Photo credit: Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are coming together just the way Shad Khan wanted. That much was made abundantly clear Thursday when Khan and head coach Urban Meyer introduced Trent Baalke as the team's newest general manager.
"They are aligned contractually. How long that might be, I’m not ready to say, but it’s a long time," Khan said when asked about the commitments to each hire.
"I think this was really very, very important to me and we’ve spent a lot of time obviously on that because, [I] don’t want to overstate it, it’s a defining moment for the franchise.”
Khan and the Jaguars hired Baalke a year previously to serve as former general manager Dave Caldwell's director of pro personnel. As Khan described it, he gave the team a set of "fresh eyes" heading into the 2020 offseason. He then served as the interim general manager following Caldwell's firing on November 29.
Now, Baalke will re-enter the Jaguars' facility as the third and final piece to an alignment of leaders that will lead the Jaguars into the future.
Khan, as owner, is clearly the first and most important piece; Meyer and Baalke will answer to him. Meyer was the second piece to come into play, taking the Jaguars job last week and entering the franchise into an era in which Khan says they will be "coach-centric".
A general manager to serve as a scouting voice in the front office to support both Meyer and Khan was the final part of the equation. The Jaguars decided on Baalke to be that voice in large part due to his past experience, not just with the team in 2020 but previously.
“I think it certainly helps, but at the same time—and I think Coach said it and Shad certainly said it—it’s a partnership. So, if you’re not aligned and you don’t think the same, and you don’t have the same vision, I think regardless of whether you’ve been here or not been here, you’re going to run into problems," Baalke said Thursday.
"The thing that I am very confident in is Coach Meyer and the vision he brings to this organization, as well as ownership. And I think the results will speak for themselves, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Prior to arriving in Jacksonville, Baalke spent 12 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, rising from the ranks of western region scout (2005-07) to director of player personnel (2008-09) to vice president of player personnel (2010) to general manager (2011-16).
During his time as general manager, the 49ers appeared in three consecutive NFC Championship games (2011-13) and Super Bowl XLVII. This is a string of success the Jaguars previously haven't seen, even with the context that his tenure with the 49ers eventually flamed out and resulted in his firing.
"Again, I mean, you can Google him, you can see what Trent has done in football and especially his track record as a GM in the NFL. I know that we have the right man to work directly with our head coach, Urban Meyer, and our mission to win in Jacksonville," Khan said.
Baalke will now have to work step-in-step with Meyer and Khan as the Jaguars look to rebound from a 1-15 season, the worst win/loss record in franchise history.
As a result, the Jaguars saw Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone get fired and get replaced by Baalke and Meyer. The pair now has 11 draft picks, including the No. 1 overall pick, to reshape the roster.
Baalke spent all of 2020 with the Jaguars, of course, so he could likely serve as a valuable aid in terms of Meyer's transition from the college ranks to the NFL sidelines. He knows the roster well and what needs there are. But as Meyer noted, that isn't the big reason why Baalke is now the full-time general manager.
“Well, I didn’t really look at that. I looked at as we move forward. Obviously I didn’t know Trent, we met years ago, so I knew him but I didn’t know him. I’ve been very fortunate, my entire head coaching career, I’ve always looked at everything that I’ve done is a partnership," Meyer said.
"Whether it be athletic directors, whether it be just people we work with. And as Trent said, I can’t imagine spending more time with someone in the last few days, really the last week or so. With Trent, we’ve been really impressed and alignment is going to be a big word that our owner, Shad, is going to use, and Trent and myself. It’s going to be a partnership and we’re going to be aligned.”
Alignment. That was the keyword on Thursday as Baalke was introduced in his new role. Whether the Jaguars succeed or fail in their newest direction will be dependent on just how strong that alignment is.