Even though there’s a bunch of rah-rah and it seems glamorous, a football team is much like any work environment. There’s a boss, some lieutenants and workers. The boss, in this case, the head coach, sets the tone, the policies and the overall structure of what happens.
In the Jaguars 23 years they’ve had different leadership styles, some successful, some, not so much, and some with mixed reviews.
With the imperious bearing of Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars had a CEO who was simultaneously distant, and always into the details. That wears on the workers and eventually the salary cap, injuries and Coughlin’s own demeanor led to his demise. Owner Wayne Weaver said his biggest mistake was getting rid of Coughlin. But that’s revisionist history. At the end, nobody was going to buy a ticket to a Tom Coughlin-coached team. We’ve all worked for a Jack Del Rio type boss, they guy who always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. That leads to short term success but it’s a recipe for flaming out. The workers, in this case, the players, eventually resent everything the boss stands for.
Mel Tucker brought a whole new premise to the role of the boss. He introduced the “servant leader” idea. Tucker is a fabulous coach and a really good guy as well. I’m surprised he isn’t a head coach somewhere. Mike Mularkey didn’t have much to work with and wasn’t given much of a chance. He was just trying to build something, anything actually, and then he was gone. Gus Bradley brought a whole new approach from a new generation, trying to empower the players for their own discipline and accountability. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. He’s also a very good football coach but his team was too young to grasp the power he was trying to give them.
Doug Marrone was at the top of a short list to be the next head coach of the Jaguars. Already on the Jaguars staff and well known to Coughlin, both of them played and coached at Syracuse.
Turns out, Marrone is the right coach in the right place with the right team at the right time.
While Marrone and Coughlin see the path to victory and success through the same lens, they’re very different people and personalities. Doug is able to impart that to the players in a very matter of fact, “here’s what we have to do” way. No screaming or yelling, no folksy, fake back slapping. He takes a serious approach to getting the job done. Like the offensive lineman he was as a player.
“We have a lot of work to do,” is one of his favorite expressions.
Marrone has no problem giving the players credit, just as long as they put the work in that’s necessary. He’s conducted two of the toughest training camps in recent memory. It’s no coincidence that he has said “We have to earn the right to win.” Which is also the title of Coughlin’s book.
“He’ll be more miserable when they win,” my friend from Buffalo said with a laugh when I was doing some early research about Marrone.. “Miserable” might not be the right word, but Marrone’s demeanor oftentimes seems so downtrodden that it’s easy to understand that his nickname at a few stops in his coaching career was “Eeyore.”
“I never have fun,” Marrone deadpanned last year during the Jaguars post-season run. “I like winning. I am not a fun person. That is my problem. I think when I look back I will say that it is fun.”
With all due respect to the media contingent in Buffalo, everybody who knew Marrone as the head coach there and has seen him with the Jaguars says he’s changed. But his core values on how to win have stayed the same. He’s able to break it down simply: You can either get the job done or you can’t.
“If we think the guy can play, let’s put him out there and see if he can do it. If we think, ‘You know what, I’m really not sure if this guy can.’ Well, put him out there and let’s see it.”
But he also admitted that he’s been able to separate the things that matter from the things that don’t when you’re in charge.
“You start to learn more of what, okay, this is important,” he explained. “Maybe this is not as important. Then, you create maybe more of a comfort in that. I don’t know. I just know that I feel more comfortable.”
Marrone is a good guy, somebody who wants to do well and do it right. He’s the guy who would be the designated driver on a night out if you asked him. And he’d be the guy who stepped in front of some jerk in a bar giving you a hard time.
Mostly he says he’s happy for the people around him as well as the fans and the organization. As a player at Syracuse, the Orange were 2-9 his freshman year and he didn’t want to wear his “Syracuse Football” gear anywhere. He knew the ridicule he’d be subjected to. He’s glad to help change that for Jaguars fans that have been in that situation for a decade.
“I grew up in a sports town, and I know what it’s like when your team’s not doing well and all the crap you take. For me I get a lot of joy when I see people that are proud of their team.”
He’s working. And although he says he’s not really a happy person, he’s happy in different ways.
“One thing in this profession, at least for me, it’s very hard to enjoy those things, but I do find a lot of joy for myself when I see other people happy with the success.”
Hard to not like that. He might be Eeyore, but he’s our Eeyore. Right guy in the right place at the right time.