This is a critical time for the Jaguars as a franchise, for the players on the 2001 team, for this year’s record, and for Head Coach Tom Coughlin. Not just the matter of playing games against Buffalo, Baltimore and Tennessee, but the franchise’s psyche hangs in the balance.
The absence of Tony Boselli from the lineup demands a new leader emerge. Someone the other players can rally around, someone who will provide the will and the fortitude to help carry his teammates through difficult times. Without that leadership, the team will wander from game to game, looking for success from series to series. If they find it, they’ll build on it, if they don’t, they’ll unravel fast.
From the franchise’s inception, leadership has come from the top. Tom Coughlin has set the tone, provided the environment and demanded performance from his players. From year to year, he has modified his message depending on the make up of that season’s team. He hired Bob Petrino as Offensive Coordinator after realizing his team needed a Head Coach in the true sense of the position: a coach who watches over the whole operation, a coach who can evaluate the morale of the team, a coach who can provide leadership.
At this time though, perhaps Coughlin’s leadership isn’t the thing that can carry the team through the season to success. Even though he modifies his message, it doesn’t mean he’s “gone soft.” Coughlin admits he yells at the players when he thinks it is necessary, not just yelling for yelling’s sake. With the same group of core veterans at the top of the roster for the past 5 years, the team stands on the precipice of falling into mediocrity that only the emergence of young players who have an impact can stave off. And those young players have to buy into Coughlin’s values, his style and his beliefs. If they don’t have confidence in his way, the team will flounder. His dressing down of Stacy Mack on the sidelines in Seattle and refusal to put Mack back into the game, even though it was apparent Mack would give them a better chance to win, has many players privately wondering about Coughlin and his message.
Leadership for this team is going to have to come from within, not from any coach. While Coughlin’s style might have some players wondering, he is smart and knows what’s going on. He has the confidence of the owner, Wayne Weaver, and operates without fear of losing his job. In his first six years as Head Coach, Coughlin has figured out all kinds of ways to win, and he can do it again.
Weaver is concerned about ticket sales and potential blackouts, and he has to know that Coughlin currently doesn’t sell any tickets to Jaguars games. He’s disconnected with the fans that evaluate him only on wins and losses. Any entertainment industry, dependant on the public’s disposable income, has to have a total package to continue to attract interest. The NFL’s parity mission has most teams hovering around .500, meaning it has to be fun to go to games, win or lose. The coach has to attract fans to the stadium with his personality, his style of play, and the fans belief that he’s giving them the best chance to win. To this point, Coughlin and Weaver have been willing to be evaluated on wins and losses. To keep the stadium full, they might have to go at least one-step further.