While the firing and hiring of an NFL head coach has become a routine part of the sport's ecosystem, it's easy to lose sight of the people behind the actions on both sides of the table. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who let go of head coach Gus Bradley following Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans, reminded me of that this week.
Owner Shad Khan and general manager Dave Caldwell decided to let Bradley go before Sunday's game and were going to stick with their decision regardless of whether or not the team won. They opted to tell Bradley before he got on the team's chartered plane back to Jacksonville. The move upset some Jaguars players, who heard the news on social media and did not know what to say to their now-former coach during the flight.
"Yeah, that sucked," Sen'Derrick Marks said Tuesday, via ESPN.com. "If I had an opinion on if I thought that was the right move, I don't think that was the right way to do it. He had to ride the plane home back that way, but that ain't my call. They did it. They made the move.
"Gus was very cordial about it. Spoke with everybody. Came through the plane shaking hands and just talking with people. Gus has always been a great person in that aspect, but I don't think we as players were in the mood or were ready to actually see that at that moment."
"Sitting on the bus waiting to go to the airport, and the things start popping up on social media," Posluszny said. "That's how we found out, so it was very surprising."
When asked for comment, the Jaguars had no specific response to the players' reactions but referred to remarks made by general manager Dave Caldwell on Monday.
"You guys know, Gus and I have a unique relationship," Caldwell said. "It was built on trust and support. Once we made that decision, I could not lie to him. I respect him too much. Now that we're going to start a process of finding a new head coach, it wasn't fair to him or his family to have him here in the building."
I think if Caldwell and Khan were given a chance to think it over, they might have waited until the plane landed, or perhaps they might have let him go prior to the Houston game and allowed him the chance to address the team Wednesday. The problem, as Caldwell noted, was that emotions get involved and sometimes perfect timing and reasoning fall by the wayside in an effort to protect a friend and co-worker. I've seen Caldwell and Bradley interact up close and could easily tell that they were good friends. Caldwell noted in his news conference this week that he genuinely believed Bradley could get the team on a roll until the moment they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The dismissal did not seem to come with any malice. In his own goodbye news conference, Bradley said he would recommend working in Jacksonville to anyone.
As for letting Bradley go with two games remaining, it is the unfortunate reality of the business. The Eagles did so a year ago and the Rams continued the trend this year when they let go of Jeff Fisher. With so many gatekeepers popping up in the head coaching industry, and so many different hiring time lines for NFL assistants, college head coaches and NFL head coaches, a team looking to make a change has to be infinitely available and exceptionally prepared. Philadelphia took an extra week and still ended up taking longer to hire a coach than other teams who dismissed theirs on the Monday after the regular season.
In short, this wasn't easy or enjoyable for anyone.