JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Wearing a military tribute jacket and a grimace, Tom Coughlin was combative even before he started taking questions.
Coughlin stepped to the podium and told media members to “back up.” Jacksonville’s executive vice president of football operations then spoke for more than 5 minutes about the team’s current situation — what’s gone right and wrong through 11 games — and pleaded with fans to show up for the final three home games.
His hastily arranged news conference was strangely timed and oddly delivered.
Coughlin was elusive, refusing to talk about coach Doug Marrone’s future or explain why he traded star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and mostly abrasive during a 13-minute session with reporters. It was his first public comments in seven months.
“The head coach is the voice of the program, OK,” Coughlin said Wednesday. “I feel at this point in time that I’m needed to speak. Doug has come before you with his message literally every day since the start of the season. If I can help reinforce that message, then that’s why I’m here.
“We’re all in this together. We all want to win. You all want to win. I know that. You don’t want to write about a team that’s not winning; that’s not any fun. And we’re all in this thing together.”
Maybe not for much longer.
Owner Shad Khan has a decision to make about the Jaguars (4-7), who are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Khan hired Coughlin and Marrone at the same time in 2017, adding them to incumbent general manager Dave Caldwell and creating a triumvirate that worked well for two seasons. It now appears to be falling apart.
Marrone took a shot at Coughlin on Tuesday, the first clear sign of internal strife.
“I’ve been criticized, even within the organization, of how the team was and how I trained the team,” Marrone said, referring to his “smart approach” to training camp and the preseason.
Coughlin declined to respond.
“That would be between Doug and I,” Coughlin said. “It’s not for anyone else.”
Several people inside the facility said the environment has become toxic, hardly a surprise for a team that’s lost 17 of its last 23 games. Coaches are pointing fingers at the scouting department for sticking them with players like rookie linebacker Quincy Williams, safety Jarrod Wilson, defensive tackle Taven Bryan and arguably the worst tight end group in the league. And players are questioning who’s really in charge: Marrone or Coughlin, a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach who has seemingly struggled to make the transition from the sideline to the front office.
The 73-year-old Coughlin declined to discuss whether he plans to return in 2020.
“There are five games to go,” said Coughlin, who along with Marrone and Caldwell signed a two-year extension in 2018 that puts them under contract through the 2021 season.
What about Marrone?
“Five games to win,” Coughlin added.
He offered even less insight into Ramsey, who was traded early last month weeks after a heated sideline confrontation with Marrone and a less-public one hours later with Coughlin and Caldwell.
Ramsey said repeatedly his issue was with the front office, which declined to offer him a contract extension with two years remaining on his rookie contract.
“I’m not going to speak about Jalen,” Coughlin said. “He’s no longer a part of our team. He’s a member of another team.”
The Jaguars have dropped three straight, all against AFC South opponents and each by at least 20 points. The defense has been gouged on the ground. The offense has managed little early in games, even after the return of quarterback Nick Foles.
Jacksonville was outscored 101-36 in those three losses and seemingly out-coached at halftime.
Coughlin said there were no excuses for the team’s turmoil. He also offered no plan to fix the issues.
“We need everyone on board and all pulling in the same direction,” Coughlin said. “And by everyone I mean ownership, organization, coaches, players, scouts, staff, our great fans and our entire community. Everyone must be on board to help us win.”
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