Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

What the Jaguars Need: Everything?

It’s pretty easy to assess what the Jaguars need as they go forward: just about everything. The plus in having the second pick in the draft is that no matter who they pick, they’ll need him.

Let’s just start with what players on this team some other organization would want.

On offense, MJD, if healthy, is a premier back. Blaine Gabbert is still a project but other teams would take him. Greg Jones and Brad Meester still have a year or two left and Marcedes Lewis, while underperforming, would be a commodity on the open market. Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts began to emerge this year. Eugene Monroe might be the best offensive player the Jaguars have and that’s about it.

So they have an immediate need at guard, on both sides (Will Rackley?) right tackle (what ever happened to Eben Britton?) and WR (will Laurent Robinson every play effectively again?)

On defense, Jason Babin should stick around and Jeremy Mincey has a new contract. All of those other guys at DE and DT are serviceable but nobody’s a star. Nobody’s a game changer. At LB, Daryl Smith changes the landscape, giving some help to Posluzny and showing that the team needs another elite LB. Cox and Harris look like guys who can play cornerback. Scobee and Anger can kick and punt. This team I just mentioned got on the field about zero times together all year.

In the off-season the top priority will be pass rush (again). Clint Avril might be available and somebody at linebacker who can cover and also get to the quarterback. On offense they need to shore up the offensive line, find somebody who can catch and stay healthy and most of all get better quarterback play.

Chad Henne is a suitable backup, a game manager you can go to in a pinch-hit role. But he’s not going to win games for you. In fact, all of it comes crashing down if your quarterback can’t play. So no matter who the coach is, what kind of front-office changes they make, if your quarterback can play, it makes up for a multitude of sins.

If the standard turnover on a NFL roster is about 40%, the Jaguars are looking at half of the guys on the team this year being gone. At least.

And in free-agency Shad Khan won’t be shy about spending money. Despite the $60 million he shelled out for Mincey, Ross and Robinson, only two get two wins, he’s not afraid to make the big play for a real difference maker.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Players Win Games

It’s not too hard to figure out the reason there are “haves” and “have-nots” in the NFL: Players. You can talk all the scheme, coaching, personnel people you want but in the end, on the field, it comes down to players.

And good ones.

A couple of years ago, the Miami Dolphins had the first pick in the NFL draft, meaning they had the worst record in the league. They took a starting offensive lineman, singed some free-agents and the next year went 11-5.


It was a quick fix, but the players in place had some success en-route to the playoffs. Tom Coughlin has won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. In both seasons he was about to be fired halfway through the year. But his players stepped up, they developed a pass rush with just the front four, got hot on offense behind a running game and Eli Manning and went on to a championship. Why? The players started to play. Coughlin didn’t change his style; he didn’t start running different plays. He just had the players who were capable of making something happen.

While Coughlin was here in Jacksonville the Jaguars had championship capable teams about half of the time. Guys like Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Kennan McCardell, Kyle Brady and Clyde Simmons were top-flight players. Any team would have wanted them. But when things went sour for Coughlin, those careers were either over or near an end, meaning success was hard to come by.

It’s a running joke that when a player or coach leaves the Jaguars they have some kind of instant success. Former Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter is a good example. He’s a run-of-the-mill assistant who didn’t find success as a head coach in college but is hoping for a shot at the top job in the NFL. With the Jaguars he had virtually no success because of a lack of production at the quarterback position. Put him in Atlanta with Matt Ryan and all of the sudden he’s a world beater. Jack Del Rio’s success in Denver as their defensive coordinator has a lot to do with Peyton Manning being their quarterback and Champ Bailey running their defense.

Through the history of the league, coaches have been romanticized as big time leaders, field generals directing their troops in battle. NFL Films does a good job at creating that myth. But when you look at the great coaches in the league’s past, it’ a culture of success that they created that lead to wins. Vince Lombardi told his players, “We’ll chase perfection, knowing we won’t catch it but along the way, we’ll achieve greatness.” Tom Landry put together Hall of Fame players on defense and finally won championships with Roger Staubach at quarterback. Bill Walsh created a scheme, but It took Joe Montana and company to implement it.

Coaches create an atmosphere of success.

Players win games.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Muschamp vs. The World!

Standing in the back of the “media lounge” (a euphemism for the eating room) behind the Norm Carlson Press Box at Florida Field two years ago, Will Muschamp was introduced to the Gator Nation as their next head football coach. The anticipation was thick and exciting.

Muschamp had been the “coach in waiting” at Texas and was long considered the next great head coach ever since he took his first assistants job. Everybody knew he was intense and demanding. He wanted to win, knew winning from his days as a player at Georgia and as an assistant under Mack Brown.

Gator fans seemed to be anxious to move on from the Urban Meyer era as well. Meyer won, but did it ungraciously and he never embraced being a “Gator.” The fact that he quit the year before only to be talked out of it seemed to wring any enthusiasm out of his final season.

The media was upbeat about the Muschamp hiring as well. After years of Steve Spurrier’s entertaining relationship with those covering Gator football, Ron Zook was fine but no fun and Meyer was so condescending and imperial that the scribes and radio/tv types were ready for him to leave town.

Florida athletics has always had a difficult relationship with the media in general. For years the football program underperformed and was always considered a “sleeping giant” in Bear Bryant’s words. It gave those close to the program a little bit of a complex. Saying the program was under more scrutiny than any other because of the number of newspapers, radio and TV stations, access was fairly limited. While a bit of hyperbole, there’s no question that interest in Florida football was (and is) high in all four corners of the state.

Muschamp was introduced and took the podium as the young, energetic up and coming coach that he was. Fans wanted to embrace him. Heck, the media wanted to like him. (On a side note, covering a big-time college football team is different than covering just about anything else. Most of the “reporters” are either school graduates or fans. Mostly young and eager, sometimes coaches take advantage of that and run roughshod over the ones just trying to do their job.) So as Muschamp began his nearly 19 minute opening statement (the joke was he didn’t take a breath) we heard a lot of the high-minded, motivational things that made him the premier candidate for a big college football job.

Then he said something like, “No matter what you all think here, we’re going to do it our way.”


It was such an upbeat occasion that it didn’t quite register that Muschamp was outlining his idea of what the media’s role would be surrounding his program. He was throwing down the hackneyed gauntlet that they were the team and you’re not. OK, no problem. It’s not going to be the backslapping Charley Pell relationship or the Spurrier show we could look forward to every week. Muschamp’s closing of practices and cut-off of training camp followed his model to the chagrin of reporters and fans alike.

There’s no question there’s a learning curve for assistants who are elevated to the top job in that environment. And give Muschamp credit for adapting a bit, creating a laugh or two during the season and starting to sort out how this coach/media relationship works. That’s why it was almost amusing when after a big win over FSU and the conclusion of a fantastic one-loss season nobody outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium expected, Muschamp said, “We didn’t prepare any differently. I know it disappoints you all but we didn’t put this one on the mantle and stare at it for 364 days.”


Disappoints us?

I don’t know of any vendetta somebody has for the Gators head coach. Maybe he uses some imaginary slight or perception of what people think he’s doing as motivation. A lot of people do that to fuel their intensity. Muschamp’s intensity is already legendary. His ability to transform Florida into a contender in one year will be studied by other coaches looking for his secret. He’s a fabulous coach, no question. A bit of work on his public persona and “legendary” is probably in his future.

Nobody’s out to get you Coach. In fact, most of ’em are rooting for you.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Win #2: Validation

Toward the end of the game with the Titans, even after Josh Scobee hit a field goal to give the Jaguars a 5-point lead I sent a Tweet with the hashtag #noleadfeelssafe. Perhaps a bit cynical, but honestly a comment not necessarily on how the Jaguars have played this year but how hard it is to learn how to win in the NFL.

That’s right learn how to win.

They’re a young team without much success this year so winning games is as much a learned art as it is something that could come naturally. Twice the Jaguars have had 14-point leads on the road only to see them go away late. Even in their opener in Minnesota (which seems like a lifetime ago) the team had a lead that they easily could have held on to but let slip away.

“We have to learn how to get out of our own way,” Jeremy Mincey said in the post-win locker room. “We didn’t play as well as we can but we found a way and that’s important.”

Head Coach Mike Mularkey agreed, “We just made plays at the right time. Little things, getting to third and short. Good special teams play. All three phases doing their part.”

The Jaguars got solid if unspectacular play across the board but they didn’t make a critical mistake at the wrong time. They didn’t have a critical penalty negate a good play. On the other side of the equation, they made the routine catch and occasionally came up with something special.

Cecil Shorts became the first Jaguars receiver to have 4 50-yard or more receptions for TD’s. Not Jimmy. Not Keenan (they both have three). Cecil Shorts. Remember, this is a guy who had two catches last year and looked like one of those busts of a reach from a small school (Mount Union). Instead, he looks like a guy who is progressing into a bona fide NFL receiver.

Justin Blackmon came in with the credentials but up until last week, nothing of note on his professional resume. Last week he racked up yards, this week he made the critical catches that kept the Jaguars in control.

“It’s us coming together as a unit,” Blackmon said in front of his locker. “It’s not really about me. Chad played well, Cecil played well, Marcedes made plays. When that happens, things go well.”

While that’s true, Mularkey has seen Blackmon’s progress.

“I’ve seen it every week. He’s taking it from the practice field to the games and I credit Jerry Sullivan (Blackmon’s position coach). The first step, crisp cuts. Those things I’ve see in practice that he’s now doing on Sunday.”

“I’ve never been on a team like this,” Montel Owens said when asked about the Jaguars ability to stick together. “This team works hard. We practice hard. We’ve practiced hard after the losses and we’ll keep it up. Don’t flinch.”

With that, Rashad Jennings in the next locker chuckled and chimed in with “Why.” And he’s right of course. Why flinch at 1-9 or even 2-9? Go out, do your job and try to get better each day, good things might happen.

“I’m pleased for those guys in the locker room,” Mularkey said at the podium. “The way they work, how they approach it every day. There are a lot of quality people in there and to see it pay off with a win is great.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: 1st Half Disaster, 2nd Half Hope

For the first time in his tenure as the Jaguars Head Coach, Mike Mularkey got a little testy in his post-game press conference. His team had just lost 31-14, and trailed 24-0 at one point. The first half, by Mularkey’s description was “pathetic” when it came to offensive production. “three and outs don’t get the job done,” Mularkey said in his opening statement.

“Was there a lack of effort,” one reporter asked. “Absolutely not,” Mularkey quickly responded. “That wasn’t it and it wouldn’t be acceptable here at any time. The execution just wasn’t there.”

After answering a question on a different part of the game, Mularkey was again queried by a scribe about his team’s effort. “So let me be clear, you’re saying it wasn’t a lack of effort,” a scribe intoned all-knowingly. “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Mularkey alertly answered with a wave of the hand and an edge in his voice. “And don’t ask me that again,” he finished.

I’m sure it’s frustrating and disappointing to put the time and effort into coaching and not get the results that can be expected. And I’m sure when Mularkey took this job he knew it would be tough. And maybe it’s even tougher than he thought. But I’ll give him credit through this stretch of the process, he’s always been honest. When you ask him a question, he gives you an answer. He doesn’t fudge, he doesn’t give any kind of platitude, and he gives an honest answer. So to challenge him on an answer is silly, and overblown. He said it’s not a lack of effort, so since he’s never lied before, take him at his word.

So where’s that leave us?

Obviously the execution isn’t there with any consistency. The Jaguars are trying to overcome the opponent and sometimes that opponent includes themselves. Dropped passes, blown coverages, bad tackling, wrong reads. All of those factor into getting you beat seven times in eight games.

It’s not hard to envision Mularkey’s statement about the first half of the season in real terms. They’re one play away from being 0-8: They’re three plays away from being 4-4.

While the first half of the year has been a disaster on the scoreboard, the Jaguars have shown improvement and enough flash to get the job done. But it’s also easy to see that they’re undermanned and sometimes overwhelmed when they try to match their roster against the opposing team. They’re not in a position to make mistakes and beat the Bears, Lions, Texans, or Packers. But against Minnesota, Indy, Oakland and Cincinnati they had their chances.

So looking at the second half of the season, eight games, what’s realistic with the players on the roster, the injuries they’ve suffered and the flashes they’ve shown? Thursday’s game against Indy is certainly winnable. Two games vs. a depleted Tennessee team could be wins. Buffalo is struggling. The Jets aren’t tearing it up and although Miami has shown flashes, they’re beatable. Leaving New England and Houston as the only heavy favorites against the Jaguars.

Based on what we’ve seen the first half of the year, going 5-3 is probably unrealistic but not un-attainable. It’s something to shoot for, to turn it around and get respectable. Especially in your own eyes.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A Football Coach: It Takes All Types

I’ve always been intrigued by the personalities in sports. Players and coaches thrown together from all kinds of different backgrounds and different cultures all trying to accomplish the same goal: win.

Pretty simple when you watch the games, see plays develop, hear the analysis of the how and why. But being around teams day after day, game after game gives you a glimpse into the dynamic that happens between players in the locker room or clubhouse, between players and coaches and even between the coaches themselves.

You’ve heard often about a coach “losing his team” when things are going poorly. That’s easy to spot. When the cameras are turned off and the writers walk away, a small aside from a player that could seem unrelated is the first indication that this thing is going south.

Sometimes players will straight up tell you they’re playing just to finish the season and get something good on tape for the next year.

Assistant coaches can be a good barometer for what’s going on around a team. Their body language, the occasional roll of the eyes or even a raised eyebrow in certain situations can let you know things aren’t good. Players and assistants know when the head coach is in trouble. And contrary to whatever public pronouncements they make, head coaches know it was well.

So how do they keep it all together, especially when it looks like it’s coming apart at the seams?

For most head coaches it’s through sheer force of personality. While the head coach is the face of the team to the public, the assistants are the ones with the constant, close contact to the players. So keeping the assistants “in the fold” is paramount to a coach’s and ultimately a team’s success.

I’ve seen it done a million different ways. Vince Dooley was highly respected and sometimes even feared by his coaches and players. But he was a master motivator, organized and had unquestioned football acumen.

Bobby Bowden appeared to be liked by everybody, and he was. But there was an underlying tipping point his players and coaches knew you didn’t cross. Plus they knew he knew the game inside and out and would come up with something they hadn’t thought of.

Steve Spurrier was known as the “Evil Genius” even among those close to him. His innovation and unflinching desire to win attracted a certain type of player and coach to his side.

Tom Coughlin was unique and has had a change of style in his professional career. In Jacksonville he was the detached general, detail oriented, relentless in his preparation and feared by everybody. With the Giants, Coughlin’s coaching ability hasn’t wavered, but his ability to get his message through to the players, and his willingness to adapt to the changing football culture has won him two Super Bowl’s.

Coughlin once said that a team had to have “an intense affection for one another” in order to be a winner. His now put himself in that group.

Jack Del Rio is every player’s friend, which plays well initially but wears thin quickly. It’s no coincidence that he had more assistants come and go than any other head coach in the league during his tenure in Jacksonville. When things are going well, that “player’s coach” approach works but when they’re not, it’s hard to get the best out of everybody.

Mark Richt has a low-key personality that matches his coaching style that drives some fans crazy. But he’s prepared and the players believe in him so they’ll play hard when it matters.

Urban Meyer was coolly detached from everybody but his star players and he leaned on those few to not only get the job done but also get his message across.

Few coaches have outwardly displayed their intensity like Will Muschamp. But rather than fear him, his players believe in him, like him, know he’ll be prepared and match his confidence both on an off the field.

Mike Mularkey’s goal is to put players in positions to succeed. He’s the ideal professional coach for a team that believes in him and his staff. He’s always prepared and level-headed and won’t ever “lose” his team but needs players who can see success in front of them without fear of failure.

It’s a funny profession that attracts all types.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“Taking Their Lumps” Jaguars Growing Pains?

“I’m just tired of losing,” Maurice Jones Drew said in the postgame locker room after the Bears beat the Jaguars 41-3. “It’s been five years. I’m tired of not sleeping at night. I’m tired of not being able to play with my kids after a win. I’m tired.”

And with that, MJD summed up what most Jaguars fans are feeling after three blowout losses at home this year. They’re tired.

Despite a change in ownership and in coaching staff and a clear upgrade at several positions, the Jaguars look like the same team. How can that be?

It’s easy to instantly blame it on Blaine Gabbert. The quarterback is supposed to get the ball where it’s supposed to be on time and that is supposed to result in first downs and touchdowns. We saw a little bit of that in the first half against the Bears as well as the entire game in Minnesota. But inexplicably it disappears almost as quickly as it arrived.

“I don’t have an answer,” Gabbert told the assembled media. “Obviously I have to play better. Two pick sixes is not acceptable but we’re working hard and practicing well. I don’t know what we can do differently right now.”

Gabbert is right, he can play better, show more confidence and take some of the quick things that are given to him as the defense figures out the Jaguars offensive game plan. He’s just a half second tentative at times and that’s all it takes to not be able to dump it off or fire it in there when it counts.

His two interceptions for touchdowns can be blamed on someone else, and to his credit, he shouldered the responsibility. Head Coach Mike Mularkey told us in his post game press conference that Justin Blackmon ran the wrong route on the first one and it was obvious that the second one went off MJD’s hands. (While we’re on that play, how come the Bear’s linebackers were right on the Jaguars backs on the circle route and every time the Bears would run the same route out of the backfield the Jaguars linebackers would be two steps away?)

When asked if he would consider a quarterback change during the bye week Mike said a quick, “No,” But added, “We’ll evaluate everything, including me. It’ll give us a chance to look at our selves.”

That’s the right thing to say but they’ve come to the point in the season where they have to make a decision on Gabbert. Either they’re going to stick with him to see if he improves as the season progresses and then decide what to do with him, or put Chad Henne in the game to see if he provides a spark.

Henne was no world-beater in Miami, but right now he appears to be the quarterback that would give the Jaguars the best chance to win. If they stick with Gabbert, they’ll continue to take their lumps in between flashes of brilliance, a la the throw to Cecil Shorts in the Colts game.

“I told the team in the locker room that over the next two weeks, no matter what is said or written, we know we’re closer than anybody knows. We’ve hurt ourselves in certain situations but we’re closer to getting it done that it might appear from the outside.” When challenged on that by one scribe who said the small offensive production is a “trend,” Mularkey looked at the guy and said, “I told you what I think. I’m on the inside. You’re on the outside. I can say it louder if you like.”

He really believes it.

Let’s all hope he’s right.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mike Mularkey’s Challenge

“It’s why I love coaching. It’s why I do this. It’s a personal challenge to take on adversity and overcome it. It’s why I’m in this.”

With those words, Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey very succinctly put on display his personality, his philosophy, his coaching style and even his ability to deflect media scrutiny after a tough loss.

Just like in anything, it’s pretty easy to handle a job when things go as planned. Smooth sailing, no ripples, it’s easy to be magnanimous, cool, calm and collected. But in one of the most dissected jobs in America, NFL Head Coach, Mularkey has displayed what Hemmingway described as “guts” : Grace under pressure.

We haven’t seen much of that around here recently. When Tom Coughlin was the Jaguars head coach and personnel director he was combative, sometimes arrogant and often dismissive when things weren’t going well. He once used the “because none of you in this room have ever known or will ever know what it’s like to play in the NFL,” card when he particularly didn’t like the line of questioning about his team’s lack of success. (Which was only amusing because Coughlin, successful as a coach and a good college player, never played in the NFL either.)

Coughlin’s success in New York with the Giants has also allowed his media relationship to mildly mellow. Jack Del Rio was hired almost as the “anti-Coughlin.” He was supposed to relate to the players and bring fans back by being that young, friendly, likeable head coach.

Instead he turned out to be a “non-Coughlin.”

Not only did Del Rio lack the leadership stature and head coaching acumen of Tom Coughlin, but also his disdain for the media, born of his inability to believe anybody could question his decision-making, was so thick that nobody got close to any information.

As one scribe told me, “Jack still lives in the physical world of a player. He thinks if he can kick your butt that you shouldn’t be allowed to question what he does.” Del Rio became the first coach in NFL history to hold two press conferences during the week: one for the cameras and the other for the writers. One writer generally so incensed Del Rio that he couldn’t contain his dislike, something he didn’t want seen on camera.

Mularkey was hired as a football coach. He wasn’t hired to sell tickets, to fill some kind of void needed in the NFL’s smallest market. He was hired to win football games. And that’s what he’s all about. He’s straightforward with the players, the same with his staff and there’s no baloney in his dealings with the media. Sometimes it’s obvious he doesn’t like the line of questioning but he seems to try and answer every question honestly and with some thought, even the most banal or confrontational inquiry.

The quote at the top of this article was his response to some consistent hammering about the team’s lack of wins, lack of ability and perhaps lack of talent. It would have been easy for Mularkey to either give the reporter the cold shoulder or challenge his knowledge of what the Jaguars were trying to do. Instead, he revealed a part of who he is that has helped gain the respect of his players and just about everybody in the NFL.

Win or lose, Mularkey isn’t going to change. And he shouldn’t.

“I promise you, everybody around here is trying their hardest,” Mularkey said earnestly in response to a question about effort.

One thing for sure, he’ll give his best.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Need Their Best

What was strange about this game from the beginning was the lack of expectation from the fans. New owner, new coach, home opener and a division rival in town but it wasn’t like the fans were ferocious or were hungry for a win. They seemed happy to be there. It was a great atmosphere, with a little bit of resignation. Nobody seemed to expect a victory.

While that’s fairly realistic at this point, it’s not who you want to be as fans, and certainly not as a team. In fact, I asked Head Coach Mike Mularkey during the week about that “winnable game” attitude and how it can infiltrate the locker room.

“Talk to the guys in there,” Mularkey said referring to the locker room. “They see how things happen in this league. Guys will tell you anybody can win any week.”

He’s right, calling on the “Any given Sunday,” mantra, because there are upsets that seem inexplicable each week. Then there are games that go according to plan, and this seemed to be one of them.

Houston has Super Bowl and championship expectations. Their defense is among the best in the league. Their offense can light it up and even their special teams are solid. If you go off last week the Jaguars are still a team in transition, trying to find some answers. Against Minnesota they looked like a team that could move the ball on offense, using Blaine Gabbert, MJD and a revamped receiving corps. Injuries have them using a make-shift offensive line but the backups are professionals and should be able to perform as such. To their credit, the Jaguars, nor the coaching staff, use injury as any kind of excuse.

“We all took turns making mistakes,” Maurice Jones Drew said in his post-game comments. “Me, linemen, Blaine, everybody. We all have to do a better job together then we’ll see what happens. We didn’t really give ourselves a chance.”

A chance. That’s what you’re looking for in the NFL, a chance to win at the end of the game.

During this off-season and through training camp, this team looked like it had a chance. Last year, there were games where you knew they didn’t have a chance. This year they’re supposed to have a chance. But with the mistakes they were making, they kept themselves out of it from the start.

“You can’t make those kind of mistakes,” Mularkey said afterwards. “The first 15 plays are scripted to we shouldn’t be lining up wrong, running wrong routes, calling the wrong protection. We have to do a better job with that and I have to do a better job getting that across.”

Mularkey seems like the ideal head coach. Organized, reliable, consistent. A guy the players like and respect. His staff is formidable and watching them teach in practice, they know the game. On the day he was hired, Mularkey said he was going to put the players in “positions to succeed.” “They need to know we want them to be the best they can be,” he added. And I believe they’re a pretty good staff.

So that brings us back to the players. They’re good enough to win, but maybe not good enough to dominate. When they play at their best, they can beat anybody. But when they have a sub-standard performance, when they make mistakes, they can’t beat anybody.

All that’s the bad news.

The good news is they know it.

They know when they get their act together, they’re pretty competitive. So that’s what they’ll try this week working against a 1-1 Indianapolis team.

Let’s hope so.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A Painful Plan

It’s not that the Jaguars are a bad team. I think it would be more accurate to say they’re an incomplete team.

“We have a plan in this organization,” Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Sunday after the 27-10 loss to Cincinnati at home, “And we’ll stick to that plan. We’ll have to take our lumps, and we have, but we have to chip our way back. We have a lot of football to go.”

All of that is accurate, but it doesn’t make it any easier to take. There are no moral victories in professional sports and a loss is just that, a loss.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether the Jaguars have enough talent to win. When I asked Mularkey that question two weeks ago, he said, “It’s on tape, we’ve seen our guys have success. We can sustain drives. We can get off the field on defense. It’s not about changing things or changing players, it’s about playing better.”

I believe that in a lot of areas and the Jaguars have shown flashes of being able to compete. But inconsistency is what beats you in the NFL and the Jaguars are about as inconsistent as they come. Long drives are followed by several 3 and outs. That won’t work long term.

So how do you get more consistent?

“We have great practices,” Quarterback Blaine Gabbert said in his post-game comments Sunday, “But we’re not executing in the games. It’s as simple as that.”

The team believes they can win and I’d agree, they’re a pretty good practice team. But when they get in games, one thing here and one thing there that don’t go right add up to a bunch of things not going right and getting beat.

There are two areas where the team needs improvement right away if they want to win some games: Quarterback and pass rush. Gabbert is right when it comes to executing. He has to execute better, quicker and with more authority. Two weeks in a row we’ve seen young quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton and both seem more comfortable running an offense than Gabbert. He has some flashes, and Gabbert has as good of an arm as anybody in the league. But his decision-making in the pocket is just a split second slow, leading to sacks and in completions.

Mularkey says he’s a young player still learning and progressing, but it’s hard to be patient with a quarterback who’s not getting it done when you look around at comparable QB’s who are. I think Gabbert can and will be better, but it’s taking longer than anybody would like. Just a little dump off here or a quick throw there will go a long way to keeping drives alive and getting a rhythm on offense.

Pass rush is a different story. Teams that win Super Bowls have a front four that can pressure the opposing quarterback without any blitz help. The NY Giants are the best example of this. The Jaguars don’t have that. While Jeremy Mincey is about the hardest working guy you’ve ever seen on the field, he’s not a sack specialist from his DE position. Tyson Alualu was drafted to rush the QB up the middle to neutralize Peyton Manning. Alualu isn’t getting to the quarterback and his specialty isn’t stopping the run at the point of attack. I don’t know that he’s big enough in today’s NFL to do that. So move him to DE and work on some other guys at DT.

Mularkey knew this was a building job when he took it and that it would take some time. But his players aren’t helping by playing below their own standard. If they can execute, get the same kind of results during games that they do on the practice field, then they have a chance. Otherwise, they’ll have to blow it up and start over again.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Upgrade

As the Jaguars embark on another season, it’s anything but just another season.

On one day, Wayne Weaver fired the coach and sold the team, all before breakfast and changed the course of Jaguars history. Firing Jack Del Rio was long overdue (hard to believe Del Rio was the Jaguars head coach for 9 years with only one playoff win) and selling the team was somewhere on the horizon. The timing of the sale seemed a bit abrupt until the facts revealed that Weaver and Shad Khan had been working on it for a while.

“It’s a one owner at a time league,” Khan said in December as the wheels of the sale were grinding away. Everybody was anticipating some changes, but Khan was prudent, waiting until the sale was complete on January 4th before making any changes. When he started, he showed immediately he meant business. Changes in the front office and the hiring of a president of the club were his first moves. That was followed by the hiring of three VP’s to make the Jaguars run a bit smoother on the business side.

“Corporate cultures grow for different reasons,” one Jaguars observer said. “Sometimes they are planned, sometimes they grow by necessity and other times it’s just organic. They go in a certain direction.”

The Jaguars had gotten to a point where it seemed the same leadership was going to take them in the same direction. That’s where Khan’s ideas shifted the team’s direction. All but the leadership in the IT and Communications departments has changed. Fresh ideas abound at Jaguars headquarters.

After spending time with Gene Smith, the Jaguars General Manager, and checking on his reputation around the league, Khan threw his full support behind the long-time Jaguars personnel man. That lead to Smith selecting Mike Mularkey as the Jaguars head coach.

Having a chance to attend OTA’s, mini-camps, training camp and pre-season practice, I can tell you the on-field situation is completely different. Mularkey has a plan, he tells the players what he’s looking for, and is seeing if they can perform at a high level with that kind of expectation.

“We want the players to succeed and they need to know we’re going to put them in situations to succeed,” Mularkey said recently after practice. Mularkey is a no-nonsense coach that the players appreciate. “We know what we’re doing, when we’re doing it and how we’re supposed to do it,” one Jaguars player said after a recent practice. “Last year, we didn’t know what we were doing,” he added.

It’s hard to predict what kind of success the Jaguars will have on the field. There are so many factors that go into winning in the NFL, not the least of which is staying healthy. But there’s no question they’re vastly improved over last year and now have a chance to win.

“That’s all you want,” one local reporter recently told me. “To have a chance to win. Last year you knew in most games they didn’t have a chance. This year, they have a chance.” They’ve upgraded almost across the board on offense and still have a championship-worthy defense.

Shad Khan has designs on the Jaguars winning championships and becoming the international face of the NFL. To quote one Jaguars insider, “The Weavers did a great job setting the stage and establishing the Jaguars franchise. Now they’ve passed the baton to a faster runner.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Arthur Smith: 1932-2012 Bye For Now

Arthur is the third person I met when I came to Jacksonville in 1981. He was the Player Personnel Director for the Jacksonville Tea Men and moonlighted as my broadcast partner when we televised the games. But we all knew it was his job to be Noel and Dennis’ best friend.

It seemed at every turn I was learning something from Arthur.

So I got to know Arthur professionally, and personally all at the same time. We traveled together, ate meals together, drank together, all the while as he taught me everything I knew about professional football (soccer), reminding me that he never taught me all that he knew. He taught me the nuance of the professional game, and more importantly, how to get along with Noel. In fact, Arthur kept Noel from beating me to a pulp in San Diego at dinner one night, diffusing the situation with his normal humor and grace. He taught me that if the bar bill wasn’t higher than the food total when somebody else was paying the tab, you hadn’t done your job.

I got to know Arthur professionally when he went to work at Tom Bush BMW. I bought cars from Arthur but actually many days I sat in his office while he worked on a sale, meticulously going over the numbers and executing the paperwork in perfect penmanship. Beautiful writing actually, crafted much like his personality: meticulous, thorough, and clearly understood, with a few extras thrown in. I don’t know why I was fascinated with Arthur’s handwriting but it always had clarity to it, with a little flair.

But it was over the years that he grew into one of my best friends. I’d like to think I was one of his best friends but that might be insulting to at least 20 people in this room alone because he treated so many people as his best friend. And a great friend he was. Always available always upbeat. Ready with some advice if you needed it, whether you liked to hear it or not. He raised my level of refinement when I needed it. Throughout his various ailments you all know Arthur never wavered. He always said to me, “I’m going to get out of here and be just fine. I’ll work on it until I make it right. No problem. There are a lot of people worse off than me.”

Like all of you, I just liked to spend time with Arthur, discussing his world travels and hearing stories of far away places. He became my de facto travel agent. There was never a place I was interested in going that he already hadn’t been there. Sometimes he waved me off. Other times he was insistent. He told me about an obscure Michelangelo sculpture in Brugge, encouraged me to go to Andorra because, as he put it, “their entire economy is based on smugglin’.” When I told him I was going to Santorini, one of the Greek isles, he told me a story about going there and passing on a boat cruise everybody else was going on. “I sat in this beautiful bar,” he told me, “and this lovely American girl was the bartender. From Kansas City. Went there on vacation and never left.” It was that kind of recall and detail in his stories that enriched the storytelling and gave real texture and fabric to the people and places he had encountered. Because you know he made friends with everybody.

We spent a bunch of time in Leo’s. Hours and hours of just sitting and laughing. One night I was there with Linda and all three of our children. I insisted that Arthur join us and I have such a fond memory of his recalling to my kids about his time as a child in England during WWII. How he went home from school in the dark. How the planes would fly overhead. And how they would go into the bog looking for a downed plane in order to get the Bakelite from the cockpit canopy. As a storyteller he had no peer. I can recall my children’s rapt attention at a life so different from their own.

I once tried to tell Arthur how important he was to me, and what a good friend I considered him and how he was one of my favorite people. He waved me off saying, “We’ll have none of that Sam, let’s get together tomorrow night.” When I came here last night, I got to the front door and knew I was in the right place. It sounded much more like a party inside than a wake, just as he would have expected.

He did touch his sentimental side in recent years, being sure to tell me, with Shirley in the room, how important she was to him and how she was the best thing that ever happened to him. I always chuckled when people said Arthur was living on “borrowed time” after his first episode with “upper aortic anuyrsum.” “He’s so lucky his wife came home at lunch,” people would say. The only time she’d ever done so. Ever. But she was supposed to be there, just like Arthur was supposed to be here for 80 years to touch all of our lives. He wasn’t living on borrowed time, it was HIS TIME. It wasn’t Arthur who was lucky but rather all of us who shared his life, his humor and his grace.

When my phone rang last Friday and it said “Arthur Smith” on the screen, I answered with my usual, “Hey Arthur, what ‘cha up to.” When Shirley’s voice came from the other end and said, “Sam, it’s Shirley, and I have some bad news,” I knew what was up. For some reason I knew exactly what she was going to say to me and I reacted very differently than I thought. I shed a tear, for sure, but I never, and still haven’t considered Arthur, “gone.” For some reason, and I don’t think this about everybody, I think I’m going to see him again. It might be a little hot for a while, between the two of us, but I believe I’ll see him again.

So to steal a line from Arthur that Barbara reminded me of last night, he would never say, “Goodbye,” when you left or hung up the phone. He’d always end it with, “Bye for now.”

So, Bye for now Arthur, we’ll meet later and I’ll be able to tell you how you’re one of my favorite people.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

They Broke The Mold: Peter Bragan, Sr.

It’s easy to write about great people and certainly Mr. Bragan was a great man. Decorated WWII veteran, figured out how to make some money after the war, wanted to be in baseball, bought the Suns and found out he liked everything about it: The baseball, the ownership, the players, the managers, coming to the ballpark and the city of Jacksonville. So instead of selling the club, he made it flourish and was rewarded with five championships. He was recognized as the Minor League Executive of the Year in 2004 by the Sporting News for his efforts.

But those are the nuts and bolts.

Those of us who knew him saw him as a true patriarch. A father-figure who commanded respect but more often engendered love as the primary emotion. I always sat up a little straighter in his presence. He regaled me with stories about baseball, about shooting sporting clays or real birds, about fishing and occasionally about how things REALLY were in WWII.

I was fishing with Mr. Bragan, Pedro his son, my Dad (who just celebrated his 79th birthday), and my son Cole once when my Dad and Mr. Bragan got into a conversation about the ’60’s, and the ’50’s and finally about the ’40’s and Mr. Bragan’s service in Patton’s 3rd Army. And a strange thing happened. Pedro fell eerily silent and as we fished, Mr. Bragan told numerous stories about his experiences in the War and he and my father smoked cigars, caught a few fish, and acted like old friends. When I asked Pedro later if he felt all right, he asked, “Why?” And I said, “Because I know you and you barely said a word while we were fishing!” Pedro got this amazed look on his face and said, “That’s because I was listening to Daddy talk to your Dad. I’d never heard any of those stories before!”

And that’s the kind of person Mr. Bragan actually was. Sometimes larger than life, and sometimes just a guy in the room who was trying to play the “Aw Shucks, I’m just a guy from Birmingham” guy. And after getting to know him, you realized usually when he was playing that “I’m just happy to be here” guy, it was usually because he was the smartest guy in the room.

Mr. Bragan taught me a certain amount of toughness, but he also taught me that you could be gentle as well. He always had candy on his desk and spread it out like everyday was your birthday.

He provided me with a close relationship and treated me like a son. But I soon came to realize he treated everybody like a son. And he also provided me with a chance to have a relationship with Pedro, who I regard as one of my closest friends.

He talked to me once at his desk about making sure I had clean and dry socks, and how important that was during WWII. He then pulled out his discharge papers from the US Army from his desk and showed me how many “credits” he had compiled when they finally sent him home.

I shared secrets and cigars with Mr. Bragan. He always somehow had one handy for me and we smoked together in the upper deck of the Baseball Grounds before a game and when it legal, at his seat at Wolfson Park.

He was generous and happy. He loved to sing and occasionally entertain.

My first conversation with Mr. Bragan started with him saying, “Hi Sam, nice to meet you. How’s your family? Can I get you anything? You hungry? Thanks for coming.”

My last conversation, at the end of June with Mr. Bragan started with him saying, “Hi Sam, how you doing?” How’s your family” How’s your Daddy? Can I get you anything? A salad? (With bellowing laughter thinking it was preposterous than anybody would order a salad at the ballpark after Pedro put it in the concession stand.) Thanks for coming.”

And my next conversation with Mr. Bragan I hope goes something like this, “Hi Sam, how you doing? How’s your family? How’s your Daddy? When you get back up here from your time ‘down there’ I’ll get you a salad!”

And hopefully we’ll share a cigar.

Thanks Mr. Bragan.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Blackmon With Something To Prove

Sometimes you are the sum total of your parts. While I’m not one of those ready to make the jump from RJ Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones directly to Justin Blackmon, his recent history is painting a picture of inconsistency that is, frankly, inconsistent with what the Jaguars found out when they vetted their first round pick and behavior that is at best, not consistent with success and at worst, self-destructive.

Blackmon’s recent arrest for “aggravated DUI” is alarming not just because of his willingness to drink and drive but the level at which he was allegedly intoxicated. If your blood alcohol level is above .15, the “aggravated” level of DUI is implemented, usually a felony. Blackmon reportedly measured at .24, three times the legal limit. At over six feet and 200 lbs, to get to .24, Blackmon had to be drinking for quite a while. And while his judgment might have been impaired by his drinking, the judgment of his friends has to also be in question based on them allowing him to get behind the wheel.

Does he have a drinking problem? That’s such a subjective definition but the fact that he’s a two-time offender should give him, his family, the Jaguars and his teammates at least a reason to ask that question. While he was in Jacksonville for the OTA’s, there were numerous sightings at local beach bars, but no incidents were reported. It is interesting that Head Coach Mike Mularkey said last week that when Blackmon, “knows the play, he’s very good. When he doesn’t he’s lost.” I thought that was a bit curious that the lauded first round pick could have as much practice time as he has but still not be fully aware of the playbook. Is that a sign that he was carousing a bit much while here instead of putting his nose in the book? When asked about his previous DUI at his introductory press conference here Blackmon called it an “isolated incident. I’ve grown from it. I’m a stronger person.” That’s the answer he gave the Jaguars during their investigation of his character before they drafted him. And they believed it. Why shouldn’t they? Everybody they talked to from Blackmon’s friends, family and coaches all said he was a great person. Interested in charity. Hard worker. Great teammate. And all of that could be true but now Blackmon’s credibility can be called into question.

Jail time is unlikely for his current charge, scheduled for a court appearance on July 24th, three days before Jaguars training camp is scheduled to start. Whether the Jaguars or the league can or will take any disciplinary action is unclear although he could be forced into the NFL’s substance abuse program as a first-time offender. (A second offense means a 4-game suspension).

If you’re wondering, “How could he do this at such a critical time?” drug and alcohol experts say this is exactly the time those with abuse problems act out and “fall again into the abyss.” Several times the night before the Super Bowl, important players in the NFL have succumbed to either the pressure or the temptation at one of the most important junctures of their lives.

From the top down, the Jaguars organization at this point won’t put up with bad behavior. Shad Khan wants a team he can be proud of. Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey are very involved in what kind of person each of their players are before putting them in black and teal. So they’ll deal with it and Blackmon will have a chance not only to get his life straight but probably be a star in the NFL.

If he wants to be.

RJ Soward was much more interested in his lifestyle than playing in the NFL. The team used to send a limo to his house to bring him to practice. And he still couldn’t make it. Reggie Williams thought he was a gangsta instead of a football player while Matt Jones didn’t realize that hard work makes you better and allows you to flourish as a player and a person.

Blackmon doesn’t strike me as having any of those personality traits but at this point, it’s all a question mark.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Players 2012: Big And Getting Bigger

I don’t know if it was the weather or just everybody’s mood but this year’s Players had a whole different feel from Monday through Sunday. It’s always been a party, and for a long time, that seemed to be the main focus of the people attending. But this year the events themselves, from the Military Appreciation Day on Wednesday to the final round on Sunday all seemed to have a purpose and a full draw when it comes to what the week has become.

People wanted to be there. They wanted to be a part of the military job fair on Monday. They wanted to see the stars play on Tuesday and hear what they had to say. They wanted to hear Luke Bryan on Wednesday and they wanted to watch golf when the first ball was in the air early Thursday morning.

With the unseasonably mild weather in the second half of the week, the fans were out in record numbers. There were more people there on Friday than I’ve ever seen at the tournament. And attendance figures show there were even more fans there on Sunday. People seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The players all praised the golf course as “Tough but fair. And the greens are perfect.” So all the years of moaning about the Stadium course seem to be something of the past. Not every player has to like every course, but this year, the criticisms were muted. There were plenty of new places for fans to sit, get out of the sun, cool off, get a drink and watch golf on TV.

The tournament’s new Executive Director Matt Rapp has a vision that the Players should be Jacksonville’s Kentucky Derby. He’s from Louisville and wants to bring that feel to this event. So far, he’s been successful, putting in at least a dozen places where the average fan felt like they had their own chalet pass. They’re planning on doing more next year.

The one thing that bothered me was the heckling of Kevin Na during the final round. If you spend one minute with that guy you can’t help but root for him. He’s accountable for his recent slow-play problems and says, “It’s my fault and I’m trying to fix it.” But for some guys to boo him and heckle him during arguably the biggest round of his life was wrong and unfair.

It reminded me of Hal Valdez in 1987 when he jumped into the water right before Jeff Sluman had a putt in the playoff against Sandy Lyle to win the tournament. As a spectator, it’s not our place to have a hand in the competition. It’s akin to jumping on the field and catching a ball in a baseball or football game. Na’s a nice player and I hope he gets his demons in order.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A Tale of Two “Guys”: Tiger and Phil

I’ve been a bit of a watch geek since I was a kid. My dad tells a story of me taking apart a whole clock when I was two years old and apparently being very proud of it. So I’m always interested in what watches the players are wearing because they always have the high-end stuff.

The AP guys like Graeme McDowell and Rory McElroy have fantastic watches but a little above my pay grade. A lot of guys are Breitling or Rolex wearers and those are on my wish list.

So here’s a tale of two guys named Tiger and Phil. Both are sponsored by Rolex, Tiger just recently and Phil since the beginning of his career (Tiger’s had Rolex’s European sister brand Tudor and TAG as sponsors in the past).

I talked to Tiger four days in a row at the “flash” interview point so I wasn’t unfamiliar to him. On Sunday, he came to the interview with his watch on, a beautiful stainless steel with a black face divers watch. It looked like a new model so when he stepped off the podium I waited for a lull in the craziness that usually surrounds him and asked, “Tiger, is that a Sea Dweller you’re wearing?”

He had his back to me when I asked but when he processed the question; he turned to me and said, “What’s that?” “Sea Dweller?,” I repeated, pointing to my own wristwatch.

“Deep Sea” he quickly said, turned his back and walked off.

Deep Sea is version of the Rolex Sea Dweller, just thicker and can withstand more pressure. Tiger is a deep “free-diver” in his spare time, diving to depths without scuba gear or other assistance where possibly a regular watch couldn’t survive. It made sense that he was wearing that watch but I had to chuckle at his immediate reaction when I asked.

As an ambassador for Rolex you might think that he’d stop for at least a second to show it off or something like that. But alas, he turned his back and got out of there without another word.

You might have noticed that Phil Mickelson plays with his watch on his left wrist. Mickelson had his watch on each day when he came to the interview area and I talked with him four days in a row as well. When he finished on Sunday, he stepped off the podium toward me so I asked him the same question, “What Rolex is that you’re wearing?” Mickelson stepped toward me and held it up saying, “It’s the Cellini. I like it because it’s thin. See how it lays against my wrist?” he said as he held it up to eye level. “It’s not bulky and I can wear it while I play.”

“It’s the new Cellini?” I asked as we both admired his watch. “No,” Phil said, “I think it’s a couple years old. But I really like it.”

A chat about a watch, like a normal person would react. Even if he wasn’t an “ambassador” for the brand.

That might not seem like a big deal, but when anybody asks me about my watch, I like to engage them in conversation, figuring they might tell me something I don’t know about the watch. I get to see what they’re wearing, see what their ideas are about why they’re wearing it or whatever. I usually take it off, hand it to them. It might sound geeky but it’s something I like.

So that brief exchange with the two most famous golfers in the planet confirmed my thought about what kind of “guys” they are. I joke with my friends that Phil is “Us with money.” Tiger, on the other hand, is something completely different.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Get A Gem: Justin Blackmon

I can’t remember a draft pick for the Jaguars that was a universally liked as their choice of Justin Blackmon. Perhaps when they picked Fred Taylor but outside of that, it seems that every other pick was greeted with some skepticism. Certainly there were complete busts in R.J. Soward, Reggie Williams, Derrick Harvey and Matt Jones. And there have been some iffy picks like Reggie Nelson and Tyson Alualu.

Blackmon is a whole different story.

He’s a player other teams wanted. He’s considered elite. He’s big enough at 6’1″ and 207 lbs, he’s fast enough at just under 4.5 in the 40 but it’s his attitude that changes the equation.

“He has an edge,” Head Coach Mike Mularkey said right after making the selection. “I like the fact that he comes to the line of scrimmage and says ‘Nobody can cover me.'”

Blackmon fits a need the Jaguars clearly have on offense, upgrading the wide receiver position and hoping to give help to Blaine Gabbert. Add him to off-season acquisitions Lee Evans and Laurent Robinson and all of the sudden the Jaguars have a passing game that looks like something the NFL will have to pay attention to.

That is if Gabbert develops the way everybody in the Jaguars organization hopes.

It’s hard to believe that General Manager Gene Smith would be willing to part with a draft pick to move up in the first round but he says it’s easier when you’re moving up to get a starter. “He’s a player we coveted and the way things came together we were able to get a very good football player,” Smith said in his usual understated style.

From New York by phone, Blackmon said he expects to come to town and get to work. “I’ll go over the middle, I’ll be the guy who’s working hard.”

He’s not a stretch by any definition, he fills a need the Jaguars have, and he creates a buzz for the Jaguars fans, waiting for what he might be able to do.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mularkey and Tebow: What Is and Isn’t

Who’d have thought that Mike Mularkey’s first test would have come before one football was snapped with him as the Head Coach of the Jaguars? Mularkey, along with the rest of the coaching staff and the personnel department had their feet held to the fire for a couple of days this week as Tim Tebow was made available.

Tebow is the most polarizing figure currently in sports. There’s no middle ground. Either you want him on your team as a starter because he’s going to take you to a championship or you don’t think he can play a lick. All of the other stuff surrounding Tim, his religious beliefs, his goodness, his winning record in high school and college, his ability to sell seats (or not) don’t matter. Everybody, especially in Jacksonville, has an opinion. Mularkey didn’t think this would be an issue when he took the job with the Jaguars. Tebow was the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and in fact, much of Mike’s pre-hiring discussions centered on Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars second-year quarterback.

But then Tebow because available (“We’re are talking about Peyton Manning,” Tim said to John Elway when informed he’d be traded) and the Jaguars seemed like a logical destination: for some. Hometown hero, Gator, winner, fill the stadium, etc, etc. Apparently it was only a question of how much the Jaguars wanted him. For some, no price was too high. For others, any price was too high.

“Don’t believe everything you hear or read in the media,” Mularkey said at the “Meet the Coaches” event on Thursday night. “It’s hard not to want a guy like that. We wouldn’t have tried to trade for him if we didn’t feel like we didn’t want to have him here. There were a lot of things that went into this thing to try to get Tim to come here.

“In the long run, it did not work out. But if you do not want a player, you don’t even get involved with it.”

We might not know much about Mike Mularkey, but one thing about his reputation precedes him: his honesty. He’ll tell the truth and live with the consequences, good or bad. He left the head-coaching job with the Buffalo Bills when the job changed around him, knowing he might never get another shot in the NFL. So when he says the Jaguars were in the hunt for Tim and wanted him, believe him.

The Jaguars matched the Jets offer of a 4th rounder and a couple of throw in’s for Tim but in the end, Tebow picked the Jets. Not even a hint of Shad Khan’s money for the Tebow foundation and other “accouterments” could turn his head. For some fans, that wasn’t good enough. They should have outbid New York no matter what.

So why not up the ante?

“That’s confidential,” Mularkey said. “The draft is how you build a football team and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. That’s been the philosophy of this franchise. That’s my philosophy. You’ve got to be very careful what you start doing with draft picks and we feel strongly about the draft.”

The day after the trade, the Jets said Tebow would be a situational player, coming in on third down, short yardage and in the red zone, much like I suggested earlier in the week on how the Jaguars could make it work. Apparently they discussed that, but also talked internally about how Tim might fit in as the back-up quarterback.

“Some of that’s confidential to talk about, but we talked about all scenarios as far as the backup quarterback,” Mularkey said. “He has some rare ability to do some things and all of that was discussed.”

There are reports that Tebow picked the Jets because he thought it was a better chance to compete for the starting job. I’m sure that’s news to Mark Sanchez and his new contract extension. But with Tony Sporano as the offensive coordinator in New York, Tim will get some special packages and maybe 10-15 plays a game.

And as far as Tim’s star status is concerned, well, it is New York after all. Endorsements, fund-raising, it’s all right at his feet. I know Tim’s a solid guy but I’m sure you’ve seen him at the Oscar’s after-parties and walking Taylor Swift to her car. He has big time star status, and it’ll only be enhanced in New York.

True to his form, Mularkey kept Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne in the loop while all the talk about Tim Tebow was swirling.

“I wanted to make sure they were updated with where things are and where they aren’t, and that what we told them from the beginning had not changed,” Mularkey said. “We wanted to reconfirm it. We hadn’t been in contact with (Blaine) for a number of weeks because of the way the new CBA is, but I just thought with the way things were going down it was important he heard from me and my belief in him and that why we brought him here had not changed.”

Mike talked a lot on Thursday night about doing things “the right way.” Jaguars fans can only hope that his belief in Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, and everybody else’s in the stadium, is rewarded.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Here’s How the Jaguars Can Make Tebow Work

If Shad Khan has told his football “people,” namely Gene Smith, to get quarterback Tim Tebow, (and there are rumors that he has), how do they make that work?

To begin with, that puts Smith in a spot where he’ll have to eventually make a tough decision: swallow hard, stay with the Jaguars and go get Tim Tebow no matter that he doesn’t think it’s the right football move or eventually give up his job as GM because the owner is making the personnel decisions anyway.

Maybe it’s not as cut and dried as that but certainly there’s plenty on intrigue and a full domino effect going on in Jacksonville and around the league now that Peyton Manning is in Denver and the Broncos have decided to make Tim available.

If the deal involves a 5th round pick, it’s almost a no-lose situation for the Jaguars. While they never want to part with draft picks, a fifth rounder is a small price to pay for a bona fide hometown hero who is a feel-good acquisition with tremendous public relations upside.

He’s not the football player the Jaguars want at this point. They’re building a team with an offense that employs a strategy a pocket passer can flourish in. For all of the good things Tim does, he’s not that.

So let’s say they go get Tebow at the right price (assuming that he actually wants to come here). So then what? After all the PR dies down, and the ticket sales level off (possibly as many as 6,000 new season ticket holders claim they’ll buy tickets just to see Tim in a Jaguars uniform) it’ll come down to football and competition.

And that’s a very cold hearted, calculated business.

Tebow was put in the lineup last year for Denver not because he had beaten out Brady Quinn for the backup job or Kyle Orton as the starter but because the team started 1-5 and needed something different. Broncos head coach John Fox simplified the offense, changed the game plan and Tim helped the team get to a .500 record and a win in the playoffs. He didn’t display any superhuman quarterback talents and in fact, in just about every statistical category he was substandard to the average quarterback in the league. But he provided a spark across his team and grabbed the attention of a lot of non-football fans, so much so that every late night talk show and even Saturday Nigh Live featured Tim in some form or fashion.

And the Broncos won games.

But one time through just over half of the schedule doesn’t solidify anybody in the NFL where you constantly have to prove your worth on the field. Tebow does have all of the intangibles you want in any athlete competing at the highest level but, as the Patriots showed in the second round of the NFL playoffs, that doesn’t always mean victory.

Tim would join the roster as the third-string quarterback for the Jaguars behind Blaine Gabbert and newly acquired Chad Henne. Based on Gabbert’s lack of production and Henne’s newness, he’d be given a chance to compete and at the end of training camp let’s say he’s still the 3rd string quarterback. He’s not happy with that and certainly his fans wouldn’t be either. But again, it’s a cold and calculated business.

New Head Coach Mike Mularkey would be in a very tough spot knowing that every incompletion, interception, stalled drive or loss on the scoreboard would bring out the chants of “Tee-Bow” from part of the crowd.

So here’s the solution. Keeping three quarterbacks is no big deal in the NFL. If Gabbert progresses they way they hope, they build the offense around what he and Henne can do. But they have a change of pace 10-15 play offensive package that takes advantage of Tebow’s skills and most importantly, gives the Jaguars the best chance to win.

It’s unconventional, but sometimes that’s the thing that works in the league. Any offense that takes the ball out of Maurice Jones Drew’s hands too often isn’t smart, but adding another dimension with a lot of upside could be a game changer for the Jaguars.

Or it could get everybody fired.

Then what? Start over?


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tebow to Jaguars: Not happening

Here’s the only way Tim Tebow ends up on the Jaguars: Shad Khan says make it happen.

Khan hasn’t stood over Gene Smith’s shoulder when it comes to any of the football decisions he’s made. He let Smith cull through the coaching prospects before he brought Mike Mularkey to the table. And Khan hasn’t been a part of the process of signing free-agents.

While Tebow might be a different story from a business standpoint, he’s not what the Jaguars are looking for when it comes to their quarterback of the future. Smith, Mularkey and Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski want a successful Blaine Gabbert. Tall, strong armed, mobile enough to get away quarterback who emerges as the passing threat to compliment Maurice Jones Drew and the running game.

Agree or not, that’s what they’re looking for and Tim brings an entirely different skill set to the quarterback position.

Khan has said he would have told his “people” to get it done when asked about drafting Tebow out of college, but he’s never said, “with the 10th pick.” That was the dilemma the Jaguars faced at the time. Now, Tebow would be available via trade, probably for a mid-round pick but what to do with him on the roster?

Signing Chad Henne give the Jaguars a viable backup and a legitimate starter at the position if Gabbert fails.

When Wayne Weaver owned the team, he commissioned research to see how many season tickets Tim Tebow would sell if the Jaguars drafted him. The number they came up with was 6,000 in the first year, even if he stood on the sidelines and wore a had and carried a clipboard. That didn’t warrant a business decision overriding a football decision so the Jaguars passed on him, hoping to get back into the bottom of the first round and draft Tim nonetheless. Denver jumped in front of them and that was that.

From a political standpoint, Weaver didn’t want fans screaming for Tebow after David Garrard threw his first interception. I don’t think that’s a consideration now, but time will tell. I just don’t think it’s in the cards.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Ali Turns 70, I Remember When: Sam’s Brush With The Champ

It was early. Especially for somebody who’d been a bartender and was working on the first job of his career that also required working the “second shift.” In the summer of 1979 I was living and working in Charleston, S.C. Just after 7am my phone rang, jolting me out of bed as only a ringing phone can. The deep voice of the News Director at Channel 2, “Specs” Munzell, my boss was pleasant and direct.

“I just got a call that Muhammad Ali was having breakfast at the Mills House downtown. You need to get down there. Now.”

I don’t look like much when I get out of bed, and with the night before still rolling around in my head, I threw some clothes on, brushed my teeth, barely combed my hair, grabbed the camera and recorder and walked out the front door in about 5 minutes flat.

“No way,” I kept saying to my self. “Ali, here in Charleston. At this hour? For what?” I made it out of Mt. Pleasant and over the Cooper River Bridge, absent of traffic and headed downtown.

The Mills House is an old, historic hotel in the center of downtown Charleston. It’s been run by Hyatt and Holiday Inn among others, but it remains a landmark in the city. The front entrance is impressive as is the lobby with the restaurant off to the left. Big white columns run floor to ceiling giving it a very big feel. With white tablecloths to the floor, it oozes elegance.

Overlooking the restaurant from the lobby landing, I realized something was amiss: it wasn’t open. For some reason, at the time the Mills House didn’t serve breakfast. It was dark but I shuffled around and leaned to the right, camera equipment in hand, only to see three men sitting at a table way in the back drinking coffee. I sat the equipment in a corner and walked into the restaurant. Muhammad Ali

Facing me at the table, luckily was a guy I recognized and perhaps more astonishingly, he looked up and recognized me.

With an easy wave he motioned me over to the table where the unmistakable silhouette of Muhammad Ali was facing the other way.

The guy I knew and the other, young man at the table both stood as I approached offering a welcoming handshake.

“Hi Sam, great to see you,” my “friend” at the table said. “Do you know Reggie?” he asked as he motioned to the young guy at the table. Reggie did look vaguely familiar so I said, “Sure” as we shook hands.

“And you’ve met the Champ,” my friend added.

Ali had stayed seated and turned his shoulders toward me, just getting his head around enough to see his face.

It was a bit surreal seeing Ali this close. He was one of my boyhood heroes and I’d read everything I could about him. But as he turned, he was so familiar it was as if I was running into somebody I’d known for years. The cut of his hair, his smooth features, the color of his skin all were exactly as I had always thought.

“Hey,” he said quietly as we shook hands. It wasn’t much of a handshake, but as I’ve learned over the years, boxers and football players don’t always have much of a handshake. It usually hurts too much. Nonetheless I stood there and stammered out a sentence trying to do my job.

“Champ, I’m Sam Kouvaris from Channel 2 here in town and I’ll be over there in the doorway so when you’re done if you would just stop on your way out and answer a couple of questions I’d really appreciate it.”

Ali eyed me for maybe a second or two and turned completely in his chair to face me before he said, “Have you eaten?”

I was so confused by his question that it barely even registered in my head. So I went back at it.

“No, but I’ll be over there by the door and if you . . .” which is when he cut me off by repeating. “Have you eaten?”

That’s a pretty simple question so this time I just said, “No sir.” Which is when he pulled out the chair next to his and said, “Sit down.”

It was my first lesson in dealing with wealthy and/or famous people that has served me well. When they make some kind of offer with a declarative statement, just do it. Like, “Get in my plane,” or “Take my car” or even at times, “Let me get the check,” just follow their lead and it usually leads to very interesting experiences.

So I sat down. Of course I knew the restaurant wasn’t open but Ali called the waiter over and said, “Sam wants to eat.” The waiter was eager to please so when he asked me what I might want (without the benefit of a menu) I ordered an omelet and some coffee.

Over the next hour or so, I sat at the table with the retired heavyweight champion of the world, one of my idols, drinking coffee, having breakfast and talking about everything you can think of: Religion, politics, women, sports, friendship, loyalty and just about everything else. Ali was disarming, fun, playful, serious and easy to talk to.

When it was time to go, we stood up and faced each other, I supposed to shake hands. Instead, Ali stepped back and flicked two left jabs within a half-inch of my nose. I reacted by raising my fists to protect myself and striking my version of a “boxers pose.” With that, Ali dropped his hands and said, “I’m not fighting you,” as seriously as you can imagine.

I relaxed and said, “Why not?”
“You’ve boxed,” the champ responded.
“Sure,” I replied.

He laughed and mimicked my pose saying, “Nobody puts their hands up like that and turns sideways to give nothing to hit when they haven’t boxed.”

With that we did shake hands, did the interview, and snapped one photo. As he left, he patted me on the back in an approving way I’ve never forgotten and walked out, never looking back.

(As an addendum to the story, Ali was in town to testify at a trial for Reggie as a character witness. Reggie had run afoul of the law on a drug charge and Ali had taken the red eye in for a court appearance that day. Reggie still went to jail, Ali said he wanted to be there because he and Reggie were friends.

In case you’re wondering, I’m 23 in this picture, Ali is 37)

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mike Mularkey & Co. Winners? TBD

In the Jaguars locker room today, I talked with Mel Tucker and Mike Mularkey about the whole hiring process and how Mularkey convinced Tucker to stay.

“Actually it wasn’t,” Mike said when I asked him if it was a tough sell to keep Tucker as his Defensive Coordinator. “Mel and I are a lot alike. Sometimes you just need to sit down one-on-one.”

That’s encouraging because Tucker is a very solid coach and perhaps even a better guy. If he’s staying, it’s for the right reasons. If he says Mularkey is a good coach, you can believe that in that fraternity of coaches, Mularkey is well respected. Right now it’s a love fest but Mularkey demonstrated his respect for Tucker by giving him the additional title of Assistant Head Coach.

“I didn’t do that lightly,” he explained. “I’ll consult with Mel on a lot of things. I’ve told him things this morning I wouldn’t have told other assistants.”

Tucker will pick the defensive staff and said Joe Cullen and Mark Duffner have already agreed to stay. Mel stayed because “this is where I’m supposed to be” and added “Mike and I are on the same page.”

“Sometimes when guys don’t have exotic looks on defense and they just lineup and say ‘here we are'” Mularkey explained when asked how an offensive coach picks a defensive coordinator with a certain philosophy. “That can be more troubling for an offensive guy than anything else. Mel’s done that and the players respond to that by playing with a lot of confidence.”

Mularkey said Bob Bratkowski, the new offensive coordinator, is literally driving from Atlanta to Jacksonville today (Friday).

“One of us was going to be the Offensive Coordinator in Pittsburgh and the other was going to be the same in Cincinnati,” Mularkey said when asked about his history with Bratkowski. “I stayed with the Steelers and he had a nice 10-year run with the Bengals. At one point we shared a small office together so I know him well.”

I can see why Mularkey interviews well and why Gene Smith and Shad Khan were impressed. He’s very clear-minded, friendly, and direct. He smiles, is pleasant and is confident all at the same time.

Sometimes the questions asked of the head coach in press conference situations can be pretty pointed and occasionally hostile. So far, Mularkey has an understanding of how to answer those questions, being honest but not revealing information he needs to keep to himself.

He welcomed the Jaguars employees today by hosting a pizza lunch at the stadium. “I just wanted to let everybody know I’m here to help,” the Jaguars new head coach explained. “Tickets, charity, whatever, I want them to know my door is open and they can come talk to me.”

He even joked that he’s trying to learn everybody’s name. “Two a week,” he chuckled. That’s a pretty good departure from Del Rio and even Tom Coughlin. Both had their own style but neither had the “approachability” that Mularkey displays.

“There’s a little extra pep in everybody step here in the building,” one employee told me.

Mularkey hopes to build his staff quickly but said he doesn’t have a timeline. He added it’d be nice to have them together by the Senior Bowl (practice starts January 23 in Mobile) but he said he wouldn’t rush it.

He will hire a quarterbacks coach and mentioned it might be somebody with offensive coordinator experience. He didn’t mention names but he obviously has somebody in mind.

Nobody’s going to rush out and buy tickets or get excited because of a bunch of football coaches but Mel Tucker said it’s pretty satisfying to be on a staff where everybody has the same goal.

“These guys are professionals and good coaches,” he said today. “When everybody has the same goals, you can achieve great things.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

In the Near Future: Jacksonville Jaguars, Super Bowl Champions

The Jaguars will win the Super Bowl.

That’s right, they’re going to win it. I don’t know when and I don’t know if it’ll be under the new head coach, but they’re going to win the Super Bowl. Shad Khan won’t accept anything less. Getting to the playoffs will be the first step. Winning in the post-season, the second. Playing in the big game the third and finally winning it will be the goal achieved.

How can I say that?

Because Khan is going to make it happen.

Wayne Weaver obviously tried. He spent money and twice the Jaguars were close to playing on Super Bowl Sunday. But even by his own admission, Weaver knew what he didn’t know and was a little too patient with making personnel changes that could have produced more wins and maybe even a championship season.

Khan doesn’t have any of the encumbrances that Weaver faced. If he needs to make a change, he will and he’ll do it without looking back. While I’ve said he’s a thoughtful, patient and measured businessman (and appears that personally as well) he will take action when necessary.

Weaver said his biggest regret was firing Tom Coughlin when he did. Coughlin didn’t appear to be ready to relinquish the personnel, GM part of the job as he did later in the New York. I don’t know if Weaver asked him, but that might have been the best move at the time. Coughlin has had multiple playoff wins and a Super Bowl Championship since then. Weaver also said he was a bit “too patient” with some of the people working for him making the football decisions. Wayne was respectful of his “football people” to a fault. In retrospect he hung with James “Shack” Harris and Jack Del Rio too long. He gave David Garrard a new deal when he didn’t deserve it.

But that’s all in the past.

Shad Khan won’t be a patient but he won’t fly off the handle either. “You know, fans want to shoot first and ask questions later,” he said last week when talking about a new head coach and Gene Smith’s future. Khan wants to be proactive but do the right thing. “Paralysis by analysis,” is something he said won’t happen.

Smith is working on kind of an “audition phase” of his tenure with the Jaguars. That sounds crazy after a career of working with the same team from the bottom up but with a three-year extension on his contract, Smith has a chance to show Khan what he’s all about.

So far, Khan has been very complimentary of Smith’s knowledge of the league and what needs to be done when it comes to hiring a head coach. You could say Gene has “institutional knowledge” when it comes to the NFL. “I’ll always be a scout at heart,” Gene has told me several times. But he’s going to have to be much more than that to be Shad Khan’s General Manager. Khan wants leadership, decision-making and results.

Smith has a tepid track record so far as the sole personnel decision maker for the Jaguars. His first round picks, Tyson Alualu and Eugene Monroe have been solid but not great based on their draft position. Nobody knows about Blaine Gabbert although he certainly has the physical tools to be an NFL quarterback. Clearly that’s what Smith saw in him and is, by necessity, his biggest fan. If Gabbert isn’t a “franchise quarterback” Smith’s tenure with the Jaguars under Khan could be short.

His role in picking the new head coach will also go a long way in determining his future with the Jaguars. Last time he recommended Mike McCarthy. Weaver hired Jack Del Rio. Jack’s out of a job, McCarthy has arguably the best team in the league and already one of those “gaudy rings” as Wayne described it on his finger.

But the Jaguars are going to win a Super Bowl. And they’ll do it in Jacksonville. Khan’s a big thinker with big ideas he can make happen. So when things start rolling, look at the guy at the top. He’ll be the one with the big smile under that moustache.