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View from the O-Zone: Fisch dismissal tough on Bradley


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JACKSONVILLE – This was tough. Really tough.

Maybe it wasn't Gus Bradley's toughest day in nearly two years as the Jaguars' head coach, but it was up there. Way up there.

In the end, it was hard to know exactly why Bradley made his first major change to his Jaguars coaching staff. Securing that answer was the goal of about everyone at Bradley's season-ending media availability Tuesday afternoon, and the question was asked again and again. (And again and again).

And while Bradley was admittedly intentionally guarded with the reason, it came down to a fundamental issue:

He and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch didn't agree on a few basic things, and even if the biggest thing was hard to explain, it was an important thing to Bradley.

And that just made it time.

Bradley emphasized that this wasn't a decision of General Manager David Caldwell, or Owner Shad Khan.

"It was my decision," Bradley said.

And it was tough. He had released players before, but this is his first head coaching position, so this was his first assistant coach dismissal. He met with Fisch early Tuesday morning, and then met with the offensive staff as a group before meeting with Fisch again later Tuesday. The decision wasn't final until the final individual meeting, Bradley said.

"You gather all the information, take it all in and make a decision," Bradley said. "But I don't want to make it sound like I just thought about this yesterday. It wasn't like that."

Why it happened?

On that point, Bradley spoke of "philosophical differences," and said it wasn't about scheme or production. He said it wasn't about Fisch's relationship with rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. When reporters asked him about being vague, he said, yes, he supposed that was true.

"Probably on purpose I'm doing that a little bit, because I do think highly of him," Bradley said. "I do think he's a very good coach. … There were just some differences as far as how we wanted to go about things and I think the direction we wanted to go and the development of some of our players."

His best explanation perhaps came when asked one of several times for clarification: "I want an offense that we execute, we play with precision and we play fast."

Another time, Bradley said, "I just felt like the direction we wanted to go from this point forward, I think it kind of branched off as far as what we're putting on players' plates, what to ask them to do, how do we really protect this culture of execution in what we're looking to do."

Even that was decidedly imprecise, and there is no easy explanation from Tuesday's press conference, no Tweetable, 140-word explanation.

Bradley wanted players to be able to play faster, to grasp their roles quickly and to play with a minimum of hesitation. That's how his defenses play; that's his vision of the Jaguars' offense and Fisch perhaps emphasized confusing defenses a bit too much.

That's one interpretation of Tuesday's press conference, and there doubtless will be as many others as there were media in attendance.

There will be plenty of speculation about the "real" reason for Fisch's firing, and much of that speculation will focus on the Jaguars' offensive production the past two seasons.

Coordinators are analyzed and scrutinized, and when offenses near the bottom of the NFL in yards in back-to-back years, they are criticized on all fronts, too.

Fisch received plenty of criticism, but he had plenty of obstacles, too. The team started six rookies and three more second-year players played extensively at various times this season.

A rookie quarterback, a rookie center, three rookie wide receivers …

If you think Fisch was the only reason the offense struggled, you're wrong.

If you think he was the main reason, you may be wrong there, too.

Bradley on Tuesday made it clear that not only did he grasp those concepts, but that Fisch wasn't dismissed for those reasons, or for a franchise-record 71 sacks allowed or for the Jaguars scoring more than 20 points just four times.

One significant issue brought up Tuesday is continuity. A new offensive coordinator means a new offense, and that means Bortles in a very real sense starting over in his second season. That's not ideal, and that's a significant risk.

"That was something I took very seriously," Bradley said. "Sometimes, when you do this you take a step back a little bit. There's learning a new system, a new playbook, a new coordinator. You have to go through a learning curve.

"In my analysis of it, you might take a step back, but hopefully it's with two or three steps forward."

The guess here is the offense indeed will take steps forward next season. It likely can't step back much, and with offseason additions expected – and growth from Bortles and a slew of other rookies expected, too – improvement seems inevitable.

How quickly that improvement will happen is unknown. What's not unknown is while Bradley clearly wrestled with what was clearly a very difficult decision, he clearly felt strongly enough to make it.

Even if the reason was a little hard to explain.

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