Tonight’s maligned Titans-Jaguars game — complete with some underrated color rush kits — comes with additional intrigue regarding coach Gus Bradley’s long-term status in Jacksonville.
For the second time this month, the fourth-year coach faces what looks on the surface like a win-or-else proposition — with the mini-bye approaching leading up the Jags’ Week 9 game. Bradley survived the actual bye, which comes every year for the Jags post-London, but would have to be considered for a Black Monday-style meeting if the Jags look as bad as they did against the Raiders.
Shad Khan, though, reportedly will be giving Bradley the rest of the season to prove his legitimacy for the job going forward rather than doing what most owners would do with a lame-duck leader like the 50-year-old sideline boss.
That’s uncommonly patient for a modern NFL owner, where coaches have been fired for far more productive stretches than what Khan’s allowed Bradley to oversee.
Bradley probably should have been fired already. His 12-38 record after 50 games being the second-worst all-time to Bert Bell, who could not be fired since also owned the Eagles during his stretch of sub-optimal leadership in the late 1930s and early ’40s, is incredibly difficult to defend, regardless of the Jags’ circumstances.
He’s probably going to be fired after the season unless a ’96 Jags-esque turnaround occurs (memorably, the second-year franchise went from 2-7 to the AFC championship game; that seems unlikely for this group). So would a loss tonight, which would drop the Jaguars to 2-5, start a brief Doug Marrone stretch?
A change might be necessary, but how much would people really expect from Marrone — he who opted out of his Bills contract for financial gain and ended up having to accept the offensive line-coaching position for one of the least attractive franchises in American sports — to achieve that Bradley couldn’t?
We’re talking about a coach who somehow parlayed leading Syracuse to back-to-back Pinstripe Bowls into a Bills head-coaching opportunity. Owners make these kind of changes all the time in hopes of generating a spark — the 2015 Dolphins promoting their tight ends coach comes to mind — but both Bradley and Marrone would be lame ducks in that scenario.
I suppose going with Marrone, who would then be coaching for a chance to lead the team in 2017, makes sense to invigorate the roster. But that’s unlikely.
A random Thursday-night performance also doesn’t define Bradley’s tenure; being allowed to stay on this long despite minimal improvement does.
The former Seahawks defensive coordinator’s inevitable ouster will lead to another Jags reboot, but that’s probably a good thing. Jacksonville has possessed top-five picks in each of the past four years and needs most importantly to hire a coach and offensive coordinator who can salvage Blake Bortles, who’s been the catalyst for this season’s swoon.
Of course, much like the Raiders in Al Davis’ last years or the recent Browns, this is not an attractive job — a small-market franchise that doesn’t win and is connected with occasional relocation buzz. Khan may not like what could be ahead for the franchise in the interview process come 2017. While Bradley is going to be fired, prospects for a Jaguars resurgence — one the owner hoped Bradley’s group was authoring in a rare long-term rebuild — don’t look much better today.
If Bortles isn’t the answer, the young talent assembled (Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson, Allen Robinson, etc.) will be forced into a holding pattern of sorts while the franchise finds its next passer. The Jags’ defense isn’t good enough to be a playoff threat without an above-average quarterback, so a transition like the one the team underwent in going from Blaine Gabbert to Bortles could stunt this team’s growth.
For now, though, there isn’t a good option. The Jaguars are stuck, and a Thursday-night game won’t provide signs they can escape this spot.
They’re likely staring at another rebuild, albeit with a better supporting cast than Bradley inherited in 2013, whether Khan wants to admit it or not.