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View from the O-Zone: Speculation over, expectations begin

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JACKSONVILLE – So that ends the speculation.

Not that there actually ever was too, too much speculation on this story. That's because as big, far-reaching and important as this story undoubtedly is when it comes to the Jaguars and their future, there was never much of a vibe that it was going to be a story. Not to those around the Jaguars.

Still, Owner Shad Khan made it official Tuesday afternoon:

Gus Bradley will be head coach of the Jaguars in 2016.

Even though there had been no vibe of anything different, and even though all indications had been throughout the 2015 season that this would not be Bradley's last, Khan making it official of course was huge news.

Khan released the news in a statement:

"I spoke to Gus Bradley today to confirm to him that he will continue as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. It's evident to see how far we've come in many aspects of our game, and Gus deserves a lot of credit for that progress."

Khan continued, "It's also evident the considerable work that remains to be done to be where we expect to be at this time next season, which is well above where we stand today. And Gus understands that. Dave Caldwell and I also spoke today and we are both confident that Gus will make 2016 the best year of his career."

Khan concluded, "In the meantime, I expect his coaching staff and team to respond favorably to this news in preparation for Houston on Sunday and then begin thinking about what more they can provide next season.  We have high ambitions."

There was a lot there, and though none of it was at all unexpected, this is the sort of statement that sets a tone going forward, so it's worth looking at what Khan said.

The first part – that Khan spoke to Bradley Tuesday, and that he decided to retain him despite a 5-10 record this season and a 12-35 record overall – comes as little surprise to those around the Jaguars.

Khan believes in Bradley. He believes in this building process. He believes in the plan that Caldwell – the general manager who hired Bradley in 2013 and who has been pretty much in lockstep with Bradley through a long, difficult building process – laid out upon his January 2013 hiring.

Khan not only has been on board with this. He has been a part of this. As he said in 2014, he sees behind the curtain of the process, and sees beyond the winning and losing.

Current record aside, he believes the plan is working.

And Khan's right, by the way: the Jaguars have made significant strides this season. Not winning strides, but progress toward a stronger roster? A stronger foundation? That's there.

The second part of the statement was telling, too – that Bradley very much understands that expectations are higher next season. That is obvious as this regime enters what we know now definitely will be a Year 4: that while the Jaguars have improved, the improvement absolutely now must come in victories and losses.

The Jaguars were more competitive this season. Anyone watching could see that. They were out of games only twice in the fourth quarter after being out of games far more often than that the past two seasons. The Jaguars had many, many chances to win more this season; they had a chance to be in the postseason.

They were frustrating part is that it didn't happen. The reason for optimism is that they were close.

Bradley's mantra is improvement, and improvement has been expected in every season of this long, often-frustrating rebuilding process. But as Year 3 ends and Year 4 begins this much is clear:

There can be no more improvement without winning.

That's the message of the last part of Khan's statement, too – that there are "high ambitions" next season. Those ambitions unquestionably are larger than 5-10 and they're larger than 6-10 if the Jaguars beat the Houston Texans Sunday.

Is there a number? Is it playoffs or bust?

Who knows? And it hasn't been Khan's way to put specifics on such a concept, but this offseason and next season shape up to be huge now, don't they? The Jaguars unquestionably must make strides – not just the obvious ones needed on defense, but toward more consistency on offense.

The offseason undoubtedly will be defense-oriented, expensive and high-profile, and the expectations for next season?

Well, they will be huge – and frankly, the pressure on not only Bradley but Caldwell will be as well.

That's how it sets up. That's what Khan's statement Tuesday did.

The speculation about Bradley? Those are over. The expectations for the future, the immediate future?  Those are only beginning.

So, let's get started.

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