Billy Donovan, Still Winning

It was about two-thirty in the morning of April 3, 2007 when Billy Donovan finally emerged from the Gators’ locker room in the bowels of the Georgia Dome. Just a few hours earlier Donovan’s Gators had beaten Ohio State for their second consecutive NCAA Basketball Championship.

I had been in that locker room earlier, doing interviews and watching the team celebrate winning it all for the second year in a row. I had been in the media scrum getting post-game answers from Billy and had seen him in the big press conference set up by the NCAA.

Unapologetically, I’ve called Billy Donovan my favorite person in sports for a long time, and that night I was just looking to shake his hand and say thanks for the ride.

As he walked out he was clearly worn by the night’s activities but still beaming from his team’s success.

“Hey!” he said to me as he crossed the hall to shake my hand.

Amazingly, he was alone. No entourage, no family, no sports information staff.

“Great job,” I said as we walked down the hall.

“You know, that’s the most impressive thing I’ve seen in my career, “ I added.

Billy slowed down and turned to me to ask, “How so?” with genuine curiosity.

“It’s one thing to say you’re coming back to win it,” I explained. “It’s a whole other thing to actually do it.”

“That’s something isn’t it?” Billy said with a laugh.

Donovan was somebody I had gotten to know over the past decade. I had covered the ups and downs of the Gator Basketball program under his leadership for his first 11 years leading up to the national title runs.

At the time the TV station I was working for was the dominant station in Gainesville and Billy had appeared with me many times live on the early news. I was there when they lost to Michigan State in the finals in 2000 and had been in Indianapolis in 2006 when the Gators won their first National Title.

My photographer that night was Matt Kingston, my co-worker and close friend in the sports department. When we traveled together, Matt always figured out how to be in the right place at the right time to get the right shots and this night was no exception.

I noticed Matt backing up and the red light on his camera flashing as Billy and I walked into the lobby of the Georgia Dome. It’s an image that always made me smile when we needed to use it in a sportscast in the future.

I was waiting again a week ago Saturday as Donovan exited the floor after the halftime ceremony celebrating the naming of the court at the O’Connell Center in his honor. After a lot of selfies, handshakes and backslapping, Billy was making his way under the stands at the O’Dome. I was standing there, again with Matt, as he emerged with my hand extended.

“Hey!” he said with a familiarity that belied the five-year gap since I’d seen him last.

He bypassed my handshake and hugged me and said, “Wow it’s great to see you. Thanks for coming!”

“Wouldn’t have missed it,” I said as he and Matt embraced.

When asked over the past couple of years what my favorite thing to cover has been during my career, I’ve easily settled on the Gators back-to-back runs to the National Championship.

A college basketball team is easy to get to know. There are only fifteen players on the roster and usually only eight or maybe nine play. You get to know these guys. You develop trusting relationships. I had that with Joakim Noah, but more closely with Chris Richard. Matt and Walter Hodge were pretty tight. So we had good background on what was going on and were able to give context to the on and off-court happenings.

I told Billy that run was the favorite thing I covered in my career and recounted to him the story of walking down the hall in the Georgia Dome.

When I got to the part about “It’s one thing to say you’re coming back to win it. It’s a whole other thing …” Billy piped up loudly and we said in unison “To actually do it!” And we both had a big laugh.

“I remember that!” he said as he was squired away.

“They were an incredible group,” Donovan had said earlier that night. “Connected as a team, played for one another, highly competitive. I think that they should go down as one of the greatest teams of all time. They started off unranked and won a national championship. (Winning their first and second round games in Jacksonville.) Then won a national championship starting the season ranked No. 1 with all the expectations to do it. And they did it under both circumstances.”

Having hired Donovan early in his 25-year tenure as Athletic Director at Florida, Jeremy Foley was instrumental in floor naming project. He and current AD Scott Stricklin worked together presenting it to the University and flew to Oklahoma City to tell Billy it was going to happen last fall.

“What Billy accomplished here no one ever could have anticipated,” Jeremy said standing on “Billy Donovan Court.” “There’s probably a whole generation that thinks Florida basketball has always been on the map. He did it with an outstanding group of assistant coaches and an incredible support staff, but at the end of the day, Billy Donovan created something very special here.”

“During my time at Kentucky,” Stricklin said of his five years with the Wildcats basketball program, “I had a front-row seat for the impact Billy made, not just on the Florida program, but our league. You saw the kind of coach and person he was, and the respect he had around the country. This was just an obvious way to honor him.”

Those are big shoes current Gators Head Coach Mike White has had to fill. It could be intimidating, but While was nothing but supportive of honoring Donovan’s legacy.

“It’s a given,” White said. “To me, the way people revere him as a human being in this profession says as much about him as the games and championships he won. This is something that definitely needed to happen.”

“It’s really emotional for me, and I’m humbled and grateful for this day,” Donovan said to thunderous applause during the halftime ceremony. “When I look at my name down there, I don’t just see my name. I look at a lot of other people and their names. When you look down at the court, don’t just see my name; see your name there. You’re as much a part of it as well.”

Many of those people who were part of Billy’s 19-year run of success at Florida came back to honor him that night. From assistant coaches to former players, more than a dozen who played in the NBA, all were on hand, most to just say “thank you” for the impact Donovan had on their lives and careers.
“It’s crazy to just how great of a program he helped build and how it prospered under him,” former Gator Guard Chris Chiozza told ESPN. com. “I don’t know if there’s ever been something like this where you walk in and you see 15 NBA guys in here and we come together, we’re talking like we just played on the same team and most of us were years apart.”
Billy has continued his success in the NBA. Donovan has helped the Oklahoma City Thunder to a division title and a perennial spot in the post-season. They’re currently the 6th seed in the Western Conference but after a so-so start to the season they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league since the first of the year. They’d won four straight and eight of their last ten going into this weekend.
“As coaches, in the end, it’s not about wins and losses,” Billy reminded everyone that night. “It’s about how our players talk about us. Those are the relationships that last and that’s what important.”
In other words, Billy’s still helping everybody win.
I do have one complaint about that night. And maybe it’s nit picking. Is the decal saying “Billy Donovan Court” too small? It’s great and looks like Billy’s signature. But maybe a little bigger?

Jake, Jax and Sports: A Perfect Match

All of Jake Godbold’s time in office happened before the Internet and cell phones. Despite that, he was more connected than most people, certainly politicians, are today.

Connected to everybody. Not just people in his party. Not just to those who voted for him. Not just to his donors or his staff.

Connected to everybody.

So without cell phones, email or the internet, that meant to get to know something about or to get to know Jake Godbold, it happened face to face.

My first face-to-face meeting with Jake was at one of his regular places, Cotton’s Barbeque on Main Street. We sat in a booth, but not in the back. A booth in the middle of the restaurant with a steady stream of admirers, friends and well-wishers. It was my first hint that you never really got Jake Godbold to yourself. Because he belonged to everybody.

He grew up here and wanted to make his hometown shine.

“If you gave Jake a chance to live anywhere in the world,” former Mayor John Delaney said at Jake’s memorial service on Thursday. “If you paid him a million dollars. Switzerland, wherever, he’d pick Jacksonville.”

When he was elected Mayor, Godbold commissioned a survey to find out what would make his town better. He wanted the people who live here to like living here.

And he thought sports would be the perfect answer.

When Colt Fever happened in 1979, Godbold put Jacksonville on the map. Nobody outside of a two state radius even knew the Georgia/Florida game was played here.

When recounting the many accomplishments of Jake’s political career, Betty Holzendorf, his former aide and member of both the Florida House and Senate, said, “He didn’t do those things for himself. He did those things for the city of Jacksonville.”

Dreaming big, Jake put Jacksonville in the game to host a Super Bowl: without a team here. As crazy as it sounds now, it wasn’t that far-fetched at the time. The NFL was cultivating all kinds of cities as potential expansion sites. They were even looking for neutral fields to play the Conference Championship games on, looking to keep weather out of the equation after Cincinnati hosted San Diego in -63 degree wind chill.

The city was invited to make a Super Bowl proposal to the league at their owners meeting in Washington in 1983. I was standing outside the door of the meeting room, reporting on the proceedings, as the Jacksonville contingent walked in. Jake was the last in line and literally grabbed me by the lapel to pull me into the meeting. I’m still convinced he was looking for somebody else dressed in coat and tie to fill out the contingent.

When the formal proposal was over, the owners gave Jake a few minutes to speak. That’s when the real pitch started. The personal pitch from Jake directly to the twenty-eight owners. Jacksonville wasn’t getting a Super Bowl, but Jake had the owners’ attention. It wasn’t so much that he charmed them, but they just liked him. Jake was easily likeable.

When the meeting broke up, Jake invited me to sit with him and his Chief of Staff Don McClure in the lobby of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel where the meeting was being held to debrief the presentation. I sat next to Jake on a couch to his right; Don was in a chair to his left. As we started talking, Billy Sullivan, then the owner of the New England Patriots, walked behind Don and said over his chair, “Hey Jake, you’re not getting a Super Bowl. Maybe you’d like to host a Jackson’s concert at the Gator Bowl?” Sullivan had acquired the rights to promote the Jackson’s upcoming stadium tour.

Jake turned to me and held his hand to the left of his mouth and in his version of a whisper said, “The Jackson’s?”

I leaned in and said quietly, “You know, Michael Jackson. Wears a glove, sings, dances.”

“You mean the kid from the Jackson Five?” Jake ‘whispered’ back.

“You know he’s not a kid any more,” I said.

“Would that be good?” Jake asked me.

“Very good,” I answered quickly.

With that, Jake told Sullivan that he’d be interested, and Sullivan invited us to his suite. When we got to the door he said to Don, and me “Would you mind waiting here?” as he ushered Jake inside.

Don and I bided our time for what didn’t seem very long in the hallway when the door opened and the Mayor and the owner of the Patriots came out laughing. Sullivan walked past us and as we followed Jake said, “We have a Jackson’s concert. They offered us three, what do you think?”

“Take them all,” I said.

And with that Jake called ahead and said, “We’ll take all three,” as we headed back to the lobby.

I peeled off to call the TV station, again it was before cell phones, and Jacksonville, Florida, hosting three concerts of the Jackson’s “Victory Tour” in the summer of 1984 was the lead story on that night’s six o’clock news.

I’d like to say that I was one of Jake’s friends and confidants and had something to do with his decision-making. But anybody who was around Jacksonville at the time would probably say the same. He made everybody he met feel that way. I know he did that for me.

It wasn’t long after I came to work in Jacksonville in 1981 that the phone at my desk would ring a couple times a week between the six and the 11 o’clock news and Jake would be on the other end. It was back when people watched local news and read the paper as their primary sources of information. Since I worked at what then was the dominant TV station in town, Jake wanted to make sure I had the story right. He didn’t always agree with my assessment of what he was doing and he let me know that sometimes when he called, right away.

“You need to be better than this,” he told long-time aide Martha Barrett early in her career. I laughed to myself as she recounted the story at his memorial service on Thursday. It was a retort I heard often from Jake early in my tenure in Jacksonville as well.

The most important thing to Jake was he was making Jacksonville better. Making me get the story right, he thought, was a key to getting people behind the ideas and moving the city forward.

So I wasn’t surprised later that year when my phone rang and the Mayor was on the other end. I could tell he was a bit agitated.

“Sam, I’ve got a guy here who says he wants to bring a football team to town and I want you to talk to him,” Jake said in a more forceful voice than usual.

It was a time when Robert Irsay had been through here with Colt Fever, John Meacham, the owner of the New Orleans Saints had negotiated with the city to bring his team here and Bill Bidwell came through looking for a new home for the St. Louis Cardinals.

So I was skeptical, and being 27 years old and emboldened by the Mayor’s confidence in me I’m sure I was nothing short of insolent to Fred Bullard when Jake put him on the phone.

“Hey Mr. Bullard, don’t jerk us around,” I remember saying at the beginning of the conversation about the USFL. And at some point I said, “It takes $13 million to get this done, do you have $13 million?” I told you I was insolent.

Bullard was extremely good-natured, answered my questions and with a chuckle gave the phone back to the Mayor. (I cringe telling that story but Fred and I have laughed about it many times since, thankfully.)

“I’ll call you later,” Jake said.

Sure enough an hour or so later, the Mayor rang back at my desk and wanted to know what I thought about the USFL coming here. They had been in existence for a year and were looking to expand. They had a TV contract and some star players and looked to be a legitimate football league.

“I think it’s real Jake,” I told the Mayor as I went through the reasons the USFL seemed to be on stable footing.

Word that Bullard was in town and that the league was considering Jacksonville as an expansion city had gotten out earlier in the day. The afternoon paper, the Jacksonville Journal, had a sports columnist who had editorialized that the Mayor should run as far and as fast as he could from the idea of a USFL team, saying it would scare off the NFL. Jake was very concerned about that.

“That won’t matter,” I said flatly. “This league looks real and the NFL will pay attention to how we do with a franchise.”

“Alright,” the Mayor said. “We’ll have a press conference later in the week.”

This was typical of the relationship I had with Godbold, and somewhere in there during each discussion he told me what was on the record and what wasn’t. I remember reporting that the city was in negotiations with the USFL and in a blend of commentary, said on the air that I thought it was a good idea.

Talks with Jake Godbold were a big part my career and I’ve found out in subsequent years that talks with Jake were a big part of a lot of people’s careers in town.

“I had a great relationship with Jake,” my friend Tom Wills said Thursday. “You could call it a love affair: Jake loved to talk to me and I loved to listen to him. What made him such a great talker was that he was a great doer.”

In my last conversation with Jake we talked about going fishing. He lamented the unceremonious way my TV career was ended but was quick to say how much he enjoyed my Sunday columns.

I hope he’d like this one.

NASCAR and Fitness? Jimmie Johnson Changed That

A few years ago my friend, racecar driver Scott Lagasse, Jr. from St. Augustine invited me to come along on his Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety, I like riding my bike, and although I was coming off knee surgery, I joined in with some of Scott’s high-profile friends from the racing community to try and help “humanize” the relationship between cyclists and cars on the road.

One of the fun things about the ride was a lap around Daytona International Speedway and a finish in Victory Lane. Fifty-five miles in, we made the final turn south; the track loomed in the distance. That means the guys in the front of the peloton of about sixty riders kicked it up a notch.

They left me behind. In bike language, they “dropped” me.

That’s when I felt a hand in the middle of my back and the rider next to me said, “Hey buddy, we’ve all been there, let’s go.” I recognized 7-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson’s voice immediately. I looked at him and I’m sure I said something incoherent. When I glanced at my computer, I noticed we were already doing 28 mph. Jimmy Johnson was pushing me, riding one-handed doing 28!

“Let’s go get them,” I said as Johnson shoved me up to the back of the pack. It was my first hint at Jimmie Johnson’s level of fitness.

Lagasse and his friends ride the “Champions Ride” every year during Speedweeks in Daytona to help raise the profile of bike and vehicle safety. Anybody who’s been riding has had an unpleasant “interaction” with a vehicle.

That includes Scott and even Jimmie Johnson. Johnson will start on the outside of Row Three in today’s Daytona 500 looking for his third victory in “The Great American Race.” He announced earlier this year that 2020 would be his final year driving full-time on the NASCAR circuit,

Jimmie has been part of the Champions Ride since the beginning. He rides or runs at each stop on the NASCAR schedule and when he’s home in Charlotte. Being in a sport where safety is part of the rules, Johnson knows safety between cars and riders is paramount.

“Safety is everything,” Johnson told me at a rest stop during this year’s ride last Thursday morning. “I think it’s the responsibility of the cyclist and the motorists to find some common ground there. That’s the key.”

Jimmie is dedicated to fitness. He ran in the Daytona Half-Marathon last weekend before the Busch Clash. “The Half turned out better than the Clash,” he joked.

In his home base of Charlotte, Johnson has started numerous fitness initiatives. He’s shared his passion with everybody.

“I’ve enjoyed my journey and I wanted to share it with my friends. I’m impressed with the community of running and cycling and triathlons,” Johnson said.

Promoting small lifestyle changes among his crew and other crewmembers in the garage, Johnson has changed a lot of the perception of fitness in racing.

“Jimmie has changed the sport in that aspect,” said Lagasse, who will drive and field two teams full-time on the Trans Am circuit this year. “Guys used to think it showed weakness. Now team owners demand it. The drivers are training harder than they’ve ever trained. Crew chiefs pay attention to it. Even kids coming up now have trainers.”

Lagasse says he used to be a basketball player and used the sport to stay in shape. About ten years ago he started riding thanks to his father, Scott Sr.

“It’s something we can do together and be competitive,” Scott said of riding with his dad, who turns sixty-one this week. Scott Sr. is a two time Sports Car Club of America National Champion who still rides. “That’s probably where some of my passion comes from. He’s a machine.”

Cars and bikes don’t mix well on the roads in Jacksonville and North Florida. There’s not enough room. Despite the vast size of our community, there are very few bike lanes. It hasn’t been part of the plan. Neither group seems to have a good grasp of the laws that govern the road. That creates tension instantly.

That’s where the State of Florida’s Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow comes in. They’re a state agency that is solely dedicated to car, bike and pedestrian safety. .

“They work tirelessly to raise the awareness that both cyclists and motorists need about how to share the road,” Lagasse said before this year’s Champions Ride. “Both groups have a shared responsibility. Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow’s mission is safety.”

This year’s ride was in honor of Volusia County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Scofield who was killed in a bike accident just outside of Daytona last June. Lagasse had ridden with Scofield in the past and credits him with the large law enforcement support the ride has year after year.

“Frank had a lot to do with the success of this ride,” Lagasse said as he presented a signed cycling jersey to Scofeld’s widow. “We’re riding his training route today.”

Despite their sponsorship agreement ending, Lagasse says he’s staying involved with the state agency to help get the word out.

“They’re emailing me at midnight to ask if I’ll be a part of an event. They’re working all times of day because they believe in what they’re doing,” Scott explained. “It motivates me to want to do more.”

Two London Games Hurts

Everything about the Jaguars moving a second home game to London stinks.

For now.

When the Jaguars made that announcement earlier this week all anybody heard was “They’re playing a second game in London, they’re taking a home game away from us”. When I talked to Jaguars President Mark Lamping later in the week he laid out the Jaguars reason why and a lot of it makes sense.

For the long term.

“We understood what the response from our fans would be,” Lamping told me Thursday. “But we have to make these hard decisions so there aren’t any questions about the future of the Jaguars in Jacksonville. “

So they’re saying that this short-term pain is going to insure the franchise in the future in Jacksonville?

Well, I like that part.

But how they just dropped the decision to play a second game in London in the middle of the week kind of out of nowhere was a strategic error by Lamping and Jaguars Owner Shad Khan. There were a lot of different ways they could’ve told us this without just one day saying, “Hey! We’re playing two games in London next year.”

Because as soon as they said that, nobody heard another word. All we heard was “They’re taking another home game from us! They’re moving to London!”

They underestimated how people from Jacksonville understand that we’re the underdog. We need to do things a little differently. We’re not stupid. Tell us why and bring us in on the process.

People outside the city have told us for years that eventually the team would move. First it was Los Angeles and since Khan bought the team it’s been London. I’ve defended Khan in the past both here and among my media colleagues when I travel. This will add fuel to their fire and diminish any argument in Khan or Jacksonville’s defense.

Except Lamping assured me that’s not part of the plan.

He said he Jaguars have no plan to play a a third game in London or Barcelona or Stuttgart in 2021 or a fourth in 2022.

Right now the NFL’s commitment to London ends this year with four games in 2020 and two more at Tottenham Hotspurs’ home ground at White Hart Lane for the next eight seasons. So the league is looking at what their international plan will be going forward.

And not just for London. They’d like to play games in Germany and Spain and perhaps continue in London and in Mexico City.

But for now, for us, it stinks.

If they break ground on Lot J and the Shipyards project this year, the timeline for those projects is to be completed by 2023. So I’d expect two games in London at least until then.

Add the fact that parking at Lot J is going away for a while and it’s Jaguars fans that will bear the brunt of the burden just to get six games in Jacksonville for possibly the next three years.

If the Jaguars are telling us the truth about their long-term plan, then that’s great. This team will always be the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Shad’s charge to me is ‘Do what we need to do to have a successful franchise in Jacksonville,’” Lamping said.

And Lamping and Khan believe that, for now, playing a second game in London, along with the Lot J project, the Shipyards and Daily’s place all will create enough revenue to keep the team competitive and solvent.

Once the revenue starts coming in from these alternate sources, according to Lamping, they can decide if playing a game overseas is necessary or still a good idea.

We all know they make more money playing home games in London, so what’s to keep them from just playing more games there?

Lamping points to Khan’s commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars to Jacksonville and says Shad wants the team here.

“The initiatives of the Lot J project, the Shipyards, Daily’s Place, all of those are important to our long term plan for the Jaguars in Jacksonville in the future.”

I’ll take him at his word on that only because he was most accurate when he said, “There might be some short term pain for fans to ensure our long term success here in Jacksonville.”

Lamping is used to this kind of heat. He was the most vilified person in St. Louis as he negotiated for the construction of a new Busch Stadium for the baseball Cardinals. When he talked to the Governor and state leaders in Illinois, gaining leverage for the new stadium, they wanted to run him out of town. He works for Shad and Shad wants to get this done. He’s judged by the bottom line.

There are a few other things that go into the decision to play two home games in London.

One is the NFL was looking for a team to play two games there in one season to see how it went. So the Jaguars are the guinea pigs for that experiment.

Will the league and the Jaguars renew in London?

Probably so.

They like the international vibe and certainly Shad likes being able to entertain his international clients from the UK, Asia and Europe at Wembley. Who knows he may own Wembley in the next couple years?

What the NFL is lacking is teams that have the flexibility to play a home game in London. The Jaguars have that flexibility for now, most teams do not based on their stadium lease.

Which brings us to the next five to eight years for the Jaguars franchise here in Jacksonville. If we want to stay competitive as a NFL city, a rebuild or renovation of the current stadium is in our not-so-distant future.

And if we’re going to contribute to upgrade or redo the stadium, one of the negotiating points will be the Jaguars have to commit to play their games there.

Because of the Jacksonville’s small market size, it’ll take other revenue besides just sellouts.

Lamping points to Patriots Place in Foxboro as a gleaming example of what can happen. And I agree with all of that. In the end, Patriots Place makes money for Patriots owner Robert Kraft. And the same will happen for Shad Khan, long term, with his downtown projects. But the Patriots play 10 home games right next door to Patriots Place. And they win games and go to the playoffs. Lamping says once the Lot J project starts to make money it might negate a need for a second game in London.

And the timeline for that is 2023.

When the Jaguars were a competitive franchise in the late ‘90’s, winning at a .560 clip, sellouts were a regular occurrence. Since then they’ve won about a quarter of their games. But when they win, like in 2017, people show up. Look around the league. It’s no different anywhere else. For years, the Bucs had about 40,000 fans in Tampa Bay and they showed up despite how bad the team was. You might remember they floated the idea of playing half of their games in Orlando. Same for the Saints in New Orleans and the Dolphins in Miami. When the Cowboys were 1-15 in 1989, Texas Stadium was empty.

The same thing happens here: Win games and fans show up.

To use Lamping’s words, “The fans have clearly outperformed the team.”

What hasn’t happened since the Jaguars founding in 1993 is corporate growth in North Florida. I blame civic leadership for that. The population has grown and like anywhere else, a winning football team brings fans to the stadium.

But the kind of underpinning NFL owners are looking for comes from corporations and sponsorship. The fact that Jaguars games are shown on television only in parts of Florida, South Georgia and in the visitors city doesn’t give potential corporate sponsors the kind of exposure they’re looking for.

How do you solve that? A big part of the answer is winning more games.

A winning team shows up on national television, on Sunday Night and Monday Night Football. It doesn’t get flexed out of prime time.

I don’t mind playing one game in London every year. It makes a good connection with one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Khan pointed out that the reaction to the one game in London was very positive. Apparently his reference to the expected positive reaction for playing a second game there was supposed to be for the attitude five years from now.

But not for how we feel now. Because for now, it’s painful, disappointing and is hard to see as a plus.

When it comes to revenue I’m always for people making money. At some point Shad and the NFL will have to decide if it’s just all about money

I’ll take him at his word that he wants to have a long-term viable franchise in Jacksonville and it’s these other revenue streams and, for now, the second game in London that will guarantee the Jaguars have “Jacksonville” as part of their name for the foreseeable future.

Lamping said this week any kind of franchise shift is something the current Jaguars management would never consider. They want to make more money, but they’re not moving like the Chargers, Rams and Raiders.

“They have taken steps that we would not consider, but they have taken steps to fix their revenue by leaving Oakland, by leaving St. Louis and by leaving San Diego.”

Maybe this was a public relations stumble, a miscalculation by Lamping and Khan. Maybe Lot J, the Shipyards and Daily’s Place will be the genesis of a much-needed renaissance for downtown.

I know owning an NFL team is not a charity project and that Shad wants the Jaguars to make money.

And I know Shad is a competitive guy and doesn’t want to sit in the bottom 25% of revenue earners among NFL teams.

But how they rolled out this step was a strategic mistake, underestimating Jaguars fans passion here in Jacksonville. They underestimated the people in Jacksonville and what we can do, and how we’ll buy in if we believe you’re on our side. We got rid of the smell, we got rid of tolls, and we even beat the odds and got an NFL team.

They seem to lack somebody with real roots in Jacksonville to help shape their decisions. When they got the Clevelander to sponsor the pool and the North End Zone, anybody who’s been around here a while knew that wasn’t the answer.

We’re Atlantic/Jax/Neptune/Ponte Vedra Beach. Not South Beach.

Lamping is fond of saying, “Watch what we do.” Not to worry Mark, we will. We’ll be playing close attention.

Because for now, this hurts.

Boselli Denied Again

If there’s a need to prove that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the most difficult Hall to get into, look no further than the Modern-Era Class of 2020.

While Jaguars fans are disappointed and frustrated that Tony Boselli hasn’t gained induction to Canton yet, Steeler fans and Bucs fans feel the same. Boselli was a finalist for the fourth consecutive year. The Steelers Alan Faneca has also been a finalist for four years. And John Lynch has been discussed “in the room” by the Selection Committee seven meetings in a row.

“We’ll go to Tampa and see what happens next year,” Boselli graciously told me after he was informed he wasn’t among the Centennial Class of 2020.

There’s a lot of support for Boselli among the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He’s been a finalist four years in a row and has made the cut to the final ten in the last three years. The Committee believes he was a great player. But he’s a great player in a crowded field of other great players.

This year there were five spots available for the 15-modern era finalists. Troy Polamalu had one locked up as a “first ballot” inductee. While I don’t think that should be a thing in football based on the process, it’s become a thing and it’s hurt Boselli and other’s chances for enshrinement in Canton.

And next year the numbers are difficult for any of the finalists. Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson will be eligible for the first time. The general mind-set of the committee over the last decade is “this guy can’t wait.”

So if you put those three guys in, that leaves two spots for 12 players. Add Jared Allen to the mix as a first-year eligible and you see what I mean. Not a lot of room for Boselli, Lynch, or Faneca. Add LeRoy Butler, Bryant Young, Richard Seymour, Zach Thomas and the six other finalists from this year and the path to football immortality gets pretty narrow.

“You are elated when the candidate you advocate for gets his gold jacket and dejected when your nominee is turned away,” said Tampa Bay’s Ira Kaufman, a selector since 2005. “You can’t help but feel you could’ve done a better job making their case for a gold jacket.”

Kaufman presented Lynch for the seventh straight year on Saturday and has brought new information to the meeting every year. That can be difficult with only five minutes allotted for a presentation.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Ron Borges, a Hall of Fame Selection Committee member who presented Ty Law for three years said after Law’s selection in 2019. “It’s difficult when you bring someone back multiple times. You have to change your approach in some form or come up with some new-found statistic. But you have to be careful. You don’t want to stray too far from the basic facts you presented before.”

“While the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be the ultimate individual honor, the comments made by people like Jason Taylor, Michael McCrary, Chuck Smith and Bruce Smith as well as several others means so much and I am humbled,” Boselli added.

Those comments were a part of my presentation for Boselli this year. Without a lot of statistical comparison for a tackle, relying on the impression Tony left on his opponents and others of his era who played his position is important. And you can’t find anybody who doesn’t say Boselli wasn’t a great player and Hall of Fame worthy.

Up until this year, Hall of Fame Defensive End Bruce Smith, was reluctant to talk about his matchups with Boselli, but endorsed him just last week.

“He was a stud,” Smith said of Boselli and how he dominated him in their playoff game in Buffalo. “He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”

Hall of Famers, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf all played in the same era as Boselli and all believe he belongs in the Hall.

“I used to check my game against his every week,” Jones said.

In the five concurrent years Tony played with those other tackles, it was Boselli who was named as the All-Pro 1st Team tackle three consecutive years.

John Hannah, considered the best guard to ever play the game said, “When I watched Tony Boselli play I thought he was the best offensive tackle I ever saw.”

So if everybody thinks he’s fantastic and worthy, why isn’t he in?

While it’s a numbers game as I mentioned earlier, and those numbers are dwindling with Joe Jacoby, Kevin Mawae and Steve Hutchinson no longer on the ballot, there was a log jam among offensive linemen for the past four years.

It’s happened before. We talked about Lynn Swann and John Stallworth for nearly a decade before Swann was selected and Stallworth was enshrined the next year. Same thing with Tim Brown, Andre Reed and Cris Carter. All eventually got in but it took a while.

When matching Boselli’s career against the other finalists, the only knock is his length of service. Boselli played 91 regular season games over seven years and six more in the playoffs.

There are plenty examples of “short careers” among those enshrined in Canton. Terrell Davis played 78 games. Kenny Easley 89. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Swann, Kellen Winslow, and Dwight Stephenson all had careers that are considered “short.” But all have gained entrance into the Hall.

For some reason, the confluence of this particular collection of members of the Selection Committee, players who have been finalists, and offensive linemen also on the ballot have so far denied Boselli a spot in Canton.

One friend of mine called it “stupefying.” Some called it “baffling.”

Being in the room and listening to the qualifications of the other finalists, I understand it. I don’t like it, but I understand it. As I’ve said many times, the most frustrating thing about being on the committee are the players I have to leave off every year that I know are deserving of a bust in Canton.

So if Tony wants me back, I’ll go next year to Tampa and see what happens. I know it’s hard on him and nothing disappoints me more than the conversation I’ve had with him the last three years.

It’s tough, which will make it that much more sweet when it happens. And it will.

Boselli’s Chance

This coming Saturday in Miami, former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli and Packers safety LeRoy Butler are among the 15 finalists for the remaining five spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s “Centennial Class.” Recognizing the NFL’s 100th anniversary and the year 2020, the Hall expanded this year’s class to include 10 seniors, two coaches, three contributors and five modern-era candidates. Those modern-era candidates are the finalists we’ll talk about this Saturday, players whose careers ended less than twenty-five years ago.

A “Blue Ribbon” Committee was appointed to select the first fifteen members of the Centennial Class. The regular Selection Committee will discuss the final fifteen Saturday and whittle that group down to the final five for enshrinement in Canton with a little twist on the rules from previous years.

Normally the Selection Committee talks about players and coaches and the final five have to endure an up or down vote. Each has to get 80% of the Selection Committee’s endorsement to gain entrance into the Hall. This year the Committee will only talk about players and there will be no up or down vote. The final five will be part of the class.

It’s the fourth consecutive year Boselli has made the finalists list. It’s the first time Butler has made it “in the room.” Making it “in the room” gives a player about an 88% chance of eventually making it to the Hall.

Because it’s his fourth year in the final fifteen, Boselli has a better chance this year than Butler but I think both deserve enshrinement in Canton. I’ll give support to LeRoy’s candidacy during the meeting. He’s a four-time All-Pro and four times was elected to the Pro Bowl. He played on a Super Bowl championship team. He was on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the ‘90’s. He has a strong case for the Hall.

But it’s my job as the Jacksonville representative to present Tony’s case to the other forty-seven selectors. The Green Bay rep will present LeRoy’s case.

The Selection Committee is a group of reporters and two Hall of Fame members who are serious-minded, smart, experienced and well prepared. They’re not swayed by flowery rhetoric or great oratory skills. They’re interested in facts they might not have uncovered. They want to hear what the candidate’s contemporaries say about his qualifications, his teammates and opponents, players and coaches.

Boselli had been eligible for the Hall for eleven years before he became a finalist. Give credit to my colleague Vito Stellino, a Hall of Fame writer himself and an at-large member of the Selection Committee for jump-starting Tony’s candidacy. His off-season reminder to Committee members that Boselli’s career exceeded the length of some recent inductee’s gave Tony’s case an early push.

There’s really not much debate about the quality of Boselli’s play. Nobody disputes that at the peak of his performance, he was among the best, maybe in the top two of those who ever played tackle in the NFL. (The consensus is Anthony Munoz is the best tackle ever. Even Boselli thinks so.)

Players from Tony’s era who have made it to Canton all believe in his qualifications.

Munoz said he thinks Boselli “is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

“He had the versatility of Gary Zimmerman and Walter Jones,” said John Randle, who Boselli calls his toughest opponent. “He was patient, that’s what makes the great ones I don’t see that much these days. Tony had great feet, he never got crossed over.”

Jason Taylor suffered a beat down in a nationally televised game and said recently, “ Tony Boselli wore me out! In fact, if they didn’t turn off the lights, he would still be kicking my a**. He belongs in that (Hall of Fame) box.”

Even Bruce Smith, previously reluctant to talk about his matchups with Boselli, endorsed him this week. “He was a stud. He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”

Walter Jones was a few years older than Boselli but admitted he looked at Tony’s game tape each week to compare his own game.. You could call the era that included Jones and Boselli the “Golden Age of Tackles.” Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf were all in that time frame and all are in the Hall. All also admit Boselli might have been the best of the lot.

John Hannah, considered the best guard to ever play the game said, “When I watched Tony Boselli play I thought he was the best offensive tackle I ever saw.”

Boselli ranks either first or second among the tackles of his era when it comes to sacks per game, rushing yards to his side and most other quantifiable statistics. He was named All-Pro four times by different organizations and was five times selected to the Pro Bowl. He’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the’90’s despite playing only half of the decade.

So the only question about Tony is the length of his career. Seven years. Ninety-seven games including six playoff contests.

There are numerous examples of players in the Hall of Fame who played less than ten years in the league.

Well respected NFL Historian and editor of Pro Football Journal John Turney recently named his “All-
Short Career” team perhaps in reaction to the recent early retirements of Luke Kuechly (8 years), Rob Grokowski, (9 years) Calvin Johnson (9 years) and Andrew Luck (6 years).

Boselli was an all-first team tackle on offense. The other was Jimbo Covert of the Bears, recently named to the Hall by the Blue Ribbon Committee. Covert played eight seasons and 111 games. Less than a full season more than Tony.

Names you might recognize also on that “Short Career” offensive team: Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Lynn Swann, Kellen Winslow, Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis and Dwight Stephenson, all in the Hall of Fame among others. Davis gained enshrinement in 2017 and played but 78 games in the NFL.

If you like numbers, here are some that might surprise you:

Twenty-five percent of the tackles in the Hall played less than 100 games. Thirteen percent of all players in the Hall played less than 100 games.

Pro football reference has a stat called “games as primary starter” at their position. A full 35% of the hall, 97 of the 279 players in the Hall of Fame were the “primary starter” at their position for ten years or less.

The same research lists 14 of the 30 tackles in the Hall of Famer, nearly half as the “primary starter” for their teams for ten years or less. Why?

There’s been an ebb and flow in the length of careers over the NFL’s first century. Until about 1960 it wasn’t unusual for a player’s career to be less than ten years.

There was not the same medical skill and procedures as now and certainly not the money. Guys went on to other careers. Duke Slater, a member of the Centennial Class, played nine years and ninety games before retiring at age 32. At the time he was an attorney and a judge in Chicago. It wasn’t until the very late 50’s and 60’s that careers in the NFL started to expand. Better medical attention, more money in the game. Now the trend could be shorter careers. The toll on guys bodies with a 12 month commitment, the amount of money now in the game is giving them an opportunity and for some an incentive to retire early.

So perhaps the Selection Committee will recalibrate it’s thought process when it comes to length of careers. Will they deny Kuechly, Gronkowski or Johnson entrance to the Hall because they chose to end their careers when it appeared they could still play? I would hope not. A less than ten-year career will be more the norm and not the exception in the future.

It’s still an uphill battle for Boselli with fellow offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson also as finalists again this year. John Lynch is a finalist for the seventh time.
Eight of the fifteen to be discussed in the room are finalists for the first time. Troy Polamalu is considered the only favorite to gain entrance this year.

While I think Tony has a strong case for the Hall, especially in light of the precedents set by the selection in recent years of players with short careers, I can tell you that in my twenty-five years on the Committee, in that room on that Saturday, anything can happen.

Pro Football Hall of Fame 2020

In my 25 years as the Jacksonville representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee the biggest frustration has been the candidates I’ve had to leave out. Each year, especially when the voting gets down to the final ten, me and the rest of the Selection Committee Members cross off five candidates who are Hall of Fame worthy.

This year the Hall of Fame is planning to induct 20 new members to celebrate the 2020 “Centennial Class.” It’s been a little confusing for fans who are used to the Hall announcing their class on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. That’s normally restricted to five Modern Era selections and three more, a combination of Seniors and Contributors.

A “Blue Ribbon” committee was chosen this year to select fifteen new members divided among ten Seniors, two coaches and three contributors.

“This was the most thorough vetting of candidates in the Hall’s history and it needed to be,” said my fellow Hall of Fame Selector Rick Gosselin. “Our charge was to scour 100 years of professional football and find the most deserving candidates who have slipped through the cracks,”

Gosselin, a respected NFL reporter and football historian was one of the twenty-five people on the Blue Ribbon Committee. Thirteen of those are on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. Bill Belichick and Hall of Famers John Madden, Gil Brandt, Ron Wolf and Bill Polian were also part of the Blue Ribbon process.

Jacksonville’s Harold Carmichael is on the list of Seniors selected by the Blue Ribbon committee for enshrinement in Canton. His career ended in 1984 so while he was eligible as a Modern Era Candidate for my first 15 years on the Committee, he never made it as a finalist. I, and many other Selection Committee members were baffled by his exclusion.

To try and alleviate a backlog of deserving candidates, the Hall has adjusted the process slightly in the last few years. They’ve added new categories and increased the size of the class trying to keep a player, coach or contributor from “slipping through the cracks.”

Everybody, players, coaches and contributors were in the complete process competing for just five spots in the past. Of the more than one hundred eligible and nominated people on the first ballot each year, getting it down to five meant I left guys I thought were Hall of Famers off my ballot. There just wasn’t enough space.

Quarterbacks and television producers competing against each other with personnel evaluators and head coaches on the same ballot. They’ve given Contributors their own category, alternating with Seniors between two and one eligible candidates each year. Players and coaches are still in the same pool, all competing for five spots.

From the more than a hundred, down to the 25 semi-finalists, that list was pared down to 15 by remote voted by the members (now 48) of the Selection Committee. Those fifteen are then brought in “the room” the Saturday before the Super Bowl for the Selection Committee meeting. We discuss each candidate in detail. If it sounds like a long process, it is.

When I first started on the Committee the meeting started at 7AM, they served a continental breakfast and the announcement was at noon. Now the meeting starts at seven, and there’s a TV show at 8pm. They also serve two full meals.

Gosselin’s charge to “scour the first 100 years of pro football” to find deserving candidates was the mission and they accomplished it. Carmichael was among the ten Seniors selected for induction into Canton. His qualifications have always been there and on this Blue Ribbon committee he also passed the “eye test.”

The “eye test” used to be a bigger factor in the Hall selection process. It’s still part of it but the amount of information available means numbers play a bigger role.

Carmichael is certainly deserving and it was a surprise that he was selected over Drew Pearson. The Raines grad was a second-team selection on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1970’s. Pearson was on the first-team.

Over last weekend the Hall decided to publicize the Centennial Class by announcing Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson as new members headed to Canton this year. Somewhat surprising, Tom Flores and Don Coryell, both finalists in the past in the regular selection process were passed over. Johnson’s career was short in Dallas and Miami but he did win two Super Bowls. Flores resume is long including Super Bowl victories. I think Coryell deserves a place in Canton because he changed the game with his “Air Coryell” despite his lack of post-season success.

Selecting Alex Karras might have been controversial in the past because of his suspension in 1963 for his involvement in gambling. Paul Hornung was also suspended that year for the same thing but was elected to the Hall in 1986, his fifteenth year of eligibility. Karras is now in as a part of the Hall thirty-four years later. The difference? Hornung was on Lombardi’s Packers who won championships: Karras played in Detroit where they didn’t win any.

One surprise was the inclusion of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Tagliabue was one of three contributors elected despite making it as a finalist four times and not being selected. Discussions about Tagliabue have been long and heated among the Selection Committee. You could call him a polarizing figure among the reporters and players in that room. He is the only contributor candidate ever brought to the full committee who wasn’t voted in since the category was added in 2014.

The induction in Canton this August could have a distinct Jacksonville flair as Leroy Butler and Tony Boselli are both finalists In Miami. We’ll talk about their chances of joining Carmichael in the Hall of Fame next week.

Tiger Vs. Tiger Isn’t The Only Similarity

If you’ve never been to Clemson, you’re not alone. It’s a destination. You’re not going to accidentally end up in Clemson. In the northwest corner of South Carolina, Clemson is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the shores of Lake Hartwell.

While the university has always been known as “Clemson.” The town was originally called “Calhoun” until the 1940’s when the name was changed to Clemson. The town is pretty much only there because of the school and Princeton Review named it the top place in their “town and gown” ratings where they rank the relationship between the school and the town.

They once shot a Burt Lancaster movie in Clemson, the producer saying they were looking for a place “where nothing was going on.”

There’s no lack of support for Clemson Tiger sports and the football team though. The university is committed to having a nationally competitive program. And the fans do their part. Their football program is bolstered by the “ITPAY” fundraising organization founded in 1934 specifically to raise money to keep the team competitive. Originally it stood for, “I Pay Ten A Year.” Now IPTAY is just the moniker: it has raised over $360 million in the last six years.

The private fundraising group keeps them competitive with schools from the Big 10 and the SEC that bring in nearly $150 million a year from television rights, bowl revenue, ticket sales and student fees as well as private donations.

“If not for IPTAY,” one donor said, “We’d be Wake Forest or Duke.” And that means no football championships.

The Tiger’s Reeves Football Complex is a $55 million, 142,500 square foot facility with the standard football training spaces and equipment but also has a barber shop, a bowling alley, a nap room, outdoor basketball court and a miniature golf course.

LSU is equally passionate about sports and their football team. This year they unveiled a $28 million renovation to their “Football Operations” facility.

They’ve been playing football there since 1893. They’ve won 16 conference championships. They crank out All-Americans and NFL players on a regular basis. They’ve won three National Championships. And, maybe by coincidence, after their first national title was claimed in 1958 (awarded after the regular season), they went on to beat Clemson in the 1959 Sugar Bowl.

In Baton Rouge they made nearly $87 million just on football in 2018 with a nine-win season. Over $22 million of that was from donations. They spent over $34 million running the Tigers football program that year. Their coaches made $14.3 million of that. They have one of the few college baseball teams that turn a profit.

Both schools call their teams the Tigers. Both football teams play in a stadium nicknamed “Death Valley.” Both of their coaches are from the South. Dabo Swinney is from Alabama, played at Alabama, coached at Alabama and got his MBA from Alabama. He’s the highest paid college coach in the nation at $9.3 million a year. Ed Orgeron is from Louisiana, started his football career at LSU. He’s been at a myriad of schools, including coaching at Arkansas, Miami, USC, Tennessee and the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. He landed his first head-coaching job at Ole Miss. He’s making about $4 million a year.

And besides their southern roots, the similarities don’t end there. Both aren’t afraid to make a change, take chances and live with the consequences.

Much has been said about Orgeron hiring Joe Brady to revamp the LSU offense and build a passing game around quarterback Joe Burrow. That decision propelled Burrow to the Heisman Trophy and LSU to an undefeated record. It’s a big leap for a coach to scrap what he was doing, what he was comfortable with and take things in a whole different direction. The last time anybody paid attention to the LSU passing game, Bert Jones was the quarterback. They’ve had Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jr. and D.J. Chark at wide receiver but never produced like the Tigers did this year with Burrow.

With much less fanfare last year, Swinney was equally bold with his quarterback. Deshaun Watson helped Clemson win the national championship and his backup, Kelly Bryant, was the natural successor for the Tigers. And he played great when he got his chance, compiling a 12-2 record in his first year as a starter, won the ACC Championship and put Clemson in the college football playoffs. But four games into Bryant’s second season, still undefeated, Swinney made a change to Trevor Lawrence, a true freshman. Sure Lawrence might have been the number one recruit in the nation but still, he was a freshman! Swinney’s instinct was right as Lawrence led the Tigers to an undefeated season and the National Championship. Swinney’s move allowed Bryant to transfer and play his final year at Missouri. But it also left Clemson without a real backup at quarterback.

“My job is to make decisions that put the team in the best possible path to win,” he said last year of his quarterback move, “and after four games he was the best player.”

So boldness won’t be an issue for either team Monday night. Burrow with throw it, and run it for LSU’s Tigers. Lawrence will throw it and run it for Clemson’s Tigers. Both coaches will reach into their bag of tricks, probably more than once, to change the momentum of the game.

When they square off for the National Championship Monday night, both teams will have played one game in the last five weeks. Both won their conference championship games on December 7th, and played in the National Semi-Finals on December 28th. It’s a one-year anomaly according to the College Football Playoff Committee. There were some quirks in the schedule and venues already booked in New Orleans that pushed the game back a week. Next year, the semifinals will be on January 1st and the title game played on the 11th in Miami.

While LSU is a favorite in this game, Clemson is vying to win their third national championship in four years. That’s dynasty kind of stuff that doesn’t normally fit in the ACC but Clemson is not your normal ACC school.

Writing this column got me pretty fired up to watch the game, and after all of the talk about quarterbacks, it’ll probably be defense that decides the outcome. As good as Clemson’s defense was last year, that’s where I think LSU’s is in 2020. Many of you know that I attended Clemson and played football there as a freshman. I could say something silly like, “I’ll take the Tigers,” but it’s the Baton Rouge version that will come out on top Monday night in a lower scoring game than you might think.

Marrone, Caldwell Last Chance

There’s a lot we don’t know about Shad Khan. His ownership of the Jaguars is different than Wayne Weaver’s. It’s different than a lot of other NFL owners as well. He doesn’t live in town so he’s not part of the day-to-day operations. As one of the businesses in his portfolio the Jaguars have their own operating management, and when he needs to get involved, he does.

There is one thing we do know about Shad Khan: He’s not stupid.

If you spend any time around Shad you see that he’s a good listener. He believes in people’s expertise. He gives the people around him the tools to be successful. And he has high expectations for that success.

“We would go into meetings at the end of the year with ten ideas of things we’d need to make things successful going forward,” one Jaguars manager told me. “We’d expect to get three or four. Shad would sit there during the meeting and listen, and if you made your case, he’d give you all ten.”

But there was a catch.

“When he’d get to the door,” the manager recalled, “He’d look back and ask ‘Got what you need?’ Then he’d say, ‘Good, I expect some results.’ He didn’t want to hear any excuses.”

Khan’s thing is business. He likes the whole process of finding a business that’s undervalued, figuring out how to get it going and making it work. And he likes to win.

There are a lot of people angry or at best perplexed about his decision to keep Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell running his football team. They’re track record isn’t great save for one year, 2017. The Jaguars winning percentage in the last decade, with the team mostly owned by Khan, is second-to-last in the league.

Which is why national pundits called Khan’s move to keep Marrone and Caldwell a “head-scratcher.” Or worse. One said Khan was too close to the situation to see what the problems are. That he was looking for the “comfortable” decision to make.

“He did what he always does. Status quo. All good. Nothing to see here. Just another occasionally sternly-worded press release,” is how he described Khan’s decision-making process.

We all know it’s become its own sport on a national level to bash Jacksonville and the Jaguars. We’re an outpost to those writers who never go anywhere other than from the airport to the Hyatt to the stadium and back. If that’s all you did in most NFL cities you wouldn’t think much of them either. But that’s a whole different story.

I’ve had friends and fans agree that they have to “blow the whole thing up” but when I ask “in favor of what?” I usually get a blank stare. And that’s what I think Khan was facing.

The trend of young 30-something coaches taking over franchises has cooled a bit with fewer “hot” candidates out there. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is a perennial name on the coaching carousel but after his short stint in Denver and jilting the Colts, other owners are a bit wary. And the question whether its McDaniels or the Brady/Belichick combination still remains.

So short of luring Belichick away for a challenge and proof that it’s not all about the quarterback, Khan could have looked at Baltimore’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman (Caldwell’s roommate at John Carroll. Also McDaniels alma mater) or Robert Saleh, the ‘Niners defensive coordinator and former linebacker coach here in Jacksonville. Neither has head coaching experience.

You could say he opted for the “status quo” but I’m looking at the other side of the equation.

These days in the NFL it’s the coaches who bring along their own general managers, not the other way around. So Shad had to make a decision on his coach first. In his meetings with Marrone, Khan was convinced that Doug was encumbered by Tom Coughlin despite their close relationship. Shad had already made the decision to move on from Coughlin as the football czar weeks before he fired him.
It was Coughlin who set a tense tone on the team, attending practices but without the daily contact with players he didn’t have any positive impact on their performance. It seems the only contact Coughlin had with players was when they found a letter in their locker telling them how much they’d been fined. Or whatever he said to Jalen Ramsey after week two this year.

Marrone convinced Khan he can change the culture overnight, and there was some evidence of that in how the team reacted after Coughlin’s firing. Especially last Sunday coming from eleven points down to bet the Colts.

“I have a clear vision of the type of communication that I want with our players from different heads of the organization,” Marrone said on Tuesday when I asked him what specifically he told Khan that would make him a better coach for this team. “I think that we can do a better job there creating a better environment.”

Without throwing Coughlin directly under the bus, Marrone let it be known that things would be different with him calling the shots.

And Khan believed him.

Doug would be easy to play for. Do your job, no problem. Step out of line or don’t perform and he’ll let you know right away. No mystery there.

Retaining Caldwell on the surface seems odd but it had to do with Marrone’s new role having some input in personnel decisions. Caldwell’s record acquiring players, even when he was making the calls on his own, is spotty. But not that different than most organizations. It’s the high profile, Blake Bortles pick that most critics can’t get past.

Marrone was quick to point out in the last two years that he didn’t have anything to do with picking players while Coughlin was there. “You’d have to talk with them,” was his answer when asked about personnel decisions. Now, with he and Caldwell on equal footing in the organization, he believes he can help make it work.

Marrone has a more global view of the whole organization than people outside the buillding would realize. He’s interested in getting everyone involved.

“It comes from everywhere,” he said when asked about change. “It comes from all the support staff in the building, to the way we’re handling the players, to the way we’re acquiring them, to the way we’re coaching them, to everything.”

And then he was very specific about how things will work going forward. He’ll decide as the head coach what kind of football team they’ll be and have input about the players who fit into that mold.

“We are talking about taking our coaching staff with our scouting staff and really putting it in a true, true partnership where we are meeting and talking and doing that and coming to decisions,” he explained. “My experience with that has been that probably 97 percent of the time, you are going to come up with a decision that is best for your organization.”

Those decisions for 2020 will be critical. Marrone’s decisions about his coaching staff, beginning next Monday will be critical. Everybody knows they have a quarterback issue looming. The offensive line needs to play better, probably with some new personnel. They need Marcel Dareus back on the defensive line and better linebacker play. And their wide receivers need to be better and more consistently open.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. But it’s not that unusual for a team in the NFL to turn it around.

This is the one chance these guys are going to get.