JACKSONVILLE – This is a job Doug Marrone wanted.
If there was a takeaway from the hour the Jaguars' head coach spent talking to the media at the 2017 NFL Annual Meeting this past Tuesday, that may have been it.
"I'll be honest," Marrone said during the AFC Coaches Breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. "I love these types of challenges. I do. I like it when people say, 'You're not going to do this, or you're not going to be that' – and really coach with a chip on your shoulder."
Marrone, who served as the Jaguars' interim head coach the last two weeks of last season and as the assistant head coach for 30 regular-season games prior, is hardly someone who takes a job for the sake of taking a job. He showed that when he voluntarily stepped away from the Buffalo Bills' head-coaching position following the 2014 NFL season.
Had he not become the Jaguars' head coach, he also likely would have gotten another NFL head-coaching job. Perhaps soon.
So, why Jacksonville? What appealed? That's what I asked Marrone Tuesday. He said it wasn't just the challenge of turning a team that hasn't finished .500 or better since 2010 into a playoff contender. Marrone, who spoke during his introductory press conference in January about Jaguars fans deserving a winner, said he honestly feels a connection to the community and the team's fans.
"For me, it's probably a little more internal," Marrone said. "I was an assistant coach there [with the Jaguars] for two years, so I was able to live in the community. Not that I'm a very friendly person, but a couple of the people I've met through where my kids go to school and things of that nature … you sit down and they say, 'What's wrong? We're Jags fans.'
"You start to see the passion, but you also see the disappointment because the team hasn't performed well. When we come in there as a coaching staff and we come in as players, we have a chance to change that."
Marrone also said it's important the Jaguars win in a way that fits the community.
"The community is a hard-working group of people who go to work every day and do what they have to do," Marrone said. "That's what we have to do as a football team. We have to reflect those people in the community who have worked hard and who have earned those things. I've always tried to do that with the team."
SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN
Marrone this week hardly for the first time expressed his belief in quarterback Blake Bortles, saying during the breakfast that Bortles is the Jaguars' quarterback.
I asked Marrone for some specifics on why his belief was so strong.
"One of the things that stands out to me first is obviously his toughness," Marrone said. "That's really the first thing I see. He's going to go back there, use his legs to extend the play and he'll go after it with the running game. He'll lower his shoulder."
Marrone said toughness in this case is well beyond physical.
"It's more how he keeps coming back," Marrone said. "Like I always say, 'The quarterbacks get probably too much credit when they do well and too much blame when they don't do well.' He's pretty steady throughout that, which I appreciate from afar as a coach. He puts a lot of responsibility on himself, which I think is what you're looking for in that position. He's able to stand up on a daily basis for a team when we obviously know we haven't won enough games and we haven't really performed well.
"But he's able to stand up there and be consistent in taking that. That's probably a lot tougher for people on the outside to understand what that's like, everyday people hitting you with those questions: 'Why aren't you playing well? Why aren't you doing this?' Knowing Blake, I'm sure he's working extremely hard to come back and do the best job he can for our team."
RUN TO WIN?
Marrone said while his reputation indicates he will want the Jaguars will be a run-heavy offense, that doesn't necessarily mean the Jaguars must match his first season as head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills that season finished second in the NFL in rushing attempts, but Marrone said it's not number of attempts that's important.
"When people say run-heavy … I think you play to the strength of your team," he said. "Sometimes people look at stats and say, 'Well, they averaged 4.5 yards a carry,' or 'they rushed for X amount of yards.' I define being a good running football team as, 'When I want to run the ball I can run the ball. That's when you can stand up there and say, 'We're a good running team.'
"What makes you a good running team? Every time we want to run the ball and get a first down, we can do that. That takes a lot of work."
When Marrone was asked Tuesday if the Jaguars could be an effective running team, his reply was simple and telling.
"We're going to find out," he said.