Wrong Tone Early Sinks Jaguars

Again this week, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was asked if he was “coaching for his job.” It’s the kind of question that’s asked with some regularity when your team is suffering though a disappointing year.

“Every day. Same as last year,” Marrone answered with an unusually clipped response.

Any different than last year?

“I approach every day that you are always coaching for [your job],” he said.

That exchange would have been unthinkable after last year’s team finished the regular season with ten wins, a division championship and a halftime lead on the road in the AFC Championship game.

But Marrone seems prescient at this point when he said in his post-game press conference last year after the loss to New England, “You can’t just pick up where you left off. Every year you have to build it again.”

I don’t know if Doug was calling on previous experience or if knew something was brewing within this team that wasn’t right. I said in this column at the beginning of the year that Marrone was the right guy at the right time to coach this team. His no nonsense, pragmatic style is what a veteran-laden, experienced team needed. The problem is that despite the talent and accolades this team had going into 2018, they didn’t have the maturity to handle lofty expectations.

Pointing fingers is something players refer to when a team isn’t playing well, and you can’t point a finger at one situation or one individual and note what went wrong with the Jaguars. It would take a couple of hands to try and pinpoint what went awry and who’s responsible.

When Jalen Ramsey had a lot to say in the offseason about himself and opponents, some wrote it off to youthful exuberance. In the locker room, guys shrugged it off. But it wasn’t the tone this team, with only one post-season run in recent memory under their belt, needed to set.

When Ramsey’s first child was born at the beginning of training camp, a landmark in any father’s life, Ramsey stayed out of camp for a week. Nobody’s going to criticize a teammate for anything they do regarding family, but as the camp days wore on with no word when he might return, there were a lot of shrugged shoulders when asked about his absence. Other guys have missed time to be there for life’s big events. But this had a whole different feel. Again, not the tone a talented team with lofty expectations would set.

As a rookie, Ramsey didn’t accept the normal hazing handed out by the veteran players. Didn’t participate in the normal team building and bonding exercises, simple stuff, and he let the vets know it right away. So he’s always seen himself as a bit separate from the other ten guys out there.

He reiterated that this week when asked if he would vote for himself for the Pro Bowl.

“I would. I don’t vote, though,” he said. “Some people get it confused because we are losing right now on the team, but if you look at what I do out here, I’m still performing at a high level. I’m still having productive games, doing well, doing my job for the team.”

He went on to outline his individual performance against the top receivers, quoting stats, despite those performances coming in losses.

“A.B [Antonio Brown], I did my thing that game,” he said of his performance in the loss to the Steelers where he had two highlight-reel interceptions. “He still got off, he still had his, but I wasn’t covering him right then.”

Awfully quick to note that Brown’s big catches were somebody else’s responsibility.

When that fight happened in training camp between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue, some eyebrows were raised about what was going on in the Jaguars locker room. An offensive and defensive player going at it after beating on each other in the heat for a couple weeks? Understandable. Two defensive players? Not good.

And its obvious Fowler was the problem, and they didn’t solve it quickly enough. They eventually sent him to the Rams, but it wasn’t for a lack of production or that he brought a big payoff. They knew he needed to go and it was the right thing to get rid of him. They just waited too long to get it done.

Even the players knew something wasn’t right. Despite a 3-1 record, they called two “players only” meetings in the first four weeks trying to straighten things out.

When the media was allowed in the locker room after the normal 12-minute “cooling off” period following the loss to Houston at home, there was plenty of shouting still going on. They pushed the media back out into the hall and got it worked out but again, not the tone a team wants to set.

A locker room doesn’t have to have an axe and a butcher block to bring it together. And taking the Ping-Pong table out doesn’t mean there’s better focus. It’s something totally different and intangible.

“Any winning team has to have an intense affection for one another,” Tom Coughlin once told me.

That was clearly missing here this year.