Jaguars hire Marrone, tab Coughlin as exec

The Jacksonville Jaguars found their new head coach – and they didn’t have to look far.

The Jaguars promoted interim coach Doug Marrone to the full-time job, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.

The Jaguars also hired Tom Coughlin, the former Jaguars and New York Giants coach who interviewed for the coaching position, as executive vice president of football operations, the person said.

Both Marrone and Coughlin agreed to three-year deals. With general manager Dave Caldwell given a two-year extension, all three are signed on through the 2019 season.

ESPN first reported the Jaguars' intent to hire Marrone, 52, who is getting his second chance as an NFL head coach. He was 15-17 with the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and ’14 before opting out of his contract.

After no other team gave him a head coaching job, Marrone accepted a position as assistant head coach/offensive line coach on Gus Bradley’s staff with the Jaguars, who were 1-1 with Marrone running the show after Bradley’s firing last month.

The Jaguars also interviewed Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

© Logan Bowles, USA TODAY Sports Jaguars expected to hire Marrone as coach

Blake Bortles is the biggest winner in Jacksonville’s hiring of Doug Marrone

The Jaguars did more than hire Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin on Monday. They also doubled down on Blake Bortles.

When grades are assigned for the 2016 crop of coaching hires, no one’s giving Jacksonville an “A,” not for elevating a coach whose career record remains under .500, not when that coach led the deficient offensive line of a 3-13 team for most of last year, and not when the makeup of the football operation looks similar (outside of one promotion and the return of an ex-employee in a senior advisory role).

The Jags know they aren’t winning those sorts of battles here. They know that if they get the quarterback many thought they reached on three years ago, it won’t matter. And they know if Bortles doesn’t get better, then they’ll all be gone.

So the central question in all of this: Is Bortles actually fixable?

“I don’t think he’s as terrible as everyone makes him out to be,” said one AFC personnel exec. “He needs to clean up his mechanics obviously, but the offense hasn’t helped him. If your expectations are for him to be a top-five QB, then no, he’s not that. If it’s for him to be 15-20, then sure, they should be able to get him there.”

Asked if the Jags QB is salvageable, an NFC exec answered directly: “Yes, if you establish a run game, get him in a West Coast offense, with a quick rhythm passing game. His mechanics were f—- up all year.”

That was apparent to everyone last summer. In fact, Bortles himself intimated as much during training camp, saying to his coaches then, “I can’t believe I’m throwing like that again.”

Between his first and second seasons, Bortles completely overhauled his mechanics, and man did it work. He threw for 4,428 yards, 35 TDs and 18 picks in 2015, and improved his passer rating by nearly 20 points. Perhaps believing the changes had taken hold, and were thus permanent, Bortles wasn’t as diligent in drilling fundamentals last offseason.

And that showed too. His passing yards, TD/INT ratio, and passer rating were all down significantly, and Bortles failed the eye test even more miserably. It was so bad that the young quarterback’s presence was a deterrent for some coaching candidates.

Caldwell said less than a month ago, after Gus Bradley was fired, that there would be no mandate that the next coach start Bortles, but tipped his hand in saying he still believed “very much” in the young quarterback. The truth is, Jacksonville wasn’t going to hire someone who thinks Bortles is broken.

Of course, an ability to turn Bortles around wasn’t the only factor here. The Jags, from the start, wanted someone with head coaching experience, believing their young team—which couldn’t handle the freedom of Gus Bradley’s program—could use a grown up in the room (part of why Mike Smith also appealed to them). On top of that they wanted alignment, which is where Marrone’s connections to Bill Parcells (Coughlin’s old boss) and Bill Polian (Caldwell’s old boss) come in.

But beyond that, they wanted to find a way to get Bortles right.

That’s why it is not insignificant that Bortles had his two strongest outings of the year in Marrone’s two games as interim coach, throwing for 325 yards a 103.5 rating in the first game, and 301 yards and a 96.2 rating in the second. Nor is it a mistake that Caldwell and Marrone are now signed through 2019, which means decision time will come the year before, which happens to be Bortles’ walk year.

So we’ll see what happens. If Bortles proves 2016 was a bump in the road in his maturation as a quarterback, and starts fulfilling his considerable potential, then it won’t matter whether or not this all looked so uninspired in January 2017.

If it goes the other way, then… well, we’ll all be right back here again in a couple years wondering where Jacksonville turns next.

A quick look at the five vacancies left …

Buffalo: For some time, all signs have pointed to interim coach Anthony Lynn being promoted, with Gus Bradley a candidate to come in as his defensive coordinator. But the further this process drags out—with candidates like Sean McDermott, Kris Richard and Harold Goodwin having interviewed—the less of a shoo-in Lynn seems to be. The Pegulas are at least trying to look open-minded about it.

Denver: John Elway interviewed Vance Joseph in 2015, and wanted to hire him as Gary Kubiak’s DC before “settling” for Wade Phillips (the Bengals blocked Joseph). Joseph went to Miami to run the Dolphins’ D a year later, and now looks to be the front-runner here. Word’s been out for a while, too, that he’d think about bringing ex-Charger coach Mike McCoy—who’s familiar with Denver—with him as OC.

Los Angeles: This is the most wide-open search, and my sense is that their focus on assistants is because they’d like to “discover” their own guy. That’s why 30-year-old Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay makes the most sense here. The fate of GM Les Snead—who’s been in the interview room along with COO Kevin Demoff and senior assistant Tony Pastoors—would be another piece that needs to fall into place.

San Diego: The Chargers’ focus remains on a handful of defensive and special teams coaches who could work with sitting offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and his staff. And San Diego’s analytical work shows previous head coaching experience to be a big plus. Given that criteria, it seems as if Mike Smith—the runner-up for the Jacksonville job—is the best fit as it stands today.

San Francisco: Josh McDaniels has had the inside track, and my understanding is that he preferred the Niners’ situation to the other two he interviewed for, because this is a from-the-ground-up situation. No bad contracts, pick your own QB, high draft picks… it’s basically like an expansion team. And there’ll be a new GM coming with you, too. If McDaniels gets the job, it could be Lou Riddick filling that role.

Stain of quitting Bills doesn't stick as much now for Doug Marrone

Feeling zero enthusiasm about Doug Marrone taking over as the Jaguars' coach is completely understandable. Even Jaguars followers are refraining from rushing to the ticket windows over that.

But Bills fans have to be looking side-eyed at this, hoping for their own sanity that, in fact, Marrone does flop.

If he doesn’t — if he nudges the Jaguars toward even a little bit of success and fulfill a portion of their potential — Bills fans will suffer the most.

Marrone walked out on the Bills two years ago, after two seasons that were hardly perfect or tension-free, but that showed progress. The second one ended 9-7 and included the last loss the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots suffered. That was with Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel at quarterback, C.J. Spiller in the backfield and a rookie Sammy Watkins — and without Kiko Alsonso, who tore his ACL before the season.

Marrone looked like the bad guy. As far as anyone knows, he really was, but even now, his reasons aren’t all that clear. He had a clause in his contract that allowed him to walk, and he did, and he looked for another head-coaching job and never got one. That’s how he ended up in Jacksonville, seemingly humbled by an offensive line coach gig.

Two years later, though, much more is known about the ownership and management situation in Buffalo.

And, in hindsight, Marrone and his choice look much better. Possibly smarter. Definitely less indefensible or fatal to his career.

All things considered, he got out just in time … and, as painful as it likely is to the Bills faithful, he eventually landed on his feet.

The Bills, though, haven’t yet hired a replacement for the replacement for Marrone.

And in a league that includes Jed York’s 49ers, a Browns team that’s overturning its coaching staff again, a Rams team that kept Jeff Fisher around longer than any sane franchise ever should and, of course, the Jaguars themselves … the Bills look like the biggest clown show of them all.

Owners Terry and Kim Pegula have proven to be impulsive, secretive and unaccountable. They let their crush on Rex Ryan steer them into hiring him almost before the door from the Jets had closed behind him, then pulled rank on him this season, capped by firing him over the phone.

General manager Doug Whaley got publicly embarrassed by the revelations that he was barely part of the coach-hiring and firing decisions at all. Interim head coach Anthony Lynn got equally shown up by being frozen out of decisions about playing Tyrod Taylor, who the team is trying to avoid paying his contract guarantees for next year.

The Pegulas bought the Bills during that 2014 season that was Marrone’s last.

That ownership is what Marrone walked away from.

Thus, being labeled a quitter becomes more of a badge of honor than it was two years ago.

True, Marrone’s credentials have never screamed “bump him to the head of the line," not from Syracuse or the NFL. The moderate success in Buffalo doesn’t indicate that he’ll be hoisting the Lombardi some day. The move reeks of lazy “ol’ boy network” hiring. Jaguars fans have earned their skepticism.

But Marrone also has earned this much of a benefit of the doubt: beating it out of Buffalo the first chance he got made much more sense that it once did.

Bills fans can say now what they wouldn’t have said two years ago: It’s not you, it’s us.

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