Where have you gone, Shad Khan? The Jacksonville Jaguars turn their losing eyes to you.
With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel, that’s where the Jaguars stand now since their season has skidded out of control.
With the collapse to 3-7 after six consecutive losses, the focus turns to their owner and what Khan will do at the end of the season. He rarely gives interviews, so he is not likely to tip his hand.
The Jaguars need fixing, and the question is whether Khan will make the right moves to fix the franchise.
He has to take the responsibility for the fact the team has had one winning season since he took control in 2012. It all starts with the owner.
Although Khan is a patient owner – maybe too patient – he whiffed on his two biggest decisions since he bought the team.
He hired Dave Caldwell in 2013 to run the team and after four losing seasons, he hired Tom Coughlin two years ago but kept Caldwell as Coughlin’s No. 2. He fired Gus Bradley as coach.
Whether Khan realizes it or not, it is obvious that neither Caldwell nor Coughlin is the answer.
Khan should move on from both and hire a new director of football operations or general manager to run the team. They need a fresh set of eyes to determine the team’s future.
He gambled on Caldwell, who had never been a general manager, gave him a five-year contract and bought into his philosophy of building through the draft.
There’s nothing wrong with that if you make the right picks — but Caldwell hasn’t. He’s been with the team six years and had one good draft and picked the wrong quarterback in Blake Bortles in 2014 and stuck with him even though it is obvious he is not a starting NFL quarterback.
He also had the philosophy that he would strip it down, getting rid of some players who could still play like Darryl Smith and refused to sign expensive free agents to help the team be competitive in the early years while the building was going on. He felt they would need replacing while the team got good.
Even though he was given a five-year contract, Khan should have told him he wanted to be a contender by Year Four. But they were 3-13 in 2016, and while Bradley was fired, he made the decision to keep Caldwell for reasons that are difficult to explain.
He gets a pass on the Caldwell hiring because it was his first major hire and there was always a chance Caldwell might develop into a good general manager, but he hasn’t.
But Khan must take the blame for hiring Coughlin to run the team. He didn’t do his due diligence and didn’t understand that Coughlin already had a reputation in the league for being good at coaching but not at personnel.
He had total control in his first term in Jacksonville and made the playoffs four years in a row. But he did it with reckless spending that put the team in salary cap hell and forced them to give away a popular player like Tony Boselli just to get under the cap. Things fell apart when he had three consecutive losing seasons and was fired after the 2002 season.
He sat out a year before being hired by the New York Giants in 2004, but he was given one condition. They told Coughlin he would only coach and wouldn’t run the franchise, the draft or personnel decisions. That was the general manager’s job. He won two Super Bowls in that role.
Still, Khan gave him control — and the results have been predictable. When Coughlin took over in 2017, it was already obvious they needed a new quarterback. Bortles wasn’t the answer. And Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were on the board in the first round.
Instead, Coughlin and Caldwell decided to stick with Bortles, passed on both Mahomes and Watson on the first round and took running back Leonard Fournette, who had an injury history in college. They decided to build a power running game around him to protect Bortles. They ignored the fact this was a great plan for 1975, but not in 2017 when the NFL had become a passing league.
Last year, they caught lightning in a bottle. They had no injuries, found three defensive starters in free agency (Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Barry Church) and had several players turn in career years.
And five of their 10 regular season wins came against backup quarterbacks — Jacoby Brissett (twice), Tom Savage, T.J. Yates and DeShone Kizer.
The success convinced them that they could win with Bortles, so they gave him a team-friendly contract extension. They then passed up Lamar Jackson in the first round of the 2018 draft for a defensive lineman, Taven Bryan, who sees limited snaps. And they doubled down on the running game by giving Andrew Norwell a contract that was then the highest ever for a guard.
They also let Allen Robinson and nickel back Aaron Colvin walk and signed Donte Moncrief to bolster the receiving corps.
And then this year it all fell apart. The Jaguars have had a rash of injuries, several players who had career years saw their play drop off, Andrew Luck and Watson returned from injuries and both have beaten them. The defense can’t play with a lead and Bortles, it turns out, is still Bortles.
So what does Khan do now?
Does he buy into the idea that injuries were the main culprit and make only minor changes like getting a new quarterback or changing the coordinators?
Or does he just fire Caldwell and keep Coughlin in charge? Or does he keep both or fire both? The coach is a separate issue to be determined after Khan decides on the football man to run the organization.
Khan hasn’t faced a year like this when the team thought it was a Super Bowl contender and imploded. So he doesn’t have a track record of dealing with a year like this, and we don’t know how he will react.
Some will argue you can’t change the top of the organization a year away from going to the AFC title game. But this regime is responsible for 3-7. They are likely to have a top-ten pick or even a top-five selection. Does he want Coughlin and/or Caldwell making it?
And whoever is the top football man faces a daunting task. It won’t be easy finding a new quarterback after passing on Mahomes, Watson and Jackson the last two years. The 2019 quarterback class isn’t considered a good one in the draft.
Will Khan realize that Coughlin isn’t the long term answer for turning the team around?
If he doesn’t and brings Coughlin back, the odds are against the Jaguars becoming a contender again anytime soon.
With six weeks left in the season, Khan has a long time to think about what he wants to do next.
If he does decide he needs a new football man running the operation, he also has to find the right one to get the team on track.
Besides needing a new quarterback, they are already over next year’s projected salary cap, so they have to do some restructuring. And they have to decide whether they need to make coaching changes.
The ball is now in Khan’s court.