JACKSONVILLE – In 2018 offseason jaguars.com series featuring 11 former players talking about 11 current players, former Jaguars middle linebacker Bryan Schwartz talks with senior correspondent Brian Sexton about the Jaguars' '17 success, the team's current linebackers and the team as it moves forward …
Question: As someone who helped build the great Jaguars teams of the 1990s, what was it like for you to see the 2017 team rise above a decade of losing and break through with a AFC South title and a run to the AFC Championship Game?
Answer: I moved back three years ago, and the trajectory of the team was at a low point. When they made the coaching change and I'd gotten to know [former Head Coach] Gus [Bradley] a little bit – such a good guy, a good man, felt like a great guy in the community. It's just the team had hit that point where it just needed new direction; it needed new vision. When they made the decision to bring [former Jaguars Head] Coach [Tom] Coughlin and Doug Marrone in, I knew instantly what would happen because having played for Coach Coughlin the culture of the team had to change – and when that changed, I knew they were going to win. I didn't know they were going to have quite the run they did, but as one that participated in some pretty phenomenal years with my boys especially … I've got four young men … just to be able to share in that excitement with them as a dad and a former player was a phenomenal experience. To break through all the way to the title game … it was fun being a fan and being able to share that with my sons … it's a real legacy piece for us and so there were a lot of feelings. One was pride, pride for the city, pride for the organization and I loved how it took place, how they didn't sneak up on anybody toward the end of the year but in the dominant fashion that they did it. I would say the emotions were a lot of pride, a lot of joy, just sincerely happy for [Jaguars Owner] Shad [Khan] and the ownership, the leadership because I know how important the culture of winning is.
Q: What are your thoughts on Tom Coughlin's return to Jacksonville (as executive vice president of football operations) and how do you suppose his personality and professional approach to the game shaped last season? Did you see this coming or were you surprised by how quickly they were able to turn it around?
A: I know coming in as a rookie with Coach Coughlin from Day One it was excellence and winning and those two traits work in all of life. He never saw us as an expansion team. Coach Coughlin is one of those guys who has great vision; he has the ability to see ahead. What he saw was championships. He was able to assemble the team through that lens and he was willing to take risks and he was willing to take the right risks not just to win at all costs but to create a winning culture, something that can be sustained year after year. So, when I saw they made the decision to bring him in I knew it would be an instant transformation. There are some leaders that are transformational, and Coach Coughlin is one of those leaders. I don't know Coach Marrone at all, but I'm assuming he is cut from the same mold. Over the years of watching Coach Coughlin, and with the Giants and all of his experiences, he has developed this ability to pick players that he can empower, and you saw that this year. It was like a bunch of kids and they grew up quick last year, and part of that was they were trusted. I feel like the momentum swing came because these guys were empowered and entrusted and Coach Coughlin is one of those of leaders.
Q: What are your observations of Myles Jack? Is he a middle linebacker or a strong side linebacker or both?
A: Myles Jack is a stud. I got to meet him a few weeks ago and I love his temperament. I love his mind set. He's got that awesome combination of some nasty and athleticism – and the way the game has changed so much, he is the picture of the new breed of middle linebacker with an engine that never slows down. I think this year, staying healthy, this is really going to be a breakout year for him. You can just sense that. He plays with tremendous confidence and some grit and nastiness and I would be shocked if he's not a Pro Bowler.
Q: He plays next to a guy who isn't the same player but plays with great speed and awareness. What did you see of Jack and Telvin Smith?
A: When you look at those two guys together, that combination of speed and nasty, both of them play with aggression. Those two guys, if I'm an offensive coordinator having to watch film, these two guys can literally change a game because of their ability to turn the ball over. Those two together are a real dynamic duo.
Q: Can you share a thought on Paul Posluszny and how much you think he meant to this defense and how difficult he'll be to replace?
A:You know there are certain guys that are unique in the building process. Paul Posluszny is one of those guys. He was a huge piece in the transition. He had a little throwback to his approach and personality, but he was also super athletic, great speed. I met him a few years ago and he was asking me questions, always wanting to grow, always wanting to improve not just on the field but off. When you have a guy like that in the locker room, it settles things. I think his calming influence was huge and really a big part of seeing this team breakthrough because he knew what it took to win. He had a rough experience on that front in his career, but when you look at the impact he had just as a human and as a teammate it was really, really significant, and he is one of those guys who was part of the foundation, the kind of guy you could build on. So his legacy is that foundation and I think that was a huge part of them transitioning.
Q: Do you think this Jacksonville team can make a move in 2018 and be a Super Bowl team? What do you suppose will be the difference in a team that was so close last year?
A:I've been down to the stadium a few times and felt the atmosphere. It's a no-brainer they have a legitimate shot to make a run. We all know there are a lot of factors with that, but if these guys stay healthy I don't see how they wouldn't. It's not a matter of if, it really is when and why not this year? Coming off last year, the bar has been raised and that's a key, once the bar is raised, I have seven kids, if you lower the standards and make it easy for them you're going to be mediocre. But now that the bar is raised, now that they have tasted and seen what winning looks like and not just winning but on the verge of busting into the Super Bowl? Once you get that taste, it's kind of like seeing something. Once you see it you can't "unsee" it. Once you experience something you can't "unexperience" it.
Q: What makes Bryan Schwartz tick instead of playing professional football?
A: The city of Jacksonville makes me tick. As a family we're trying to figure out how we can impact and help the community become the community it is supposed to become. Our way of doing that is working with people. We help people in a lot of areas. A lot of my ministry is coaching young men and young families, and sometimes they're older men and older families helping teach them how to win in life and win at home. There's a scripture, Jeremiah 29:4-7, and basically a man of wisdom writes to the people of God and says "I need you to stop playing it safe. I want you to seek the welfare of the city I've sent you pray to the Lord on its' behalf because in its welfare you find your welfare." That's our approach, even coming back to Jacksonville we viewed it almost as an assignment. We wanted to be back in a place where we were a part of something great and just like with what's going on in the organization, we believe this city has incredible potential. Seeing people's lives transform makes me tick.