Jaguars to keep coach Marrone, GM Caldwell

10:18 AM ET

  • Michael DiRoccoESPN Staff Writer


    • Covered University of Florida for 13 seasons for and Florida Times-Union
    • Graduate of Jacksonville University
    • Multiple APSE award winner

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is giving general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone another chance to prove that the 2017 season wasn’t a fluke.

ESPN reported on Saturday that Marrone had been told he was not returning. At the time, the team strongly denied the report.

Khan announced Tuesday that he was keeping both in their roles for at least the 2020 season despite a second consecutive losing season after the team’s surprising run to the AFC title game in 2017. Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin on Dec. 18, two days after the NFLPA’s scathing rebuke and warning to players to be wary of signing with the Jaguars, and has apparently determined that the bulk of the blame for this season falls at his feet.

Khan said in a statement he doesn’t believe this was the time to make a complete change in the organization.

“While our discussions will remain confidential, the decision I am making to keep our staff intact for 2020 has nothing to do with our victory on Sunday and everything to do with my positive meetings with Dave, Doug, the coordinators and our players, as well as my belief that this is not the time to consider an overhaul of our organization,” he said.

“The 2019 season was unacceptable and I’ve made my dissatisfaction clear. While many unusual circumstances influenced our season, none can fully explain or defend our second-half collapse with first place in the division within reach on Week 9. At the same time, there were positive developments and contributions that should not be overlooked.”

Caldwell and Marrone have two years remaining on the contract extensions they were given after the 2017 season.

“We came out of our AFC Championship Game season of 2017 by making a four-year commitment to the collective leadership of our football operations,” Khan said. “Only two seasons have passed and one change from that leadership team has already been made. I want to see what we produce under a new organizational structure in 2020. Goals have been established. Accountability will be paramount.

“As part of our new framework, the position of Executive Vice President of Football Operations will not be filled in 2020. Dave and Doug will each continue to report directly to me, as they have since mid-December. Our work begins immediately. We have a lot of draft capital in our favor to help us achieve our goals for 2020, and beyond.

“Finally, I was struck and impressed, but not surprised, by the strong showing of our fans Sunday at TIAA Bank Field. The euphoria and passion was genuine and appreciated by everyone with our team, and that goes double for me. My sincere thanks to everyone. It was a moment that underlines the fact that nothing beats having a winning football team. It’s my obligation to deliver one to Jacksonville in 2020.”

The Jaguars’ victory on Sunday against Indianapolis made Marrone’s record in his three seasons to 22-28, which includes an 11-22 mark since winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record in 2017 and an appearance in the AFC title game.

The Jaguars were one of the league’s worst teams in the second half of the season, losing five games in a row by more than 17 points — the first time that’s happened since the 1986 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team’s biggest downfalls this season were undisciplined play and the defense’s steep decline. The Jaguars’ run defense has not been good, giving up more than 200 yards rushing in four games for the first time in franchise history and finishing 28th in rush defense.

It was an eventful and unusual season for Marrone and the Jaguars. It started off pretty good with the Foles signing and defensive end Josh Allen falling to them at No. 7 in the draft. However, linebacker Telvin Smith, the team’s leading tackler last season and a player who had compiled more solo tackles (441) than anyone else in the league the past five seasons, announced in May that he was taking the 2019 season off for personal reasons.

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue held out the first 11 days of training camp before reporting without a new contract. Foles lasted just 11 snaps before suffering a broken collarbone while throwing a touchdown pass to DJ Chark.

Ramsey got into a sideline spat with Marrone in a Week 2 loss at Houston, was privately chastised by management after the game, and demanded a trade. Ramsey played the following week against Tennessee but missed the team’s next three games because of a back injury before Caldwell traded him to the Los Angeles Rams for a first-round pick in 2020 and first- and fourth-round picks in 2021.

The Jaguars won the franchise’s first division title since 1999 in Marrone’s first season in 2017. The Jaguars’ playoff appearance was their first since 2007 and they beat Buffalo at home in an AFC Wild Card game before upsetting Pittsburgh on the road in a divisional game to reach the AFC Championship Game in New England.

The had a 10-point lead with 10 minutes remaining, but quarterback Tom Brady led a pair of touchdown drives — converting a third-and-18 on one drive — and the Patriots won 24-20.

The 2018 season got off to a 3-1 start (which included a victory over New England in Jacksonville) before it deteriorated due to a rash of injuries along the offensive line and at tight end, terrible quarterback play, and a dismal performance from running back Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars finished 5-11 and Khan released a statement after the season that Coughlin, Caldwell and Marrone would return in 2019 but “there were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season … and that cannot repeat itself in 2019.”

Caldwell has been the Jaguars’ GM since January 2013 and has presided over only one winning season. Since winning the AFC South and advancing to the AFC Championship game in 2017, the Jaguars have won just 36 games. The Jaguars lost 10 or more games in every season under Caldwell except 2017.

Caldwell had uneven draft success during his tenure and none of his first-round picks from 2013-16 (offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, quarterback Blake Bortles, and defensive end Dante Fowler) remain with the team. Coughlin has had the final say on all football matters since 2017 and was ultimately responsible for the last three drafts.

However, Caldwell also drafted center Brandon Linder (2014), defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (2016), linebacker Myles Jack (2016) in the second and third rounds and was instrumental in signing defensive end Calais Campbell, safety Barry Church and cornerback A.J. Bouye in free agency in 2017. All of those players are either current or former starters (Church was cut in 2018 but had a very good 2017) and played key roles in the team’s run to the AFC title game in 2017.

Caldwell was primarily responsible for free agency (Coughlin did have veto power) and while the class in 2017 may go down as the best in franchise history, the past two groups of free agents have been a major disappointment. The Jaguars made Andrew Norwell the highest-paid guard in the NFL (he’s now third) and he’s been average at best. Receiver Marqise Lee has played just six games since re-signing.

Other major free-agent disappointments the last two years: receiver Donte Moncrief, tight Austin Seferian-Jenkins, linebacker Jake Ryan, tight end Geoff Swaim, and tight end Niles Paul. And Foles, who has never played a complete season in which he entered the season as his team’s unquestioned starter.

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