PALM BEACH, FL – Gene Smith searched for the right word, and although the Jaguars’ general manager often speaks in measured, specific fashion, this pause spoke volumes.
Smith, speaking during a break at the NFL Owners’ Meetings Tuesday afternoon, was asked about the events of the past week. He smiled, and with the last week not quite being enough to provide full perspective, he reframed the question.
“The last three months, particularly, have been . . .” Smith began.
Several seconds passed.
“Unique – let’s put it that way,” he said with a smile.
And Smith said in this case, unique is a good thing.
Smith, entering his fourth season as the Jaguars’ general manager, said this week while the team’s recent effort to trade for Jets quarterback Tim Tebow was another unique event in a unique time in the team’s history, he also believes that the events of recent months – change in ownership, change in head coach, addition of a new team president – has served to make the organization stronger.
“It’s been a little bit of a blur, but it has been in some respects very educational,” Smith said.
To review, the blur has included:
*A change in ownership, with Shad Khan taking over control in early January after the purchase of the team from Wayne Weaver was finalized.
*A change in head coach, with Mike Mularkey being hired on January 11 – a week after sale of the team was finalized. Mel Tucker had served the final five games as interim coach after taking over for Jack Del Rio, who was fired in late November, the same day the ownership change was announced.
*The hiring of much of the coaching staff, with more than 20 assistants hired in the weeks after Mularkey’ hiring, most of whom were not with the organization last season.
Smith, already deep into draft preparation, last week was asked by Khan to explore the trade for Tebow, who eventually was traded to the New York Jets. Add to that the usual task of preparing for what he considers the most important time of the year in terms of talent acquisition – the draft – and Smith said unique is the only word that applies to the recent months.
But he also said a lot of positive has come from the experience.
“This has been a season and an out-of-season that I cannot compare to any since I’ve been in the NFL,” he said. “I feel like we have clearly positioned ourselves going into the draft and even coming out of the draft in a way that we’ll have a chance to take some big steps this year into who we’ll become as a football team in the future.”
Smith said a reason for that is that during a demanding time he and a slew of new people in key positions – Khan, new Jaguars President Mark Lamping, new Head Coach Mike Mularkey – learned much about one another while working under difficult conditions.
Of Khan, he said, “We have an excellent relationship” and he said the process of learning how to work with one another has been a positive one for he and many of the new additions.
“When you get into a situation where you’re restructuring – new head coach, new ownership, some changes internally – there are a lot of things you work through,” he said. “It’s been a very good process for me, in particular. We’re all growing together.
“Mike’s new. There’s a new coaching staff. Mark Lamping is new. It’s really been a very fulfilling process for me. I’ve been here since Day 1 and I’ve seen it done a lot of different ways. I’ve been a part of tremendous success in the early years with (then-head coach) Tom Coughlin, and I feel like the future is very bright here in Jacksonville.
“We’re learning a little about each other, and I think that’s good. That’s laying a good foundation for the future for this organization.”
Also at the owners’ meetings:
*Smith said while the team has been active in free agency with other players and their own, the draft remains the focus when it comes to player acquisition. “Free agency really won’t dictate what we would do, because I do think you have to take advantage of the system the NFL employs, which is to draft the best available player,” Smith said. “Certainly, you try to accomplish some things as it pertains to your roster needs if you’re capable of doing so. We did some things that I think clearly have helped our football team. The roster evaluation process is a continual one throughout the year.”
*Smith and Mularkey each spoke extensively this week about the strong nature of their working relationship. Smith said the key to their relationship is two people working with no ego, and at the AFC Coaches breakfast Thursday Mularkey also discussed their relationship. “I’m very comfortable around Gene,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I think we’re both up front in everything we believe in. Whether we agree with everything or not we express. Some people would not say, ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t have a problem telling him I need more information if I’m unclear on things and he’s done the same thing with me. It’s been very smooth and very easy to move as we have to this point.” Mularkey added that in instances on which the two disagree, it’s not difficult to find an area of agreement. “We’re very detailed and kind of anal when it comes to wanting it to be done perfectly,” he said. “Eventually, one of us sees the other one’s point and it’s not hard to adjust to the other.”