Wayne Weaver and Tom Coughlin boldly predicted last spring their team would be a division title contender. Who could blame those who snickered? After all, the Jaguars were in the process of gutting their roster; releasing their best players.
All indications pointed to a rebuilding year in 2002. It would be a season dedicated to salary-cap repair.
Well, three games into this season there is every reason to believe the Jaguars can make this something much more than a rebuilding year. They are 2-1 and tied with Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South. Times are good.
So, who is responsible for this stunning turn of events? Obviously, the Jaguars put together a crafty plan of cap repair and roster reconstruction, and Weaver should get a major slap on the back for having made a command decision last winter: This is the way it was going to be; no more mortgaging the future to keep the aging core of his team together.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," Weaver told this reporter last winter.
Yeah, it would've been insane to have done it again. It was time to move on. The Jaguars certainly have. And, yeah, Weaver was a driving force in this move forward, but don't forget about Coughlin, who had become the most "hated" man in Jacksonville. How could Weaver not have fired Coughlin to hire Steve Spurrier? It was sacrilege.
Well, four weeks into this season, Coughlin is the coach of a 2-1 team on the rise; Spurrier's Redskins are 1-2 and appearing to be in decline. How about that? Who would've predicted that?
"The media was wrong," Zach Wiegert said. "It's only a rebuilding year if the players believe it. I believe we can beat every team we play."
Some time this summer, maybe in training camp, Coughlin rooted that belief within his players. Some time between the start of training camp and the Jaguars' most recent game, a 28-3 humiliation of the New York Jets, Coughlin's players actually began to like their coach. How's that for an upset?
"He let guys be more themselves. There's not one guy in here I don't like. We've got a good mix of guys. I don't think it takes much to keep these guys in line," Wiegert said in complimenting his coach and the quality of the Jaguars locker room.
Jimmy Smith listened to the question, paused to think, then came forth with a shocking answer.
"He's listening to his players," Smith said. "I think he's more of a player's coach … slightly. He's treating his players as men and he's listening to us. Players respond to stuff like that."
We are witnessing the metamorphosis of a team and its coach, both of whom began this season as underdogs. How many games would the Jaguars lose? How many games did Coughlin have to win to keep his job? They were the most asked questions in Jacksonville.
"I didn't know he was such a great motivator. You don't want to let the other guy down," Wali Rainer said of the feeling of team unity Coughlin has been able to develop within the Jaguars' ranks.
This is Coughlin's kind of team. It's an underdog; so is its coach. It's an over-achiever; so is its coach. All of a sudden, this team would seem to be developing a bond between its coach and its players; maybe for the first time.
"He does thrive on what the media had been saying and on proving them wrong," Pete Mitchell said of Coughlin, from whom Mitchell was desperate to break company in 1999 free agency, but now seems to be resurrecting his career thanks to Coughlin's belief in Mitchell.
All of a sudden, Coughlin is a good guy. How about that?