JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One of the major reasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ turnaround from one of the league’s worst franchises to nearly reaching the Super Bowl was the culture change initiated by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone.
It started the moment Coughlin was hired in January, and then it built throughout organized team activities, minicamp and a physically and mentally exhausting training camp that was much tougher than what the veterans had experienced in previous seasons in Jacksonville.
Players credited those things for the accountability, discipline and chemistry that played a significant role in the Jaguars’ first division title since 1999 and first playoff appearance since 2007.
All of those things, however, mean absolutely nothing right now. Marrone said he has to start all over when the offseason conditioning program begins in mid-April. Every team is different, and assuming the 2018 Jaguars will pick up exactly where the 2017 team left off in terms of the culture change would be irresponsible.
“People will say the culture has changed and all that stuff and now they have a foundation. I have seen and been a part of places where we have made mistakes before where we have taken that for granted that you have that,” Marrone said. “You can’t do that as a coach. For me, when we really start, it will be going back and building on those fundamentals, because the team fluctuates and changes.”
Marrone likened it to building a home. If the foundation is constructed properly, then the rest of the construction built upon that will be solid. If there are issues with the foundation, though, there eventually will be problems.
In other words, if Marrone and Coughlin don’t approach their second season the way they did their first, things might be great in August and September, but there could be issues by November and December — the two most critical months of the season.
“If there are a lot of people that have come back and everyone has bought in, that foundation will go a little quicker,” Marrone said. “The worst thing that can happen is that we say we’re going to go ahead and all of a sudden you find out that there is a crack somewhere in that foundation. The rest of the work doesn’t matter.”
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson finished his second season with the Jaguars in 2017, so he was around for only one terrible season. There are players in that locker room, however, who until 2017 had experienced nothing but season after season of double-digit losses.
So going 10-6, beating Buffalo and Pittsburgh, reaching the AFC Championship Game and nearly beating the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium was a wonderful experience. However, it doesn’t automatically mean the Jaguars are now going to be an annual contender to reach the Super Bowl like the Patriots and Steelers.
Jackson knows what the team experienced in 2017 to get there, so he’s 100 percent onboard with starting from the bottom and rebuilding the chemistry, accountability and discipline.
“Bringing the leadership in here with Coach Marrone and Coach Coughlin, and just everybody working together to get this locker room together and letting everybody know that the old Jags from previous years are gone and this is a new team here under new management,” Jackson said. “We acted like it and we played like it and we’ve got to continue to do it.”