The Jaguars surprised many in the NFL orbit when they opted to retain general manager Trent Baalke for their head coaching search, with that controversial decision already turning off several top candidates and creating backlash within their fanbase.
On the heels of the gamble to hire Urban Meyer a year ago, and then having to fire him less than a year into his tenure, this decision to keep Baalke in a position of power to begin this latest search was viewed by the industry as problematic to say the least. Baalke's reputation in coaching circles is not strong, he is seen as a political animal who is often locked in a power struggle, and his personnel record in recent years is spotty.
"My client would have to fire me to take an interview there under this setup," said one top coaching agent. "No way. It's totally backwards."
Several sources close to candidates on the Jaguars' list said their clients would agree to a virtual interview with the Jags next week but would be using the forum to try to gather information about why owner Shad Khan chose to conduct his search with the GM still in place and to ascertain how married to this concept ownership is. Several executives from other NFL teams, who are closely watching the situation in Jacksonville, believe that by the end of the process the Khans will also be searching for a general manager due to the reaction from the team's fans and considering the type of feedback they will be getting about Baalke as they go through the interviews.
"This may have sounded like a good idea to them at the time, but things have a way of changing in this league," one GM said. "I'm not saying they can't get a coach with Trent still there, but they aren't going to like a lot of what they hear."
The Jaguars began their process last week by speaking to former NFL head coaches Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell and have a long list of current NFL assistant coaches they would like to begin meeting with virtually this week under the NFL's new hiring rules. Many of those individuals harbor reservations about the ability to truly thrive in Jacksonville -- a team that has annually lost 10 or more games since Khan took over save for one AFC Championship Game run -- particularly if Baalke, who already has a relationship with ownership, continues to oversee player acquisitions.
Baalke has also recently been pushing Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to ownership as a possible candidate. O'Brien earned accolades as a play-caller under Nick Saban and has previous experience as head coach in Houston. However, the bitter end to his time there, and his history of power struggles and personality clashes, won't likely do much to stem the tide of public sentiment in Jacksonville against the early stages of this hiring process.
The presence of 2021 top overall pick Trevor Lawrence certainly is attractive, but the latest Jaguars' coaching search is already off to an unusual start, and generating controversy within the sport.