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Jaguars fire Coughlin after eight years

Posted: Monday December 30, 2002 11:25 AM
  coach Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin led the Jaguars to their first division title in 1998. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Tom Coughlin was fired Monday by the Jacksonville Jaguars after three consecutive losing seasons, ending his eight-year stint as head coach and general manager.

Owner Wayne Weaver said the decision to fire the only head coach in franchise history was difficult but necessary.

"There's a point in this business where you have to say, 'We need innovative new ideas, new fresh approaches, and we have to move in a different direction,'" Weaver said. "And that's what this is all about."

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Coughlin leaves with a 72-64 record and two AFC title game trips in eight seasons. But Jacksonville was 6-10 this year and 19-29 during the last three. Just as importantly, attendance dwindled.

"When the show doesn't sell out on Broadway for three years in a row, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what's going to happen," said defensive coordinator John Pease, one of several assistants who probably will lose their jobs when a new head coach is chosen.

Weaver said he has compiled a list of possible candidates he wants to interview to replace Coughlin. He said he would not interview Jimmy Johnson or Bill Parcells, two coaches whose names have been floated as possible successors.

Coughlin, who had two years left on his $2.4 million-a-year contract, had full control over all decisions, including personnel. Weaver said that structure will change.

"I have a vision, but I haven't decided exactly how that will work," he said.

While Coughlin's player moves were a mixed bag over the years, what hurt him the most in the end was that he never seemed to connect personally with his players or with Jacksonville's fans.

It was never a secret that quarterback Mark Brunell didn't get along with the coach. Player after player would leave the Jaguars and rip Coughlin for his poor people skills, his demanding practice regimen and a rigid list of rules and fineable offenses.

"After listening to the same thing over and over, you can have a tendency to shut it out," cornerback Jason Craft said Monday.

Coughlin's Record
Year 
1995  12 
1996 
1997  11 
1998  11 
1999  14 
2000 
2001  10 
2002  10 
Totals   72   64   0  
 
 

At the beginning, however, Coughlin's overbearing act worked.

The Jaguars qualified for the playoffs after the 1996 season, and on Jan. 4, 1997, Coughlin coached them to one of the biggest NFL upsets. The 30-27 victory against Denver in the playoffs stands as the team's most electrifying moment.

The Jaguars won their first division title in 1998 and the next year, they led the league in wins at 14-2.

They defeated Miami 62-7 in the second round of the playoffs and seemed destined for the Super Bowl. But they were upset by Tennessee for the AFC championship -- a 33-14 defeat at home.

Injuries derailed another run at the title in 2000. Then, the franchise spiraled into a salary cap mess from which it is still trying to recover.

Weaver lured Coughlin away from Boston College after the 1993 season by giving him full authority over the entire organization.

Following the lead of his former boss and mentor, Parcells, Coughlin was proud of saying that he hired everyone from the players to the receptionist in the lobby. With that power came ultimate responsibility, and naturally, Coughlin's legacy is mixed.

He identified the then-unknown Brunell as the quarterback of the future. He sold Weaver on using the franchise's first draft pick on tackle Tony Boselli, an unglamorous choice that paid dividends. He picked receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell off the scrap heap, and gathered enough talent to turn the Jaguars into competitors right away.

But there were undeniable flaws, too -- most notably the selection of first-round bust R. Jay Soward in 2000.

More than any single move, however, it was Coughlin's insistence -- with Weaver's approval -- on keeping the aging, expensive Super Bowl-contending core of his team together for two years too long that landed the Jaguars in their current mess.

 
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