Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

McElwain Departure “It’s Never Pretty”

From the beginning it seemed like the right move.

After Day One, it never felt like a really good fit.

After just 2½ seasons as the Florida Gators head football coach, Jim McElwain and the University say they’ve mutually agreed to part ways.

That’s a nice way of saying UF wanted him out of there and he wanted to leave but we’re still negotiating the buyout. Athletic Director Scott Stricklin confirmed Sunday night that they had agreed on the split but haven’t signed the deal.

At his opening press conference, McElwain seemed like the exact right guy for the job in Gainesville. After years of an over intense Ron Zook, the unlikeable Urban Myer and a super intense Will Muschamp, the Gators program was looking for a glib, affable guy to lead the program.

You know, a Spurrier-like guy.

McElwain seemed to be the exact right person: An SEC pedigree, an offensive coach and a winner as the head coach at Colorado State. If they mixed up a formula for what the Gators needed, he seemed to be the solution.

He won his opening press conference.

He won two SEC East titles in his first two years and just a month ago the Gator football team was 3-1, ranked and seemed poised to win the East for the third straight year. Even though there were rumblings among the Florida faithful, you figured he’d get the offense straightened out, Feleipe Franks would come around and they’d compete down the stretch.

But the exact opposite happened.

Two late-kick losses at home started the ball downhill. The offense looked disorganized and without an identity. Georgia came in as a two-touchdown favorite and within six minutes in Jacksonville showed they were winning, and scoring, at will.

That morning the rumors of not just the fans but the UF administration’s unhappiness with McElwain also started to surface.

He didn’t listen to anybody. He rebuffed Steve Spurrier’s offer to help the offense. Twice. He commandeered the soccer field for practice one day without asking anybody. Complained publicly, and privately, about the Gators football facilities and he didn’t attend the all-school head coaches meetings, instead sending surrogates. And he didn’t buy into the UAA philosophy of one-for-all and all-for-one, kind of a loner, an iconoclast. But not in a good way.

One of my colleagues derisively calls him “folksy.”

And the whole, “death threat” thing was weird. Without prompting on Monday of Florida/Georgia week, McElwain talked about the “hate” and vaguely talked about him, his family, coaches and players being under duress and used the words, “death threats.”

When I first heard that I thought, “Oh, that’s a ‘Week of Florida/Georgia Motivational Ploy.” But when McElwain declined to elaborate to his bosses later in the day they issued a terse, non-supportive statement saying their head coach declined “to offer further details.”

At Wednesday’s weekly presser, McElwain again declined to offer further explanation but told us he’d let us know if the situation became “unmanageable.”

Which seemed even weird-er.

It’s clear now that the UF administration was looking for a way out and McElwain’s strange actions all week, compounded by the embarrassing loss to Georgia and his post-game admission that he didn’t know if he’d be coaching in Gainesville past that night confirmed it.

“It’s hard to speculate how this situation might have played out if last Monday hadn’t happened,” Stricklin said Sunday night.

When I talked with McElwain before his second season he was glib, friendly and said all the right things. But he had a somewhat detached air about him. You might have sensed it during his press conferences when he would talk about “us” as in “the Gators” and it seemed a little hollow.

I often joke that the most important words surrounding the Florida football program are “Before Nineteen-Ninety.” That’s because the twelve years of the Spurrier era were exciting and seemed relatively calm on the coaching front. Steve took the blame for losses and deflected the credit for wins. He was a Gator through and through.

But that was not the norm around Gainesville.

In the 40 years I’ve covered college football the intrigue and cutthroat nature of the business hasn’t changed. The hook has gotten quicker for coaches who aren’t winning but there’s nothing pretty about it.

When Charley Pell was elevated from Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach at Clemson, the man he replaced, Red Parker, had terrible things to say about him. Pell left Clemson for Florida, staying with the Tigers just long enough to create enough recruiting violations to put them on two-year NCAA probation. His tenure at Florida was a constant rumor mill of NCAA investigations, slush funds and illegal recruiting tactics. When he was finally forced to resign, 107 NCAA violations were left behind.

Gator fans exhaled when Galen Hall was named Pell’s replacement. He seemed like a calm in the storm, a regular guy. But out of the blue just four years later in 1989 he was forced to resign after an internal investigation turned up cash payments to both assistant coaches and players.

And everybody was like, “Here we go again!”

In the short term the Gators had arm waving, never smiling Gary Darnell who everybody knew wasn’t the answer.

And then Spurrier. In “1990.”

And even his departure was strange in that he was angry with then AD Jeremy Foley for not pursuing the Darnell Docket trying to break Errict Rhett’s leg in a pile during the Florida/FSU game. So he exercised his chance in his two-week window to take the Redskins job in the NFL.

So as strange as this departure was, it falls right in line with a lot of others at Florida and at most big time football universities.

It’s never pretty.

Telvin Smith New Deal: Worth Every Penny

A fifth round pick now in his 4th year with the Jaguars, Linebacker Telvin Smith signed a new 4-year contract Wednesday night worth an estimated $50 million. Better than thought from the beginning, Smith has earned a new deal based on his development and leadership for the Jaguars. After leading the team in missed tackles last year, Smith’s fundamentals have improved according to his position coach and that’s why he’s a better player this year.

Smith signing during the season allows the Jaguars to apply some money to the salary cap this year. They currently are more than $33 million under the cap according to the NFLPA. Telvin is scheduled to make $1.8 million this year and is the second draft pick of the 2014 class to sign a second deal. Brandon Linder signed a new $51 million deal before the season.

“I am excited about the opportunity to continue my career in Jacksonville and stay with the team that believed in me coming into the league in 2014,” said Smith. “I am grateful for my family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches and the incredible Jaguars fans for always supporting me and allowing me to play this game that I love. I also want to thank Shad Khan and the Jaguars organization for believing in me and giving me this amazing opportunity. We have created a bond in that locker room and everyone is committed to our goal of winning football games.”

Smith, 6-3, 215, has appeared in 53 career games with 47 starts since originally being drafted in the fifth round (144th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. Telvin is a defensive captain in 2017 and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in Week 5 at Pittsburgh after finishing with a game-high 10 tackles and a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Jaguars’ victory. The award marked Smith’s third time winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, the most by a defender in Jaguars history.

“Telvin has been a productive player and an important part of our defense, and he has earned this second contract,” said Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin. “We want to identify the players who will contribute to help this team win going forward, and reward those who can do that. Telvin is certainly one of those players for us. This is a high performance business, and we look for his continued development as a team leader both on and off the field.”

Smith, who leads the team with 58 tackles, has made double-digit tackles in three of the last four games. For his career, Smith played collegiately at Florida State, grew up in Valdosta, Ga., and attended Lowndes (Ga.) High School where he led the team with a Class 5A Championship during his junior season.

NFL, Khan, Players and Protest

When Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the National Anthem in 2016 he did so to protest what he perceived as racial inequities America. In his only comment about his action, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

At the time of his initial sitting and then kneeling, Barak Obama was President of the United States and the political season was just heating up.

While Kaepernick had his supporters and his detractors, protesting during the Anthem didn’t become part of the national discourse, outside of sports, until President Trump said in front of a partisan rally in Alabama on September 23rd that an NFL owner should said of a kneeling player, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”

That sparked a firestorm of reaction, both in sports and across the country, some in support of the President, others, including NFL players, strongly disagreeing.

In London the Jaguars players gathered the night before the game to organize a team action, including Owner Shad Khan, VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone in their discussion.

“Whatever we were going to do,” Marrone said after the game at Wembley, “We wanted to do as a team.

Being the first game of the day, a 9:30 AM EDT start in the US, the Jaguars actions and reactions to the President’s remarks set the tone for the rest of the day.

Some players knelt in protest during the National Anthem, others, including Khan and Marrone, locked arms in what they called “solidarity.”

At the moment it was shown in Jacksonville, my phone started buzzing in London with the same general theme from those watching who knew I was at the game, ” . . on foreign soil . . .”

Talking to the players in the locker room after the Jaguars victory over Baltimore, they weren’t any more in favor of Kaepernick’s original statement, but rather were mad at the President. “He shouldn’t be telling us what to do,” said one player who knelt during the Anthem.

“God bless them,” Khan said in his suite at Wembley when asked by Sports Illustrated of what he thought about his players protest. It’s clear the Jaguars owner saw it as a First Amendment issue while some of his fellow NFL owners believe it’s a workplace issue between management and employees. Dallas owner Jerry Jones said last week that Cowboys players who protest during the Anthem won’t play in the game. His team, his rules. The First Amendment protects us against prosecution regarding free speech but joining an organization (i.e. a football team) means abiding by their rules. You can’t be arrested for kneeling during the Anthem but you can be fired.

In retrospect, it was a strategic mistake by the organization, outlined by Jaguars President Mark Lamping in a letter to the City of Jacksonville Director of Military Affairs Bill Spann. Lamping, Khan and Coughlin met with Spann and members of the local military community on October 5th to discuss the implications of the Jaguars kneeling in London, and then standing for “God Save the Queen.”

“We were remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration occurring on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.” Lamping wrote on October 6th. “Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save the Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces in Jacksonville and beyond.”

“The notion never entered the minds of our players or anyone affiliated with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but today we can understand how the events in London on September 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”

Perhaps there is no other NFL town with a stronger military connection than Jacksonville. A city originally designed around it’s military bases, it’s not just the families of those who serve who are part of the community but civilian contractors, veterans and friends are a part of it as well.

While the players said they meant no disrespect to the flag or to our military, it was perceived as unpatriotic to many who are part of the military community. If the players want to be respected for their perception of inequality and form of protest, they must also respect the perception of those who believe their form of protest was a slap at the military and those who have served.

Feeling the effects of part of their fan base that was unhappy, the Jaguars offered refunds to season ticket holders who requested them. The team didn’t offer any specific numbers on how many requests they received but clearly the lowest attendance figure last Sunday since Khan bought the team is an indicator that some fans are still angry.

A confluence of a night game in Gainesville for Florida, a traditional dislike for 4 o’clock games by Jaguars fans and those who stayed home over the anthem protest contributed to that smaller number.

A group of 13 NFL owners, including Khan met with former and current league players this morning in New York to discuss what the next step might be. Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams expressing the league’s desire to “move past” the Anthem controversy.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

After today’s meeting, the NFL and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement saying they met “to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military. In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change.”

It’s a step in the process, opening a dialog to allow the league to avoid the Anthem controversy and allow the players a platform to speak their minds.

As a high profile organization in town, the Jaguars are at the forefront of charitable giving when it comes to hurricane relief and the military. They should use this platform to open this dialogue. Former Jaguar Rashean Mathis has had this idea for a while, starting an initiative called “Bridging the Gap” bringing together people from different parts of town to talk. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to talk about these things,” Rashean said last week. “But that’s OK. Better to talk than not talk.”

He’s right. That’s the first call the Jaguars should make.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Inconsistent Again, Jaguars Lose To Rams

It’s never good when you win the coin toss and defer to the second half, but the opponent returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown. That’s exactly what happened when the Jaguars kicked off against the Rams for the first time in Jacksonville since the second week of the season. Jason Myer’s kick was fielded 3-yards deep in the end zone by Pharoh Cooper who brought it out to the right and seemed to be bottled up by the Jaguars special teams. But Cooper spun out of a tackle attempt by Jarrod Wilson and ran straight down the sideline for a TD for a 7-0 lead.

It’s always good when you score on your first play from scrimmage and that’s exactly what happened with the Jaguars touched the ball. A simple handoff to Leonard Fournette saw him break through the like and outrun everybody for a 75-yard TD to tie the game at seven. Fournette is only the second rookie in NFL history to score a TD in his first six games. It’s also the first time in history that two touchdowns have been scored inside the first 25 seconds of the game. 7-7 and starting over.

A 16-yard punt by Brad Nortman gave the Rams the ball at the Jaguars 45 and after three plays and eight yards the Rams kicked a 56-yard field goal to make it 10-7.

After taking the kickoff, the Jaguars gained chunks of yardage on the ground and through the air, scoring in just four plays on a 22-yard screen to Chris Ivory, taking a 14-10 lead. Gains of 18, 17 and 22 preceded the TD.

This game was nothing if not fun to watch early.

In another unusual twist, the Rams were pushing the Jaguars defensive line around, gaining big yardage with Todd Gurley running the football. That resulted in a LA TD at the end of the first quarter to regain the lead at 17-14.

Neither team was playing inspired football but the Rams were winning the field position battle. Nortman wasn’t having his best game and LA scored their second special teams touchdown of the game near the end of the second quarter, blocking a punt and stepping into the end zone for a 24-14 lead.

A 52-yard field goal attempt by Myers at the end of the half was hooked wide left to leave the Jaguars with a 10-point deficit at halftime.

A recap of the special teams effort in the first half gave the Rams a 17-point advantage, something very few teams in the NFL overcome.

A bunch of punts in the 3rd quarter didn’t amount to much as the Rams were stacking the box and making sure the Jaguars and Fournette didn’t get the running game going. At some point, Blake Bortles will have to be the center of the offensive improvement if the Jaguars are going to win games and be a legitimate contender for the post-season. He did lead the offense with his legs and a couple of nice throws that led to a field goal that brought them within seven at 24-17.

In the 4th quarter, you could call it crunch time, and the Jaguars aren’t a team in 2017 that has been good in this situation in close games. A decent offensive drive was derailed by a Bortles interception thrown in front of Marcedes Lewis who got a hand on it and tipped it to a waiting defender. Lewis was the wrong guy to throw it to in that situation as Bortles had Marqise Lee streaking down the field and the ball was just too far in front of Lewis to make that kind of crossing-the-field catch.

More Gurley right, Gurley left and Gurley up the middle put the Rams in a position to grind the clock and kick a field goal for a two possession, 10-point lead, 27-17.

There was a scare at the four-minute mark as Fournette tweaked his knee and his right ankle making a cut against a Rams defender. It looked serious but the Jaguars said he could return to the game if necessary. But he didn’t return.

It’s somewhat maddening to watch Bortles in the current Jaguars offense. Sometimes he’s solid, taking what the defense gives him and behind the running game, making enough throws to keep the defense honest and the offense moving. Other times he’s tentative in the pocket and just inaccurate enough to not make the play that are there downfield. If the Jaguars are going to be a contender at some point in the season, Blake is going to have to take a quantum leap forward with his decision-making, his mechanics and his accuracy.

Otherwise, the Jaguars will be the up-and-down team they’ve been for the first six games of the year. Put this one on the special teams without question but Bortles’ reputation and his confidence could have gone a long way with a come from behind win that did he couldn’t make happen.

Jaguars Real Selves? Dominate Steelers 30-9

No matter what side of the line of scrimmage they were on, both the Jaguars and the Steelers were looking in the mirror. Sometimes the Jaguars were looking at a Steelers team they’d like to be like, and other times the Steelers were looking at a Jaguars team that was beating them at their own game.

When the Jaguars joined the NFL, then Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to the Steelers and said that’s whom we need to beat to be the best. They did just that in the AFC Central, winning division titles and going through Pittsburgh to do it.

So it was no surprise that both defenses got the job done in the first half.

Twice the Steelers moved the ball into the red zone and both times the Jaguars defense stiffened and held them to field goals. The offense took advantage of a great play by Jalen Ramsey who extended in front of the tight end for an interception. Using Leonard Fournette effectively inside the 15-yard line, the rookie scored for the fifth straight game to take a 7-3 lead.

As the second half unfolded, it was apparent the Steelers wanted to ran an up tempo offense and it was working. Bubble screens, quick slants and the occasional run had Pittsburgh knocking on the door in their opening drive but the Jaguars defense stiffened again and forced a FG, 9-7 Steelers.

Speed and anticipation have been what the Jaguars defense has used to evolve in 2017, plus better players and the development of Jalen Ramsey. A tipped ball at the line of scrimmage by Abry Jones was redirected to Telvin Smith who sure-handedly pulled it in and ran the other way for a TD. Jason Myers missed the PAT and the Jaguars lead 13-9.

Just two plays later, Ramsey made a nice leaping recovery from behind Antonio Brown, tapping the ball loose where Barry Church picked it off. Church has shown to be a consummate pro, calmly gathering the ball in and going the other way for a TD. This time the PAT was good and the Jaguars led 20-9. The Jaguars offense was on the field for three plays in the 3rd quarter.

When they did get on the field in the 4th quarter it was from their own 4 yard line and it was textbook Doug Marrone/Coughlin: Run it until they stop it.

And since the Steelers weren’t stopping the run, Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory were making them pay. Run, run, run and the Jaguars finished the drive with a FG to take a 23-9 lead with just under 7 minutes to play. They did not attempt one pass on the drive. The Jaguars ran the ball 18 straight times from the middle of the third quarter.

Again the Steelers tried some up-tempo on offense but Tashaun Gipson picked off Roethlisberger to give the Jaguars offense the ball near midfield. It was the fourth interception thrown by the Steelers quarterback, something he hasn’t done since 2008. It was the kind of play the Jaguars were looking for when they signed Gipson as a free agent last year.

A 90-yard TD run by Fournette capped the Jaguars scoring. Nice kick-out block by A.J. Cann and Fournette outran everybody. He’s tough, he’s shifty, but he is also plenty fast. 30-9 Jaguars.

Again a dominating defensive performance by the Jaguars, not the result of lucky bounces. Pressure on the quarterback, coverage by the corners and speed from the linebackers eliminated a lot of the things the Steelers wanted to do. The bubble screen was there early but the Jaguars, especially Aaron Colvin, figured it out. Marrone has said the Jaguars are a gap defense and they controlled their gaps, stopping the run.

At 3-2, the Jaguars are on top of the AFC South, the latest they’ve led their division since they were in the AFC Central in 1998. The resurgent LA Rams are in town at the stadium next week for the only 4:05 start of the year.

Jaguars Models Of Inconsistency, Fall To Jets In OT

For the sixth straight game, the Jaguars’ offense scored on their first possession. That’s a franchise record. It’s also the 4th straight game that Leonard Fournette had scored a TD. He’s the first Jaguars player to score in his first four games as a professional. In their opening drive, Blake Bortles was efficient and accurate, converting a long third down along the way and hitting Fournette quickly on a roll out for the touchdown. It’s just what the Jaguars were looking for. A continuation of the way they played in London.

But this was a different week, different game, and a different opponent.

On a weird play on their second possession, the Jets Bilal Powell tripped at the line of scrimmage and fell down. The Jaguars thought he’d been tackled but there was no whistle. So Powell jumped up and ran 75-yards for a touchdown to tie the game at seven.

After a brilliant series of play calls blending the run and the pass, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett got away from that sequence and started asking Bortles to drop back and throw it downfield. They had some success with that last week but the Jets had those routes covered and the offensive line wasn’t up to the challenge New York was presenting with a pass rush. So from an accurate, efficient quarterback early on, Blake looked like the Blake of old. Rushed, off-target and a bit skittish in the pocket, Bortles production dropped dramatically. A bunch of scrums on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and a fair share of mistakes toward the end of the 2nd quarter made it 10-10 at halftime.

It continued in the second half until another blown “fit” on defense allowed the Jets to break their third long run of the day. This time a 68-yard TD and a 17-10 lead. “This isn’t the ‘same old Jaguars'” is what Bortles has been telling us all year long. But he looked the part when his pass inside the 20 was tipped at the line of scrimmage and returned to the seven. Holding New York to just three points there was big as the Jets kicked a FG to make it 20-10.

It didn’t look like the Jaguars offense had enough firepower to come back from ten points down, but the defense had other ideas. A pass by the Jets was ruled a lateral and Myles Jack picked it up and ran 81-yards the other way for a TD. After review the call stood and the Jaguars were back in the game in the 4th quarter. Jack is the only player on the front 7 on the defense who could have outrun the Jets for a touchdown. 20-17, NY.

One thing the Jaguars didn’t have in the last 5 years is a defense that created opportunities. That’s changed this year with pressure on the quarterback and players who are looking for the ball. Free-agent acquisition A.J. Bouye intercepted a Josh McCown pass when the receiver fell down giving the Jaguars a chance to win the game.

Although Leonard Fournette scored on a screen pass, Aurileus Benn was called for a holding at the seven and the Jaguars did nothing on three downs. They kicked a FG to tie it at 20 and send the game into overtime. The Jets did get the ball and there was good pressure from the defensive line, McCown recovered a strip sack from Dante Fowler.

In overtime, the Jaguars defense did their job, backing the Jets defense up and giving the offense the ball at the 50 yard line where a FG would win it. But Marqise Lee dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Bortles on third down and the Jets got the ball back. Those kinds of drops are the plays that separate a consistent, solid football team with one that’s hanging on looking for a win.

As things usually happen in the NFL, when a mistake like that happens, the other team is good enough to take advantage of it. Except the Jets were held to a three and out and the Jaguars forced a punt.

That’s when another miscue by Marqis Lee let the punt go 70 yards. Add to that a block in the back by Benn, and you have a bad day for both of them. The Jaguars had the ball at the 3 but couldn’t move it. Brad Nortman with a decent kick but in Jaguars form for this game, Paul Posluszny was called for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the play putting the Jets in FG position. Three plays later they kicked the game-winning FG to gain a 23-20 victory.

This game was all over the place for the Jaguars. We still don’t know what kind of team they are. We do know when they run the football, as they did early, it allows Bortles a little breathing room and keeps the opponents defense off balance. But after the first drive, they tried something different. And it didn’t work.

They looked great in their first drive; they looked great on defense in the 4th quarter. But for all the talk of consistency by Doug Marrone and the players this week, they were anything but throughout the rest of the game. Much like the game against the Titans, the plays were there, they just didn’t make them. “Winning” the 1st quarter of the season fell to a 2-2 start with another road game next week at Pittsburgh.