. He was still basking in the glow of two Super Bowl titles during his in-between stay as coach of the New York Giants that painted him as a man who had truly changed his ways.
He fined defensive end Dante Fowler more than $700,000 in 2018 for missing “mandatory” appointments at the facility during the off-season. Problem was, the appointments weren’t really mandatory — a reality cooked into the rule book after some hard-fought wins by the union in collective bargaining about how much time players were obliged to spend at team headquarters in the off-season.
Coughlin and the Jaguars have been on the wrong end of other high-profile battles against players — involving running back Leonard Fournette, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and now-retired defensive end Jared Odrick. All involved fines or criticism of players who didn’t act the way Coughlin liked, or failed to show up to voluntary sessions that the old coach always believed weren’t really voluntary.
The pushback against Coughlin was as much a sign of the attitudes of players in the late 2010s as it is of their willingness to blindly follow a leader who hadn’t proven himself to them — regardless of whatever message those Super Bowl rings might have delivered.
As much as creating a mindset, ultimately, Coughlin was brought back to build a championship roster. In his first year back, it was trending that way, much the same as it was in the late 1990s, when he took the expansion franchise to the AFC title game twice in four years.
Led by a smothering defence that Coughlin helped build, Jacksonville fell to New England in the 2017 AFC title game after leading by 10 in the fourth quarter. Since then, however, Coughlin’s moves to try to bridge the gap have looked like massive cases of bad judgement and overreach, the likes of which mired the final four seasons (2000-03) of his first stint with the Jags.
The three most notable mistakes came at quarterback: the Jaguars drafted Fournette over Deshaun Watson, gave clearly flawed Blake Bortles a three-year, $54 million contract and then handed $88 million ($50.125 guaranteed) to Nick Foles.
There were other problems raging throughout the roster, the locker room and the entire building.
Coughlin has developed a rift with coach Doug Marrone over Marrone’s insistence on reducing the intensity and pace of practices at training camp, which came in direct conflict with what Coughlin has preached over his five-plus decades in football.
Marrone also wasn’t pleased that Coughlin dealt Ramsey, a mercurial-but-talented player who was supposed to be a cornerstone of the franchise, to the Los Angeles Rams earlier this year after multiple flareups between the player and the VP.
Meanwhile, assistant coaches grew tired of receiving second-hand guidance that goes right down to the nuts and bolts of game-planning from a man who hasn’t taken much time to get to know them.
All of this has turned one of the league’s up-and-coming teams into a loser. The Jaguars have dropped 19 of their last 26 games, 11 of which have come by double digits, and six of those by 20 or more.