2013 Coaching Changes: Jacksonville Jaguars

When Dave Caldwell took over as the Jaguars’ general manager shortly after the conclusion of the 2012 season, 49ers offensive coordinator—and Caldwell’s former college roommate—Greg Roman was inserted as the odds-on favorite to become Jacksonville’s head coach.

However, Gus Bradley’s Seahawks exited the playoffs before the Niners did, and Bradley was so impressive in his interviews that the Jags didn’t wait around for Roman to finish San Francisco’s playoff run. And he’s hardly a consolation prize: coming off an impressive four-year run as Seattle’s defensive coordinator Bradley was the Eagles’ first choice to replace Andy Reid before Chip Kelly reversed field and decided to leave Oregon.

“Gus more than met every criteria we insisted on from our new head coach,” Caldwell said at Bradley’s introductory press conference. “His intangibles and leadership abilities are exceptional. Gus is who the Jaguars need now and in the future.”

Bucking the trend of rookie coaches, Bradley is a defensive guy. So while his intangibles and leadership will set the tone for the Jags, someone else will be calling the plays. That somebody is Jedd Fisch.

Fisch’s path to the Jacksonville job is an interesting one. He didn’t play football in high school or college, yet he chose to attend the University of Florida because at the time Steve Spurrier was the Gators’ coach. Consistently turned down for a spot on the Florida staff, Fisch coached for a Florida high school team and one summer for an area team—for free—before finally landing a spot as a student assistant for Spurrier as a senior. He remained as a grad assistant for the Gators for two seasons, then was among the first hires of the Houston Texans in 2001. Over the next decade Fisch made three more NFL stops (Ravens, Broncos, and Seahawks, where he met Bradley) and served two tours as a college offensive coordinator (Minnesota and, for the past two seasons, Miami).

“He’s really innovative,” Bradley told the Jaguars’ team web site about Fisch. “He now has three or four different tempos he can attack you with. He can do it with different personnel groupings. Those are all things I know as a defensive coordinator are tough to deal with. That’s what I liked about Jedd, that it’s an attacking modeof offense and it can come at you in different ways.”

Fisch cited Spurrier, Mike Shanahan, and Brian Billick as his primary coaching influences. From Spurrier Fisch indicated he learned aggressiveness and has said he aspires to call plays like Spurrier does. At Miami Fisch said his playbook most resembled a Shanahan offense, and to that end the Jaguars have already said they’ll move to a zone blocking scheme. Fisch said the terminology comes from his days in Baltimore with Billick, as well as the way the offense is installed.

“I learned so much from coach Billick in terms of how to teach the offense—not necessarily what the offense is, but how to teach it,” Fisch told the Florida Times-Union. “Not necessarily what the offense is, but how to teach it and how to make it player-friendly.”

Billick, in turn, has called Fisch “one of the brightest young coaches I’ve ever been around” and “an excellent teacher.”

Fisch’s first project will be working with Blaine Gabbert, making this the third straight season the former first-round pick has had a new offensive coordinator. At Miami Fisch said the Hurricanes’ playbook was “pretty substantial” with “a lot of options”; “what it does is give us an opportunity to see what the defense does and not introduce something new.”

Fisch also said his Miami offense was “built to be methodical”, “very black and white, no gray area.” With one of the common knocks against Gabbert being his skittishness, perhaps he’ll be best served with a black-and-white progression. As a quarterbacks coach Fisch has worked with Steve McNair in Baltimore and Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle, so he has a solid NFL frame of reference to provide Gabbert… or Chad Henne.

Fisch has also been a receivers coach, with Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton in Baltimore and Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in Denver, so Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts are in good hands. Both of the aforementioned tandems had solid numbers while working with Fisch—albeit with better quarterbacking—so feel free to remain optimistic about the Jacksonville receiving corps.

Also, both Shanahan and Billick tended to have productive tight ends, so perhaps the Jaguars can get Marcedes Lewis more involved and start paying dividends on that gaudy contract he signed a couple years back.

The one offensive constant for the Jaguars has been Maurice Jones-Drew, but even he will be facing change in Fisch’s offense. Not that Jones-Drew can’t succeed in the zone blocking scheme, but history has suggested there’s a learning curve for the offensive line—and as the Raiders demonstrated last season, sometimes the fit isn’t there at all. Jacksonville won’t have to completely overhaul their line, but those looking to Mojo for something resembling his past productivity would like to see an early pick spent on a mobile offensive lineman to help with the transition.

Jones-Drew is also coming off an injury-marred 2012 campaign and still dissatisfied with his contract; maybe the Jags are thinking about a replacement back sooner rather than later? As later picks like Terrell Davis, Arian Foster, and Alfred Morris have proved, the ZBS doesn’t require an early-round back to work. The Jaguars’ new regime seems resigned to a rebuilding process, which wouldn’t favor of a veteran back with an injury history and a high price tag.