Are two games enough for a coach to prove his worth? Is that a long enough time for a downtrodden team, seemingly on the verge of hitting the reset button, to reverse direction and stay the course instead?
Apparently, for the Jaguars, the answers are "yes" and "yes."
Jacksonville will remove the "interim" tag from Doug Marrone’s title and make him its head coach, per multiple reports. Also, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jaguars will bring back former coach Tom Coughlin as executive VP of football operations and extend the contract of current GM David Caldwell.
It all makes for a whirlwind of decisions that the Jaguars hope finally propel the franchise forward. But does this take them far enough away from their previous, failed model to work?
When they officially announce him as their new head coach, the Jaguars no doubt will cite Marrone’s prior experience as a head coach, as well as the way the team appeared to respond to him in Weeks 16 and 17. To wit:
Marrone took over for the fired Gus Bradley and guided the Jaguars to a 1–1 close to 2016, with a win over Tennessee and a 24–20 loss in Indianapolis. He previously served as head coach of both Syracuse, where he went 25–25 with two Pinstripe Bowl wins from 2009-12, and of the Bills, where he finished 15–17 from 2013-14.
In fact, Marrone may have still been standing as the Bills’ head coach had he not opted out of his contract following the ’14 season, a decision that came with a $4 million payout. It was an unexpected, bizarre end to a tenure that showed promise, even as the Bills finished in familiar and frustrating fashion—out of the playoffs, ruing several missed opportunities during the regular season.
Marrone then landed in Jacksonville as an assistant head coach for the 2015 season, before being elevated late this year.
Let’s be clear about the move, though: This, at least in terms of retaining Marrone, was the least imaginative option for the Jaguars to take. They’re choosing continuity based on one win over the Titans, a loss to the Colts in which they choked away a 17-point lead and two semi-competent games from QB Blake Bortles.
If Bradley’s approach stood as a significant part of the problem these past four seasons, does Marrone pull the Jaguars far enough away? Remember, he was criticized throughout his brief time in Buffalo for being too conservative as a coach and for not getting enough consistency out of the offense.
Were it not for Coughlin joining the mix, too, this easily could be viewed as a hire pushed by Caldwell to try to save his own skin. If Marrone somehow were to increase the win total next season, it would be a lot easier for Caldwell to argue that his plan was on the right track.
However, the Coughlin hire threatens to complicate things further. It remains to be seen exactly how power gets sorted out between coach, GM and executive VP—Coughlin served as the Jaguars’ coach/GM after they joined the league as an expansion franchise in 1995. Will he and Caldwell be able to see eye-to-eye? Will Coughlin’s presence—and possible desire to coach again—loom over Marrone, especially if Jacksonville’s struggles early next season?
There were a lot of promising young coordinators out there (although that’s where Jacksonville looked in hiring Bradley away from Seattle). There also were more proven, successful former NFL coaches available, including both Coughlin himself and ex-Falcons coach/current Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Sticking with Marrone signals that the Jaguars still believe in what they’ve been building, for better or worse.
Grade: C-minus. The Jaguars don’t have to look far to see how the interim-to-permanent coach transition can work; the Titans did the same with Mike Mularkey, then just missed out on an AFC South title this season.
Still, the way this all looks—Marrone’s fate likely resting in the hands of Bortles, with Coughlin in the background—points toward 2017 perhaps being a brief trial run under this structure. If Bortles bottoms out again or the Jaguars stumble toward another three-, four- or five-win finish, there would be even less justification for maintaining the status quo (or some semblance of it) than there is now.
Can Coughlin come to the rescue in the front office? Will he have to save the day on the sideline? He is the X-factor in what otherwise would be a very mundane hire.