JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin on Wednesday, two days after the NFL Players Association warned players of potentially signing with the franchise because of excessive fines and player grievances.
Khan said he initially decided to make the move once the season ended, but the letter the NFLPA sent to its players clearly accelerated his timetable.
"I determined earlier this fall that making this move at the conclusion of the 2019 season would be in everyone's best interests but, in recent days, I reconsidered and decided to make this change immediately," Khan said in a statement. "I thank Tom for his efforts, not only over the past three years but for all he did from our very first season, 25 years ago, to put the Jacksonville Jaguars on the map.
"My expectations, and those of our fans, for our final two games and the 2020 season are high."
In a statement to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Coughlin, 73, said he was thankful for his time in Jacksonville.
"As head of football operations for the Jaguars for the last three years I was responsible for all things related to football," he said. "I take great pride in our accomplishments, especially in 2017. I'd like to thank Shad Khan for the opportunity to come back to Jacksonville, all the players and staff for their efforts, and the great fans here for their support. I was the first coach of this franchise and I will always be supportive of the Jaguars."
Asked whether this is the end of Coughlin's career, agent Sandy Montag told Mortensen: "The only thing I would say is there is plenty of football left in Tom Coughlin."
The Jaguars (5-9) close the season at Atlanta and at home against Indianapolis. Khan did not offer any insight into the status of general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone, only saying each will report directly to him in the interim.
Khan hired Coughlin in January 2017, after the team Khan purchased in November 2011 won only 17 games over five seasons. Coughlin, who had been fired as head coach by the New York Giants after the 2015 season, was the link to the Jaguars' only period of sustained success. He built the team from the ground up as its GM/coach, taking Jacksonville to the playoffs four consecutive seasons in the late 1990s and reaching the AFC Championship Game twice.
Khan gave Coughlin the final say over all football matters, though he kept Caldwell in the GM role. It was an unusual structure, but it worked at first: The Jaguars hit big in free agency with defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church, and they landed two starters (running back Leonard Fournette and left tackle Cam Robinson) and a late-season impact player (receiver Dede Westbrook) with three of their first four draft picks in 2017.
The Jaguars led the league in rushing, quarterback Blake Bortles significantly cut down his turnovers and the defense was one of the league's best. They went 10-6 and won the AFC South (the franchise's first division title since 1999), hosted a playoff game for the first time since January 2000 and reached the AFC Championship Game.
Two years later, however, the franchise has fallen apart, and Coughlin played a major role. He bungled the quarterback situation with Bortles (signing him to an extension in 2018, then cutting him and eating $16.5 million in dead money against the salary cap this season) and the lucrative free-agent signing of Nick Foles.
Foles was injured in the season opener, then lasted only 10 quarters after he returned before getting benched for rookie Gardner Minshew. Foles has three touchdown passes and two interceptions this season after signing a four-year, $88 million deal.
Coughlin also took Fournette fourth overall in his first draft, over quarterback Deshaun Watson. While Fournette is having the best season of his career, Watson has become a franchise quarterback for the division-rival Houston Texans. Coughlin also drafted defensive tackle Taven Bryan in 2018 instead of quarterback Lamar Jackson. Bryan has been a disappointment, and the Ravens' Jackson is the favorite to be the league's MVP this season.
The Jaguars' past two free-agent classes have been busts, too. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, regarded as the best player the Jaguars have drafted since Tony Boselli, got so fed up with management and Coughlin that he asked for, and forced, a trade, ultimately landing with the Rams in October.
There's also internal strife between Coughlin and the coaching staff, including Marrone.
Coughlin held a news conference on Nov. 27 -- his first time speaking with the media since the final day of the 2019 draft -- but refused to answer questions about his job status, Marrone's status, whether he tried to repair the team's relationship with Ramsey and the contract situation of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The Jaguars have won only 10 games over the past two seasons, and only three have come against teams that finished the season with a winning record or currently have a winning record.
The apparent last straw for Khan was the letter the NFLPA sent to every player in the league that announced it won a grievance filed against the Jaguars for requiring former player Dante Fowler to attend rehab and doctor appointments in Jacksonville during the 2018 offseason and fining him more than $700,000 when he didn't.
The letter also warned about potentially signing with the Jaguars because it said more than 25% of the grievances filed by NFL players in the past two years have been against the club, and that players "continue to be at odds with Jaguars management over their rights under the [collective bargaining agreement] far more than players on other clubs."
This is the second time the Jaguars have fired Coughlin. He was the coach and GM from 1995 to 2002, and though he drafted very good players early in his tenure (Boselli, Fred Taylor, Kevin Hardy, Tony Brackens) and a couple late (Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, Coughlin's final two first-round picks), he had some busts, too, particularly receiver R. Jay Soward, who played only one season before being suspended by the league for violating its substance abuse policy.
Coughlin also hit on some gems in free agency (offensive tackle Leon Searcy, receiver Keenan McCardell, defensive tackle Gary Walker and tight end Kyle Brady) and signed the franchise's leading receiver (Jimmy Smith) after a tryout in February 1995. But there also was linebacker Bryce Paup, who signed for six years and $22 million but had just 7.5 sacks in 31 games. He was regarded as the biggest free-agent bust in team history -- until the past few seasons, anyway.
Coughlin also badly mishandled the salary cap when making a push to win it all in 1999.
The Jaguars were $23 million over the cap in 2002 and needed to make five players available in the expansion draft for the Texans. One of them was Boselli, the best player in franchise history and a Hall of Fame finalist in 2019. The Jaguars also exposed Walker, cut Hardy and had to let McCardell walk because they couldn't afford to re-sign him.
Then-owner Wayne Weaver fired Coughlin after the 2002 season.