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Ozone: Sometimes, you get the bear

Let's get to it . . . Phillip from St. Mary, FL:
John, can you give some insight on the top candidates for general manager? And shouldn't this happen quickly if the Jaguars may be looking for a coach?
John: We've kept tabs on this on this week, and here's today's synopsis/update. The Jaguars reportedly interviewed three candidates this past week, talking to Falcons Director of Player Personnel David Caldwell Monday and again Wednesday, 49ers Director of Player Personnel Tom Gamble Tuesday and Giants Director of College Scouting Marc Ross Friday. The team reportedly spoke with Cardinals Vice President of Player Personnel Steve Keim Friday evening, and reports Saturday were that the search has narrowed to Caldwell and Keim. Khan has moved quickly, beginning the process Monday shortly after parting ways with former General Manager Gene Smith. I don't pretend to know everything about the search, but here's an arm's length view: The Jaguars seem to like Caldwell – though he also has been linked to the GM searches of the Jets and Chargers – very much, and there are reports he's the favorite. Those reports may be based on him being the lone candidate to interview twice, and it makes sense he'd be the leader. He worked under Bill Polian at the Colts during the beginning of the team's 1999-2010 postseason run, and has worked with Thomas Dimitroff in Atlanta the past five years. That's a lot of postseason pedigree. For transparency's sake, I know Caldwell from our time at the Colts, and respect him very much. Gamble, who worked under Polian at the Colts from 1998-to-2004, also has a winning resume, having been with the 49ers since 2004. I knew Gamble less well during our time in Indianapolis, but have heard good things from people who worked with him there. He has been connected with the Jets, Browns and Chargers and many believe he's the favorite for the Jets' position. I'm not as familiar with Ross, but Giants General Manager Jerry Reese called him the "hot prospect" in teams' ongoing search for a general manager. Reading the tea leaves, it appears the meeting with Keim could be the final step in the process. Keim is given credit in league circles for building the Cardinals' Super Bowl team following the 2008 season, only to have lost some power in the organization after that to Head Coach Ken Wisenhunt, who was fired following this past season. Keim is said to be a dynamic personality who will interview well, but the word is he will be offered the Cardinals' vacant general manager position and that could make it difficult for any of the teams pursuing him. He also is reportedly interviewing for the Chargers' general manager position. As for the second part of your question – shouldn't this happen quickly? – if it gets done early next week, that's about 8-10 days. That's a reasonable amount of time to determine the future of your organization.
Glen from Lake City, FL:
I expect that even if only for common decency regarding a coworker you will answer this with "Mularkey has said that until he's told different, he is the head coach." That said, do you believe the organization telling members of the coaching staff they are free to pursue other opportunities is an indication the new GMs in play will be looking for a new head coach?
John: I'm a pretty decent guy (at least part of the time), but yes, the organization telling Mularkey he may tell members of the coaching staff they are free to look elsewhere is certainly a sign that the coaches may not be safe. That doesn't make a change a guarantee, but Mularkey's not dim. He gets that that's a possibility.
Maxwell from Jacksonville:
I'm a patient guy and I've been with ya all along that we wouldn't have gained anything by rushing to fire Gene Smith during the season. But as we see now, the delay might hurt us in hiring the best coach available and it also resulted in our staff not coaching the Senior Bowl. In principle, waiting til the offseason may have been the appropriate thing to do but in reality we have to admit the potential negative effects. Is this wrong?
John: The Panthers fired their general manager during the season and reportedly are just now beginning their search for a replacement, so there's no guarantee that a general manager would have been hired already had the Jaguars moved earlier on Smith. There certainly is no guarantee that a coach would be in place under that scenario, either. Remember, too: just because a coach is the first hired in an offseason doesn't make him the "best coach available." Usually, it makes him the best-known, and that's not the same thing.
Dex from Miami, FL:
With Gene Smith being fired, what happens with all his assistant personnel guys and scouts (McDonough, Clark, Mingey, etc.)? Are they still under contract with the team? Or are they free to look elsewhere as well?
John: They remain under contract for now, with their futures likely to be determined by the new general manager.
Josh from Lynchburg, VA:
The two biggest concerns I have going forward are 1) Tebow lands here and 2) we hire a GM that picks based on needs. We're headed for even darker times as Jags fans if these things come to pass.
John: There are many who feel this way.
Judd from Jacksonville:
You wrote that Gabbert should be judged based off his poor play in real games when it counts despite playing well in practice and training camp. The question that comes to mind is shouldn't Tebow be based off his winning success in games, when it matters, and not that he is a poor practice player? I honestly think it comes down to GMs and coaches being afraid to stick their necks out and vouch for the guy and to give him a shot.
John: Yes, I have written that Tebow should be judged that way. The problem is when general managers and scouts and coaches look at a player, they must look at the whole package and not just one element. Those in the anti-Tebow camp look at his mechanics and how he has played throughout most of the games he has played and believe that that level of play won't translate to long-term success. Those in the pro-Tebow camp look at his ability to play well late in games and how he played against Pittsburgh in the playoffs and believe that he is a "winner" and that that will override all else. Each thought process has merit, but while the people who run NFL teams are certainly aware of Tebow's success in Denver, the prevailing belief is that his shortcomings will override his strengths. As I've written before, Tebow and Gabbert have the same issue: neither will be able to be judged until they play again in a regular-season game. Gabbert already has looked great in preseason, OTAs and training camp, so people won't believe he can play until they see it in the regular season. Tebow apparently doesn't practice well, so he – like Gabbert – has to find a situation in which he gets an opportunity in the regular season. When that will happen for either player is unknown right now.
Bryan from Jacksonville:
Speaking of a fine line, four years is long enough for people to forget that before Gene Smith took over it was an almost daily event to see a Jaguars player who had an incident with law enforcement. One of the mandates that Wayne Weaver put on Gene Smith from the start was that would not happen again. I wonder if that had any influence on the picks made?
John: Perhaps a little, but Smith believed wholeheartedly that players with unassailable character worked harder and had a greater chance for success than players without it. Weaver certainly wanted an incident-free locker room, but Smith believed in his selections. I don't think he would lay the blame for anything at anyone else's feet. He has too much integrity to throw others under the bus.
Max from Logan, UT:
Love the column and totally appreciate you being there for all of us fanatics! Question: Is this amount of hire/fire head coaches and general managers normal? It seems to me this is becoming quite commonplace. How much of the lack of patience to "build a winner" can be attributed to the fact quarterback play is at an all-time high in terms of importance, as well as the simultaneous presence of some of history's finest quarterback (Brady, Manning, Brees)? I can't help but think that there are a ton of qualified head coaches and general managers getting axed because they don't have a stud quarterback - meanwhile personnel from the "Belichik tree" are scooped up very quick.
John: There is an element of that, and certainly you have a better chance of being fired if you don't have a stud quarterback. Having one gives you a good chance of being above .500 every season, and therefore gives your franchise stability. The two go hand in hand. You're also right that personnel people and coaches tend to come from franchises with good quarterbacks. Owners like hiring people from successful organizations and successful organizations are usually stable at quarterback. But are there more this year than usual? Maybe a few, but I've been covering the NFL since 1995, and Black Monday for the most part has been a busy time filled with a mix of reasonable and unreasonable moves. Quarterbacks have something to do with it, but mostly, owners want to win and as time goes on, their patience appears to have grown shorter and shorter.
Puzzled fan from Jacksonville:
How is it that the national media was able to see the Jags' lack of talent and poor results and the team's own media could not? Is it because the Jags' media don't know talent or that they're just plain liars?
John: The national media picked the Lions and Eagles to contend for the Super Bowl, and picked the Vikings to finish well out of the playoffs, too. Sometimes, the national media gets it right. Sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, the local media gets it right. Sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, you get the bear. Sometimes, the bear gets you.

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