Coach Tom Coughlin faced a morning like none other in his seven years as coach. His team was embroiled in a finger-pointing debate, his first-round draft choice of a year ago was making his return from two separate substance-abuse suspensions, and the Florida state attorney's office was accusing one of the Jaguars' most respected and beloved star players of having tested positive for cocaine usage.
"I'm not charged with anything. I'm shocked and disappointed that an illegal substance would be in my body," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said of the findings of a urinalysis report. "I haven't done it, didn't do it and wouldn't do it," Smith told reporters.
At 11 a.m. press conference today, the state attorney's office said Smith would not face DUI charges in connection with his Nov. 11 arrest. A breath test revealed Smith to be under the legal limit for intoxication, but the state attorney claimed Smith had tested positive for cocaine. Coughlin addressed the state's findings at the coach's noon press conference.
"Jimmy Smith came to me on Monday, Nov. 12, following the arrest and spoke to me about it. Tuesday night (Nov. 13) he told me the preliminary tests had come in and he had tested positive for cocaine. He looked me right in the eye and said, 'I do not use cocaine or any other drugs.' He and his representatives are investigating further to see why his test results are positive," Coughlin told reporters.
Though Smith will not be criminally prosecuted, he faces two serious repercussions from the state attorney's announcement:
• He will be entered into the NFL's substance abuse program.
• His image in the community will suffer.
"That was his initial thought to me, that he's worked hard to establish his reputation in this community; that his name would be tarnished," Coughlin added. "I'm going to believe Jimmy Smith and support him."
"This is a person I've had a long relationship with. He looks me in the eye and I'm going to believe him," the coach added.
Smith's teammates came to his defense.
"Don't believe it; won't believe it," wide receiver mate Keenan McCardell said. "Funny sources," he added.
"It's terrible. People shouldn't be able to do that when it's not true. Some people just like to bring people down. They enjoy it," McCardell said.
"Jimmy told me he did not take that and I believe him," quarterback Mark Brunell said.
Meanwhile, R. Jay Soward became eligible today to re-join the Jaguars' active roster, after having spent the first 10 weeks of the regular season serving four and six-week substance-abuse suspensions. The NFL will allow the Jaguars a one-week roster exemption for Soward, but Coughlin said he wasn't sure if he would use it.
"I do have plans. I have a roster spot open," Coughlin said. "We have to see what kind of condition he's in. He hasn't had a ball thrown to him. He hasn't been under a punt."
This was not a normal Monday at Alltel Stadium. Less than 24 hours earlier, the Jaguars defense had allowed the Baltimore Ravens to rally from a 21-17 deficit to march 74 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute and 32 seconds of the game. It was the third such catastrophic collapse in the last five weeks, and it had fingers in the locker room pointing to the scheme defensive coordinator Gary Moeller employed in the Ravens' game-winning drive.
"We'll change a little bit of that package. There's no question about that; add a little pressure," Coughlin said in acknowledging the players' complaint that the three-man-rush, zone-coverage scheme was too soft.
"From the players?" Coughlin asked sarcastically. "Whenever you don't win, whoever's in charge is going to take the blame. That's my responsibility."
Coughlin confirmed Moeller decides on what schemes to use during the game, but that Coughlin and Moeller collaborate on the defensive strategy during the week. "Right now, I'm going to keep that system," Coughlin added.
Though Coughlin attempted to be open-minded to complaints, he would not absolve players of the responsibility for executing the scheme, and he certainly took exception to Sunday's postgame finger-pointing.
"The scheme would be sound in most circles but, in our situations, it has not been successful. Perhaps, it's pressure all the way. Do you make yourself vulnerable to the big play? Sure you do," Coughlin said.
Moeller used several different rush and cover packages Sunday. On the final play in the drive, the Jaguars were in an all-out, six-man blitz to an empty Ravens backfield when quarterback Elvis Grbac found tight end Shannon Sharpe for a three-yard touchdown completion.
"I've addressed it many times about unity. I'm not going to single any individuals out. First you look at yourself," Coughlin said.