Bradley Fired: Who's Next?
by Sam Kouvaris
Posted December 18, 2016
(** Article updated 12/19/16)
As the 2016 season progressed, it became obvious that Gus Bradley's philosophy of empowering the players with the accountability and discipline of the team wasn't working on the current Jaguars. Gus is about as good a guy as you'll ever meet. You'd want him as a brother, a brother in law, a neighbor and even as a football coach. But as a head coach for this Jaguars team this year, his message didn't take. "We let you down," Jaguars Defensive Tackle Roy Miller tweeted Sunday night after Bradley was let go.
Each time we'd ask Gus about his job security, he'd deflect the question, saying he wasn't worried about that. "He's wrong," ESPN's Mike DiRocco said when we talked about that issue on Jaguars Friday Night. And while Owner Shad Khan saw changing coaches in-season as a sign of organization weakness, he and General Manager Dave Caldwell came to the conclusion last week that they were ready to move on from the Bradley era of the Jaguars.
"Gus and I have a unique relationship and I couldn't lie to him," Caldwell said of the timing of the announcement. He added that once he and Khan had made the decision on Saturday, they didn't think it would be fair to tell Bradley before the game with the Texans. Caldwell says he followed Bradley into his locker room in Houston and told him they were moving on. He did give Gus the option of delaying the announcement until Monday but Bradley said he'd call his family and to get it out Sunday night. Bradley did board the bus and was on the team charter returning to Jacksonville. He thanked the staff, the coaches and the players as he made his way up and down the isles on the charter. Everybody involved seemed to be trying to make the best of a messy, clumsy, awkward situation.
Monday afternoon, Caldwell addressed the media and talked about the change as well as named Offensive Line Coach Doug Marrone as interim head coach for the Jaguars. Marrone is the former head coach for two years in Buffalo and at his alma mater Syracuse. He's been the Assistant Head Coach for the Jaguars since 2015.
Beyond that, Caldwell will be the one starting the search for a new head coach and hiring the next leader of the team. Just where he'll look is the big question. He said today that experience will play a role in his selection process.
"I don't want to say that it's a high priority, but I would say it's something that would be helpful for a coach," Caldwell said from the podium at the stadium. "I don't want to avoid a candidate if he doesn't have it because you can be overlooking a great future head coach. Experience is critical, even with our players. Our players are young, but they may lack experience in certain areas and I think experience is invaluable."
When asked if former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin would be on his list, Caldwell quickly said, "Tom Coughlin is somebody we'd be interested in talking to."
Some obvious names will percolate to the top of the list along with Coughlin: Josh McDaniels the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and former head coach in Denver. Mike Smith, the former Head Coach in Atlanta, former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville and now the DC in Tampa. Todd Haley, the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, David Shaw, the current head coach at Stanford and Sean Payton, the Head Coach of the Saints, rumored to be out in New Orleans. Several NFL assistants will make the list, including Kyle Shanahan.
Names like Hall of Famer Tony Dungy and John Gruden will also be floated, but neither is likely to coach in the NFL again. Dungy is a mentor and advisor as well as a TV analyst these days and Gruden is having too much fun on ESPN and making too much money. Bill Cowher would be an excellent choice and if all it takes is money, Shad will offer it to him. But Cowher has turned down lucrative head coaching jobs in the past and said on Sunday on CBS when asked if he'd be interested in the Los Angeles job that he wouldn't be coaching in the NFL again.
If Coughiin does want to coach again, the Jaguars would be a good choice if he would be willing to accept a role as the Head Coach with some personnel input but the decisions ending with Caldwell. The Jaguars spoke to Coughlin about a role other than head coach prior to this season but couldn't find enough common ground. If Caldwell calls him, they'll meet and try to solidify a relationship. I doubt there will be an interview process. He'll either be offered the job or they'll move on. Tom's resume is well documented and contains two Lombardi Trophies. At 70 years old, a return to the sideline would also delay Coughlin's eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There's a five-year waiting period after retirement until eligibility.
After being fired in Denver, McDaniels went back to New England where he's had plenty of success with Tom Brady. But he was disliked in Denver, which precipitated his firing and Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. If Blake Bortles were in Dave Caldwell's plans for the Jaguars future, McDaniels would have to buy into that. In fact, that will be the first discussion Caldwell has with any potential head-coaching candidate: Do you think Blake Bortles is fixable?
Knowing Jacksonville well and a very popular figure here, Mike Smith could be an interesting choice for Caldwell. The downside is he's a defensive coach and the Jaguars are hurting on offense more than anything. Smith's charisma might overcome that as well as his track record in Atlanta. Since Caldwell worked for Thomas Dimitrioff, the GM in Atlanta, he'll find out why he fired Smith and if he thought Smith would be a good fit here. His candidacy could soar to the top or be stopped by that one conversation.
As the quarterback Blake Bortles is most compared to, Ben Roethlisberger has enjoyed tremendous success under Todd Haley's direction. Haley has been a head coach in the league in Kansas City and has stepped up Roethlisberger's production since going to Pittsburgh and could be considered a good fit to work with Bortles.
If Caldwell is willing to go into the college coaching ranks, and he said as much today, Shaw from Stanford is on everybody's list. A winner with a football pedigree, he'll get a head coaching job in the league if he wants one.
Sean Payton would free up about $40 million for the Saints as they go through an ownership transition. Caldwell would have to part with a draft pick to sign Payton but since he has a record of success, is on the Bill Parcell's coaching tree and has worked with successful quarterbacks like Drew Brees, he might be a possibility. Caldwell said he'd be willing to trade for a coach if the right coach was available.
After January 1st, the final day of the NFL season, several current coaches will be on the market. There will be talk about John Fox in Chicago, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Mike McCoy in San Diego. All could be interviewed for head coaching jobs, maybe even here in Jacksonville.
And to be sure, Caldwell will be making the decision.
"Shad, he has made it very clear that he expects big things from me and this coaching search, me and our staff for our free agency and the draft, to have a great offseason and then to have a better season come 2017," the Jaguars GM explained. "I haven't had to sell him or anything, but we have constant conversation about, hey, I'll be the first to admit where I've made mistakes. And I've laid it out to Shad different places where I failed Gus, some things you guys don't even know about, but some that you do. There was no selling. Shad just said, hey, I expect big things."
There's no rush to name a head coach, but moving on from Bradley with still two games to play means Caldwell wanted to talk with somebody who's not in the league at this moment. The Rams' firing of Jeff Fisher "got the ball rolling," in the process according to Caldwell. The last thing Caldwell wanted to do was to have Coughlin at the top of his list and Tom take the job in Los Angeles without ever having talked with him.
Although he said there are no "untouchables" on the Jaguars, including himself, Caldwell said he's committed to Bortles as the starting quarterback. He added that he would solicit opinions about Bortles from the candidates to hear what they thought. He was willing to say he wanted to hear other opinions different from his own.
Once he gets the list down to a manageable size, he'll get opinions around the league of "how he treats people, what he's like," but noted that the face-to-face meetings are the eventual determining factor on who they'll hire.
"You want to find out as much about a person as you can and where they've been and how they've treated people, how they've acted. I think the biggest thing you've got to understand a lot of it's second-hand information to you. You've got to sit down with the person and spend a lot of time not being impetuous with the decision and really kind of get to know the person before you make the decision. Then you've got to rely on your instincts when you select them."
Here's Shad's statement:
"I thanked Gus Bradley today for his commitment to the Jacksonville Jaguars over the past four seasons. As anyone close to our team knows, Gus gave his staff and players literally everything he had. Our players competed for Gus and I know they have great respect for him, as do I.
Gus also represented the Jaguars, the Jacksonville community and the NFL in nothing less than a first-class manner as our head coach. That counts for a lot. It is unfortunately evident that we must make a change. I thought it would be best to do it immediately after today's result so Gus can step away, relax and regroup with his family during the Christmas and holiday season.
Dave Caldwell agreed and will now be charged with exploring all options to hire the best head coach possible to lead what I feel is an extremely talented team and reward a very loyal and patient fan base in Jacksonville."