INDIANAPOLIS -- When Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan hired Tom Coughlin in the newly created position of executive vice president of football operations, he gave Coughlin complete control and final say over all football matters.
Coughlin, though, has made it clear in the two news conferences he's had since his hiring that he, general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone would work as a team.
Some around the NFL have wondered about the structure. Caldwell had been in charge the past four seasons and was now reporting to Coughlin, who earned a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and control freak as the head coach of the Jaguars (1995-2002) and New York Giants (2004-15). When reports surfaced that Coughlin needed to approve any coaching hires, it led to speculation about whether Marrone is a figurehead coach.
However, all three say that things have worked well in the two months they’ve been together.
“I think Doug, Tom and I have embraced the process, and there’s been a lot of communication with all decisions, and it’s been truly a team effort,” Caldwell said. “Not only between the three of us, but the coaching staff and our personnel staff.
“Surprisingly enough, through the whole process and having an idea that this was going to happen, you kind of think, ‘How’s this going to work?’ But Tom has been great. It’s been great to be able to walk down the hallway and bounce some things off of him: ‘Hey we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. What do you think about this? What do you think about that?’ And then we sit together with he, I and Doug and we come together on a collective decision.”
Caldwell is the key to making the structure work. If he’s able to accept Coughlin now having final say without becoming bitter or dissatisfied, there will be minimal problems. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements -- there always are in any front office -- but they must not fester and become bigger issues.
“He’s a helluva football mind,” said Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff, who worked with Caldwell in Atlanta and remains a close friend. “He’s really, really good at what he does. He’s always been a top-notch evaluator. He’s also a very creative guy and a smart guy. He’s got a personality about him that allows him to work with a lot of people."
About the Jacksonville threesome working together, Dimitroff said, “I think it has the potential to be a really strong trifecta.”
The Jaguars’ new hierarchy isn’t unique. Other NFL teams have similar structures, though the way the power is divided varies. The Miami Dolphins, for example, have an executive VP of football operations (Mike Tannenbaum) and a general manger (Chris Grier). The key to making it work, coach Adam Gase said, is regular and clear communication. No surprises, and understanding and valuing each person’s input.
“We feel comfortable with the roles that we all have,” Gase said. “I know a lot of people see three of us working together and always think, ‘How can that work?’ But we do a good job of communicating and everybody doing their job.
“[Grier] does a great job with how we organize everything and really puts all that stuff together. He’s somebody that’s probably a voice of reason for me and Mike.”
So far, the arrangement seems to have worked. This past season, the first in which Tannenbaum, Grier and Gase worked together, the Dolphins posted their first winning record (10-6) and made their first playoff appearance since 2008 -- the season in which New England's Tom Brady missed 15 games with a torn ACL.
The Seattle Seahawks have had success with GM John Schneider working with coach Pete Carroll. It’s Carroll, not Schneider, who has final say, and while that’s a bit unorthodox, the two have made it work. In their seven seasons together, the Seahawks have made the playoffs six times and appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one.
Schneider told ESPN Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia that the key to their arrangement is, “No ego. Ego is the enemy.”
In Atlanta, coach Dan Quinn has final say over the 53-man roster, Dimitroff is in charge of the front office and assistant GM Scott Pioli is responsible for a large portion of the player personnel duties. Owner Arthur Blank restructured the front office when he hired Quinn in January 2015.
The moves paid off with a Super Bowl appearance in February.
Marrone said the Jaguars trio meets regularly and he will often seek out Coughlin or Caldwell individually for advice. So far, there haven’t been any conflicts.
“There’s nothing right now that we haven’t been able to go through and come up with a what’s-best-for-the-team decision,” Marrone said. “And I think a lot of it is because we all understand the situation. The situation, it’s clear: We have to win.
“So it’s not about getting this person in because you like them or getting this person in because you like him or I like him. It’s like, ‘OK, how does this person fit? Why do we want to bring this person in? Why do we want to do this with our team? Why do we want to do that with our team?’ I don’t like using challenge meaning confrontational, but pushing yourselves to look at every avenue of why this is.”
Jones had played well in relief of Roy Miller in 2016, and all three decision-makers believe he's an ascending player whose best football is ahead of him. Caldwell said Thomas never “clicked” with the offense in two seasons and his lack of blocking ability doesn't fit with the run-first offense that Coughlin and Marrone want to install, so they agreed to see if they could get some value for him instead of just cutting him. Odrick battled injuries in 2016 and because of that didn't play as well as he did in 2015 (team-high 5.5 sacks). It was an easy decision to release him because it's a deep draft for edge rushers and defensive ends, and the Jaguars saved $8.5 million.
“We’re on the same page,” Coughlin said. “I said it when we came in and I’ll always say it: We’ll work as a team, we’ll make decisions as a team. Let’s face it, those two gentlemen have more information about this team to share with me than I certainly have to share with them.
“In many circumstances, I’m like a sponge listening to their comments or the comments of the coaches that have been here in the evaluations that we’ve done, to the yeas and the nays and the pluses and the minuses. I’m very interested in what both Doug and Dave have to say.”