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Coughlin right coach for Jaguars' situation


It was a glimpse of how it can be when you're as bad a football team as the Cleveland Browns are.

How bad are the Browns? Well, beyond the fact that they have been outscored 93-7 in their last two games, the Browns established embarrassing examples of futility: two first downs, one of which was by penalty; no third-down conversions; 53 total net yards; minus-nine net yards passing; just 22:49 of possession time. They couldn't even stop Fred Taylor when the Browns had 12 men on the field.

You know you're a really bad football team when the TV announcers rush to your rescue by accusing your opponents of running up the score. "I don't think the Ravens were trying to run the score up. The Jaguars are," CBS play-by-play announcer Don Criqui said after Fred Taylor pushed the score to 41-0 late in the third quarter.

Such is the plight of a second-year expansion team that has made wrong personnel decisions and is playing without its franchise quarterback and the offensive linemen for whom the Browns spent big in free agency.

Cleveland is 3-11 headed for a certain 3-13, which would be just one win better than their inaugural season last year. They are tough to watch.

In contrast, the Jaguars are a team of star players on offense. They may finish the season as the league's best non-playoff team. The Jaguars are a good football team that just happened to run into a season of killer circumstances, but next season will not be as easy as re-loading. The Jaguars are facing an offseason of certain change. Their roster will be over-hauled, the result of a bulging salary cap, and nobody knows to what degree the Jaguars will or will not be competitive next season.

There is great anxiety about this team's future, and if you are one of those who cares enough about this team to worry about its future, you might've looked at the Browns and wondered: Is it possible the Jaguars could ever be this bad?

"No," Tony Boselli shot back quickly. "I don't think we'll lose our core guys. Fred Taylor will be here. Jimmy Smith will be here. I hope Keenan (McCardell) will be here. I think Mark (Brunell) will be here. Our offensive line will be here. I don't think like that," Boselli said. He smiled, then said jokingly, "Michael Huyghue and those guys are going to have to earn their money and find a way to keep those guys."

Well, it's no joke. Huyghue, the Jaguars' capmeister, has to find a way to clean up the Jags' salary cap, not so much for next year but for the team's long-range future. Everyone, including owner Wayne Weaver, has accepted the reality of change. Now, it's a matter of it being as painless as possible.

It is not painless in Cleveland. What the Browns are facing is as dismal a situation as exists in the league. It is a team with no more than a handful of starting-caliber players. It can be this way if you allow it, but it will never be this way in Jacksonville as long as Tom Coughlin is the team's coach, and there are two precedents to which we might refer.

In 1995, the Jaguars' inaugural season, Coughlin had a roster of over-matched players, but found a way to win four games and be competitive in almost every game. Late in October, the Jaguars went to Pittsburgh with a chance to claim a share of the AFC Central Division lead.

Coughlin is the kind of coach who is capable of doing a lot with little. He did that in his first two seasons at Boston College. Some would say an even better example was his memorable upset of Notre Dame in 1993.

The Jaguars offensive line is even better and more current testimony to Coughlin's coaching acumen. Rebuild the Jaguars' roster? Well, Coughlin rebuilt the Jaguars offensive line this season.

A year ago, the Jaguars were the number one rushing team in the league, and their offensive line was their most consistent unit. It was the cornerstone of the Jaguars' success.

Now, a short year later, only Boselli remains from last year's first six offensive linemen. Leon Searcy, Rich Tylski, Ben Coleman, John Wade and Zach Wiegert have been lost to either injury or another team. They have been replaced by such "notables" as Jeff Smith, Brenden Stai, Todd Fordham and rookie Brad Meester.

That group would indicate Coughlin is capable of rebuilding without devastating effects. The guy knows how to coach. He rallied his team when all seemed to be lost; when it appeared to be on the verge of collapse. He is the best man for what the Jaguars are three weeks from beginning. He is the Jaguars' insurance against the humiliation the Browns are experiencing.

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