JACKSONVILLE – Culture has become the watchword.
You couldn't listen to anyone around the Jaguars for the last couple of weeks without knowing that, and this much was clear: Improving it is a priority.
"That's one of the things I'm looking at; I'm obviously hard on myself on that," Head Coach Doug Marrone said during his end-of-season press conference.
If there was an encouraging sign in the immediate aftermath of the Jaguars' 5-11 season, it was that players seemed equally aware of the need to improve culture.
"The biggest thing is we just need to hit the reset button, then we have to rebuild the culture, rebuild the mentality – the everyday grind," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Each year is separate from years last. For a team to be successful, you have to buy in, lock in and sell out for the team. It's the ultimate sport because it's a team game.
"You have to have everybody buy in and sell out for the common goal."
Marrone throughout the Jaguars' late-season slide talked about his message not resonating with players as it did during the 2017 AFC South Championship season. He also talked about needing to do a better job emphasizing on-field discipline; the Jaguars finished among the NFL leaders in unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and their minus-377 yards margin in penalty yards ranked last in the NFL.
"You see things that happened on the field: You know that you've spoken about it and it just doesn't resonate for whatever reason," Marrone said. "I have always put that on myself. For me, you know the message that you want to deliver, but you better make sure … I have to do a better job of how I deliver it to make sure that it resonates and that's how you build the culture.
"You have to be able to communicate. It's the most important thing to get jobs done, and I obviously didn't do a good job communicating."
Culture issues peaked during the regular-season finale at Houston, with running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon sitting on the bench throughout – seemingly disinterested and disengaged. Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin in a statement following the game called the behavior "selfish" and "disrespectful."
Marrone on Monday declined to offer many specifics on addressing the issue but said he "would pen to paper" on the topic – and that he would meet with management and ownership with a plan to improve the area. He also said is considering meeting with the team's player leadership council weekly next season as opposed to on an as-needed basis.
Perhaps the best sign for the Jaguars along these lines is this:
It wasn't just Marrone discussing the topic in the season's aftermath, and players seemed aware that the issue is much of a player issue as a coaching issue.
"Usually when it comes to the message, it always depends on the guy," said defensive tackle Abry Jones, along with long snapper Carson Tinker the team's most-tenured player. "To get a message, you have to accept it. We need everybody to buy in, but screaming and yelling and telling people, 'You need to buy in or we're not going to have a good season …' that's not going to help. I don't want to force anybody to buy in. Either you're with us or against us."
Jones wasn't alone. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue talked this week of wanting to be a captain next season – "I definitely want to get a C on my chest next year," he said – and he spoke following Sunday's game of needing to curtail his own personal-foul penalties.
"That's one of the goals – being a leader on this team," Ngakoue said. "We just need more discipline sometimes – more discipline, fewer penalties – including myself … I had some penalties this year. Cleaning those things up helps win ballgames. …
"We'll get things fixed and everything back together."
The Jaguars reportedly parted ways with four assistant coaches early this week: running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, secondary coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Marion Hobby. That left five coaching positions apparently open, with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett having been dismissed with five weeks remaining in the season. Among the assistants apparently returning: defensive coordinator Todd Wash, whose defenses have ranked in the Top 10 in each of the past three seasons. The Jaguars ranked tied for No. 4 in the NFL in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed this past season. "That's my guy, always," Jones said. "He's a players' coach, but he doesn't give them much leeway. He laughs and jokes when it's time, and when it's time to work he works. He's going to work you hard and he's going to love what you do for him. He's never going to berate or talk down to you like you're not a man. He always respects you." Defensive end Calais Campbell called Wash a "great coach. I have a lot of respect for him." Ngakoue called Wash, "My guy," and left little doubt Monday he wanted Wash to return. "That's my guy, for sure."
Jones: "I feel like we're right there. I feel like two years ago we had to learn how not to lose. This year, we had to learn how to overcome injuries. Injuries are part of the game. You've got a whole bunch of teams out there that have injuries, but they overcame it. The next guy stood up. That's a thing we need to cover on this team – that we've got to be deep at all positions. Guys need to realize that your time is always around the corner. When it comes, you need to show up."
Campbell: "The biggest thing going forward is to try be consistent, day in and day out and come in each day with the mentality that we're going to try to get better and do everything required in order to win that day. There's so much talent on this team – but obviously as we saw this year, talent doesn't really mean that much. It's execution."