When the first rumblings of the Tom Coughlin-to-Jacksonville story happened back it May, it seemed like distant thunder. Coughlin himself filled us in, saying he’d been in touch “with a few teams about a role” but didn’t’ find the right fit. Coughlin was still smarting from being fired by the Giants, “I’ll still fight you on that one,” he said at the time. As we reported then, the Jaguars were among the teams he talked with, including the Bills and possible another former employer, the Eagles.
After the Jaguars blowout loss to Tennessee in late October, the story surfaced again, with Coughlin linked to the Jaguars “in some capacity” but probably not as the Head Coach.
Now, much like those distant thunderstorms that roll into North Florida, the sound of that rumbling is much more like a thunderclap. As the losses mount and the pressure to replace Gus Bradley grows, the appeal of Tom Coughlin is partly based on nostalgia for Jaguars fans and partly rooted in what is perceived as the disciplined approach this team looks like it needs.
Although former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said it was the biggest mistake of his tenure, firing Tom Coughlin, it was the inevitable move necessary for the franchise at the time. The team was coming off three straight losing seasons and Coughlin’s act had worn thin on the players, fans and other staffers in Jacksonville. Tom had both the head coach and the GM role and wasn’t about to give it up. On the day he was fired, he laid out a plan for Weaver that he thought would put the Jaguars back in contention for the division in about a year. Weaver didn’t budge and knew nobody at the time in Jacksonville was going to buy a ticket for a Tom Coughlin-coached Jaguars team. After sitting out a year, Coughlin went on to be the Giants head coach and won two Super Bowls during his tenure there. He was not the General Manager in the Giants system, just the guy in charge of the football, on-field operation. In both of those championship seasons, Coughlin was on the verge of being fired but held onto his job by creating a better communication process with the players. His “management council” was a borrowed tool from Bill Parcells who used to carry guys like Keith Byars and Dave Meggett around from team to team as his locker room conduits to the rest of the players. Coughlin was told that his message wasn’t getting to the players so he met with some of the veterans every week to ensure that what he was saying was what they were hearing.
“We asked him to do that three or four times while he was here,” one well-known, well-respected Jaguars alumni player explained. “And basically he threw us out of his office,” another former star said with a laugh.
So while the climate in 2002 lent itself to firing Coughlin, the atmosphere is a bit thicker but feels about the same when it comes to 2016 and the future of Gus Bradley. In a production business, Bradley hasn’t been productive, garnering only 14 wins in four seasons. Last year, “Better than 5-11 I can tell you that,” was Owner Shad Khan’s response when asked what his expectation was for this year. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said the first two years under Bradley don’t count, but he was also expecting better results this year based on the free agent money spent and the draft picks put on the roster.
Why wouldn’t Coughlin become the Jaguars next Head Coach? At 70 years old, perhaps he doesn’t want the detailed, daily grind that’s required in the league these days for the head coach. (Remember, when then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue declared a mandatory day off in the league after September 11, 2001, Coughlin was the lone employee at the Jaguars facility, pouring over video). Also with two Super Bowls with NY and two AFC Championship appearances with the Jaguars, Coughlin will get consideration for the Hall of Fame when he’s eligible, 4 years from now. But if he comes back as a head coach, that eligibility gets deferred by 5 years from when he officially retires.
“Does he really want to wait ’till he’s 80 for that,” one of his close friends said recently. “Why not enjoy the grandkids and see if that happens in a few years?”
While it’s hard to imagine Coughlin being idle or satisfied with going to New York during the season on Sunday’s as a “special assistant” to the commissioner, a role as President of Football Operations could be something he’d be comfortable with, wouldn’t effect his HOF eligibility and would still give him a role on the football side of things with some organization.
Could that organization be the Jaguars? He lives in Atlantic Beach and his Jay Fund charity is run by his daughter here in town. Certainly since they spoke to him last year, they’ll be in touch again this offseason to see if they can work out just where he’d be in the decision-making process for the club. Tom was interested then and he still has an ear out to join a club instead of working for the league. Caldwell will almost certainly still be the GM next year, so he and Coughlin would have to co-exist somehow when it came to personnel calls. If Bradley is fired, and I still think it’s an if, (10% chance he stays) what role would Coughlin play in choosing Bradley’s successor?
(BTW, I think Khan will let Caldwell make the decision whether to keep Bradley or not. If he still thinks he’s the guy, he could cite, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Bill Bellichick or Bill Walsh as guys who were big losers in the league before they became big winners. You’re right, fans won’t be happy and ticket sales would lag but Khan is looking long-term and isn’t worried about short-term sales.)
So for the third time this year the “Coughlin to Jacksonville” mill is at work. Will it continue to gain steam or much like many of those thunderstorms, get to the intracoastal and fade out? The Jaguars could use some “Coughlin like” influence. Whether the original is still the right fit is the question.