On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars fired head coach Gus Bradley just hours after a 21-20 loss at Houston, the team’s ninth in a row. At 2-12, Jacksonville will soon wrap up a sixth straight losing season and will likely wind up with yet another top-five pick in next year’s draft.
Bradley, who served as Seattle’s defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll from 2009-12, was hired as Jacksonville’s head coach in January 2013. In three-plus seasons, the Jaguars went 18-48, which is tied with Cleveland for the worst record in the NFL during that span. Bradley’s .226 winning percentage is the second worst in NFL history, behind only Bert Bell’s .179 (10-46-2). Bell is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as he owned the Eagles during his stint as head coach (1936-40) and went on to serve as NFL commissioner from 1946 until his death in ’59.
After going 5-11 last season, better things were expected from Jacksonville after an aggressive offseason which focused on rebuilding the defense. Free agents like defensive tackle Malik Jackson, cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Tashaun Gipson, along with the additions of this year’s draft picks Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack were brought in to help turn around a unit that ranked 31st in scoring (28.0 ppg) and 24th in total (375.0 ypg) defense in 2015.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Wash, the Jaguars have improved in some areas on that side of the ball, ranking among the top five in the league in total and passing defense, but have struggled when it comes to stopping the run and keeping opponents from scoring (26.0 ppg, 27th).
However, the real issues for this year’s team come on offense, as Blake Bortles and company have regressed after showing signs of growth a year ago. Bortles is tied for second in the league with 15 interceptions and ranks 29th in passer rating (77.9). As a team, Jacksonville is near the bottom of the league in scoring (18.5 ppg) and has the second-worst turnover differential (-17) thanks in part to a league-low eight takeaways.
Due to an extended period of a lack of success, the Jaguars have been able to stockpile several high draft picks and as a result have a core of players that the next head coach should be able to build around. Because of how this season has progressed, however, one of the biggest questions at this point appears to be if Bortles is the long-term answer at quarterback.
Along those lines, it only makes sense that Jacksonville owner Shad Khan and general manager Dave Caldwell will focus their search on offensive-minded candidates. Here are five names to keep an eye on, as there are now two current openings (Los Angeles), with the likelihood that there will be more to come.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots
McDaniels went 11-17 as Denver’s head coach from 2009-10, a tenure that was highlighted by two decisions revolving around quarterbacks – trading Jay Cutler to the Bears and moving back into the first round to take Tim Tebow in the ‘10 draft.
But McDaniels’ track record as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself, as he has won four Super Bowls in New England working under Bill Belichick. Whether McDaniels’ success is mostly due to Belichick and/or Tom Brady is fair to question, but his boss has already come out and said his young protégé is ready for another shot at being a head coach.
Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Shanahan has been with Matt Ryan in Atlanta the past two seasons. The Falcons’ offense is tops in the NFL in scoring and third in both total and passing yards per game, and Ryan's name has come up in discussion regarding possible MVP candidates this season.
Prior to Atlanta, Shanahan was offensive coordinator for Cleveland (2014), Washington (2010-13) and Houston (2008-09). Under his tutelage, Robert Griffin III was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 while Matt Schaub was a Pro Bowler and enjoyed the best season of his 13-year career in ’09. Shanahan is the son of two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan. Is it time for him to follow in his father’s footsteps?
Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers
Haley’s first shot at being a head coach didn’t go well, as he was 19-26 in Kansas City before he was fired with three games left in the 2011 season. But he did lead the Chiefs to 10-6 record and the AFC West title in ‘10. And like McDaniels, Haley’s reputation as an offensive coordinator is as solid as they come, as he and Ben Roethlisberger have been a formidable pairing the past five seasons in Pittsburgh. A key to Jacksonville’s future is developing Blake Bortles. Maybe Haley is the QB whisperer Bortles and the Jags need.
Jim Bob Cooter, offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions
Cooter is just 32 years old, but his stock is definitely on the rise. After serving on coaching staffs in Indianapolis, Kansas City and Denver from 2009-13, Cooter joined Detroit as the quarterbacks coach in ’14. Last season, he was promoted to offensive coordinator following the dismissal of Joe Lombardi and this season the Lions are 9-5 with a one-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North.
While Detroit’s statistics may not jump off of the page, Matthew Stafford is having his best all-around season as the Lions’ quarterback even though his favorite target, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, has retired. Cooter may be too young to make the jump this offseason, but don’t be surprised to hear his name come up for any potential openings.
Tom Coughlin, two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach
Coughlin is tied for 14th in NFL history with 170 wins in his 20-year tenure as head coach. He’s most known for the two Super Bowls and success he had with the New York Giants from 2004-15, but he also was Jacksonville’s first-ever head coach. Coughlin guided the Jaguars from their infancy (1995) and in eight seasons went 68-60 and 4-4 in the playoffs. To put it simply, Jacksonville enjoyed its most success under Coughlin. Is the 70-year-old interested in a reunion with the Jags? His experience and old-school mentality and approach may be just what the franchise needs to find its footing.
One Other Name to Consider...
Jon Gruden, former head coach/current ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst
Gruden’s name has long been connected to NFL openings as well as high-profile college vacancies, and to this point he’s stayed
in the broadcast booth. But he’s just 53 years old and when you listen to him on ESPN you get the sense he’s not done with coaching just yet.
Even with the hiatus, Gruden would bring instant credibility to the job, having won a Super Bowl with another Florida-based franchise that had experienced its share of losing prior to becoming a consistent winner. Gruden also has publicly stated that he believes Blake Bortles can be a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. What better way for Gruden to show his support than to become Bortles’ head coach? It can’t hurt to at least ask, right Mr. Khan?