While the Jacksonville Jaguars will clearly be built with Urban Meyer's fingerprints on every move after he was named the new head coach last week, this doesn't mean the Jaguars are done looking for leaders.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan has made it clear the Jaguars will be built in a "coach-centric" manner moving forward, a stark contrast from the days of Gus Bradley, Dave Caldwell, Tom Coughlin, and Tom Coughlin. But even with that model, it is key for the Jaguars and Meyer to make the right general manager hire.
"My whole aspect—and this started really about 15 months ago—that we need to be a coach-centric team and organization, where the head coach really has to lead the kind of players he wants, the kind of team we need to be. And the general manager, myself, we have to support that mission. And somehow, someway, that had been lost," Khan said last Friday.
"The idea here is really more about transparency, collaboration, teamwork and accountability. So I think this would lead to the natural question. I mean, I’ve talked to Urban about our general manager, who it ought to be and we’re working together on it. I hope we’ll have an announcement or something in the next week or so, but the objective is going to be that—and I’ve shared this with Urban, he’s on board—both of them will be reporting to me. But everybody in the organization, I mean, we’re going to be carrying out Urban’s vision of the team and the kind of players we want.”
While Meyer's hire is substantially significant in its own right, who the Jaguars hire as his general manager will be nearly as important. Meyer will clearly have a large say, of course, but general manager roles are so much more than picking and signing players.
There are countless administrative responsibilities attached to the role. They must be well-versed in NFL procedure and rules as it relates to trades, roster management, communication with other teams, agents, players, and so forth. As a result, it is imperative that Meyer surrounds himself with an experienced, knowledgeable, and trustworthy general manager.
So, which realistic options make the most sense for Meyer and the Jaguars? We break down a few candidates here to determine the answer.
Jacksonville's interim general manager ever since Dave Caldwell was fired on November 29, Trent Baalke has been considered by many in the national media realm to be a favorite to be Meyer's general manager.
Why he would fit with Meyer: The simple answer is that Baalke has years and years of experience working in NFL front offices, so he is at least suited to help guide a first-time NFL head coach like Meyer. Baalke did this for Jim Harbaugh when he took his first NFL head coaching job in 2011, though Harbaugh had two years of experience as an NFL assistant at the time of his hiring, while Meyer has zero. Harbaugh had significant personnel power and the two worked hand-in-hand in building up a depleted 49ers roster, leading the team to three straight NFC Championship appearances during Harbaugh's first three seasons with the team.
Why he wouldn't fit with Meyer: Maybe this is oversimplifying it, but the biggest reason Baalke wouldn't be a fit is because of the terrible way his and Harbaugh's relationship crumbled. It is a lengthy timeline, but the short way of summarizing is that the two entered into a power struggle that led to massive distrust and dysfunction and, eventually, the firing of a coach who went 44-19 in the NFL. Firing Harbaugh after one 8-8 season despite three NFC title game appearances says a lot about how bad things got in San Francisco. Once he left, Baalke and the 49ers went 7-25. Meyer needs someone reliable and steady by his side. While that could still be Baalke, there is reason to have some hesitation if you are the Jaguars.
Why he would fit with Meyer: There are two reasons Rick Smith makes sense for Meyer and the Jaguars to select as Caldwell's replacement. The first reason is that Smith, like Baalke, has a plethora of experience working in the NFL. Smith has even more experience than Baalke leading a front office, too, considering he spent 12 years as Houston's general manager. Secondly, Smith has already worked with two coaches who operated similar to how Meyer will in Gary Kubiak and Bill O'Brien. Houston was a coach-centric team under both coaches, so Smith at least has experience with that type of dynamic between a front office and a head coach.
Why he wouldn't fit with Meyer: This may be a bit of a stretch, but the only real reason that Meyer and Smith wouldn't be a fit is that Smith hasn't been a general manager since the 2017 season. Considering all of the changes in the NFL in recent years, especially as it relates to COVID-19 moving forward, there could be a bit of a learning curve for Smith as it relates to jumping back into the league.
Why he would fit with Meyer: The assistant general manager of the New York Jets, Hogan makes sense for a few reasons. Firstly, he already has ties to Meyer. He was the director of football operations under Meyer at the University of Utah in 2003, so Meyer clearly knows Hogan's qualifications and skill set, even if that was nearly 20 years ago. Secondly, Hogan has been a part of two different rebuilding front offices in recent years that have knocked their drafts out of the park with the Jets and Indianapolis Colts. He was one of Chris Ballard's top assistants as the team's vice president of player personnel when the Colts drafted Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, and the Jets just had one of the best rookie draft classes in the entire league in 2020.
Why he wouldn't fit with Meyer: There really isn't anything working against Hogan in this aspect other than the fact that he is the only person on this list who hasn't led a front office before. Everyone else has sat in the general manager chair at least once, but Hogan hasn't. This shouldn't disqualify him considering he has a ton of other front office experience, but it is notable.
Why he would fit with Meyer: Jerry Reese knows what it is like to work for a coach-centric franchise. He spent 11 seasons as Tom Coughlin's general manager with the New York Giants, a set up that is likely not that different from the one the Jaguars are about to have with Meyer. Reese was the general manager in title, but it was clearly Coughlin's team and program. With that said, 11 years in that role likely prepared Reese a fair bit for a situation like Jacksonville's.
Why he wouldn't fit with Meyer: While he has over a decade of general manager experience, Reese has the same minor drawback Smith has. He also hasn't held a front office job since 2017, so there would likely be a bit of a transition phase as he steps back into the league, especially if he has a rookie head coach.
Why he would fit with Meyer: Former Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer currently serves as a scouting consultant for the Los Angeles Rams since his departure from Cleveland, so he at least has worked in an NFL front office in the time since he was fired. Farmer also spent six years leading a pro personnel department, one year as an assistant general manager, and was a general manager with the Browns for two seasons, so he isn't foreign to a leading front office role.
Why he wouldn't fit with Meyer: For as bad as the Cleveland Browns have been over the past two decades, it is hard to say they weren't at their highest level of dysfunction when Farmer was helping run the show. They had two consecutive drafts with two picks in the first round and went 0-for-4 on the picks, including a massive risk on Johnny Manziel that never paid off. Then there was "TextGate", which reportedly helped drive Kyle Shanahan away from Cleveland.
As a whole, all make sense for Meyer to a degree, though Farmer makes considerably less sense than any other option. Rick Smith, Trent Baalke, and Jerry Reese have all worked in similar front office/head coach dynamics and have experience, while Rex Hogan has a history with Meyer.
With this in mind, here is how we would rank them in terms of "fit" with the Jaguars and Meyer considering all of the available information we have.
- Rick Smith
- Jerry Reese
- Rex Hogan
- Trent Baalke
- Ray Farmer
Smith makes the most sense for the Jaguars. He has been a general manager for over a decade and has worked side-by-side with two different coaches. His Texans tenure wasn't always smooth, but he checks all of the boxes as it is today. Baalke would be higher on the list, and above Hogan, if there weren't questions about his ability to work with a strong-minded coach after his Harbaugh debacle.