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The Jaguars Had No Choice but to Fire Tom Coughlin

The announcement came hours after Leonard Fournette said he won a grievance claim against the team, but Coughlin’s time in Jacksonville looked to be up long before that

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin on Wednesday, ending Coughlin’s first official foray into an NFL front office. It also may be his last. His three-year tenure included the franchise’s third trip to the AFC championship game but ended with Coughlin’s old-school militaristic approach ostracizing key players on both sides of the ball.

“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 wrote in a statement posted by the team’s official Twitter account.

Coughlin, who was the franchise’s first head coach from 1995 to 2002, released a statement Wednesday night thanking Khan for the opportunity to work for the Jaguars again. When asked by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen whether the 73-year-old Coughlin’s NFL career was done, agent Sandy Montag said, “The only thing I would say is there is plenty of football left in Tom Coughlin.”

Head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell will retain their jobs for now, and Khan said he had high expectations for the final two games of this season and 2020. Marrone could be fired at the end of the season, and Caldwell could join him (anyone who signed Blake Bortles to a contract extension has light job security).

Khan fired Coughlin hours after star Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette confirmed to reporters that Coughlin fined him nearly $99,000 for sitting on the bench on the team’s sideline in Week 17 last year when the running back was inactive with an ankle injury. Fournette filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association and won. The Jaguars rescinded the fine. Apparently that is business as usual in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been the subject of a quarter of all grievances the NFLPA has filed in the past two seasons, according to the NFLPA. On Monday, the NFLPA revealed a Jaguars player was fined more than $700,000 for missed medical and/or rehab appointments at the team facility that Jacksonville had deemed mandatory, a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

“You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club,” the union’s statement said.

On Wednesday, Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye told reporters he also had been fined for what he called a miscommunication.

“In the offseason you have players from other leagues, they come and ask me about the fines, like ‘Is it true y’all getting fined for stuff like this?’” Bouye said. “They laugh at us because they think that I’m lying. Now that stuff like this is coming out, it’s true, we got fined for it.”

In April, the NFL sent Coughlin a warning when he criticized cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Telvin Smith for not showing up to voluntary OTAs. Smith never reported and took the season off. Ramsey, an All-Pro cornerback and the team’s most valuable defender at the time, did report to training camp (in a Brinks truck) but eventually forced a trade by refusing to play with a dubious back injury. Ramsey, whom the Jags traded to the Rams for two first-round picks in October, sent a not-so-cryptic tweet after Coughlin was fired.

Coughlin has been notorious for fining players for the smallest infractions in the past 15 years. In September 2004, Coughlin’s first year as the Giants head coach, he infamously fined players, including star Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, for not being early enough to a meeting.

“If you are on time, you are on time,” Coughlin said at the time. “Meetings start five minutes early.”

Coughlin was on the verge of being fired before the 2007 season with the Giants, but he softened his approach that year and the Giants went on to win two Super Bowls.

“Coughlin, we hated him,” Strahan told Fox Sports in February 2017. “And it was real. It was no public persona. We hated the man. But now he learned that you can be tough, everybody’s going to have the same goal—to win—but you have to let [people] know you’re human. You have to know I care about you. And once he learned to let us know he cared about us, we loved him.”

The Jaguars may not have gotten to see much of Coughlin’s human side. Coughlin seemed to have trouble vibing with his brash, young stars. The team earned 10 wins in his first season onboard and went to the AFC championship game (and came within a Bouye pass interference penalty of a Super Bowl berth). But the team has just 10 wins since then, and extending Blake Bortles in 2018—and incurring a $15.5 million dead-cap hit after cutting him last spring—while also alienating homegrown talent has put the team in a disastrous situation. The elite defense that buoyed them in 2017 has disintegrated into one of the league’s worst—or perhaps most disinterested—units.

After jettisoning his players, Coughlin is now the one who is out. Coughlin was obsessed with getting the house in order, but now Jacksonville is cleaning house.