Despite his obvious affection for Tom Coughlin, Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver knew it was time for a change. “There’s a point in this business where you have to say we need innovative new ideas, new fresh approaches and you have to move in different directions, and that’s really what it’s all about,” Weaver said during his announcement that Coughlin had been asked to “step down” as the Jaguars Head Coach.
The momentum for a change had been building for several weeks. Weaver could see that the team wasn’t going to make any great strides under Coughlin next year, and the fans weren’t enthused about another year of the Coughlin regime. So, he followed logic, and “his heart” and decided to do something else. It was a difficult decision for Weaver to make, considering his personal regard for Coughlin and the lack of any acrimony or animosity between the two men. “I’m made changes at the executive level before,” Weaver added, “but none as tough as this one.”
There was a feeling of inevitability at the press conference. No shock, no outcry of Why? Just an acceptance that Weaver was doing what just about everybody thought he had to do: make a change at the top. Coughlin’s removal clears the way for Weaver to take a hard look at what’s been going on in his organization. “What we have to do is re-energize our fan base and that starts with Wayne Weaver, our administrative staff and our ticketing operation. We have to do things differently than we’ve done before,” Weaver said in response to a question regarding the coach’s responsibility to sell tickets. And he’s right. The entire Jaguars operation has been so dominated by Coughlin that it will be somewhat of a culture shock to the employees who have done their job in the shadow of Coughlin’s gaze. How they react is up to Weaver. He has to set the tone and show the way.
Coughlin never was considered an embrace-able coach by any of the fans. Weaver’s attempt to push Coughlin into the community last year didn’t work. Coughlin’s reticence and his combative style didn’t connect. Weaver spent a lot of time talking to civic groups, preaching the Jaguars gospel, but it was the coach that people wanted to like. And he wouldn’t let them.
Coughlin is a funny, smart and engaging person, but his unwillingness to show that side of his personality was ultimately his downfall. He could have owned Jacksonville for as long as he liked. But like a character in a Greek tragedy, his accomplishments were overshadowed by his one flaw. And no matter who told him about it, what advice he was given, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t change. That might work in a variety of American businesses, but when you’re competing for the disposable entertainment dollar, it won’t fly.
I’ve been saying it for a while, but AP writer Eddie Pells concurred is his wrap-up of Coughlin’s tenure in Jacksonville. “A funny, articulate, compassionate man, Coughlin very rarely let his softer side show. He never connected personally with his players or Jacksonville’s fans, a reality that hurt him in the locker room and the community.”
Because of that, Coughlin’s legacy will be mixed when the Jaguars history is written. The autocratic architect of a franchise’s meteoric beginning, his unwillingness to compromise contributed to the team’s fall from grace and his own professional demise.