Gene Frenette: Whether it's Byron Leftwich or not, Jaguars must seek right leader as coach

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Perhaps the most overriding sentiment on who the next Jaguars’ head coach should be is to hire somebody with an offensive background to enhance the development of Trevor Lawrence.

Sorry to say, but this is a total fallacy. Not the part about the importance of Lawrence advancing as a quarterback, but the notion that the seventh full-time Jaguars’ sideline boss must be a guy who cut his coaching teeth on offense.

It’s a trap many fans and media types fall into because the belief is a team like the Jaguars, who have been woeful on offense for the better part of a decade, need an offensive guru as head coach for Lawrence to fulfill his true potential.

No, what the Jaguars need above all else is a head coach who can lead and unite the entire organization, get people to rally around him. That kind of skillset is far more imperative to transform the Jaguars’ culture into sustained success, not what side of the ball the head coach happened to learn his craft.

But NFL fans get so enamored with scoring points and being entertained, it leads them to believe coaches who work that side of the ball make for better sideline bosses. History shows among coaches who have won multiple Super Bowls, it’s almost an even split (7 defense, 6 offense) on both sides of the ball.

What matters is how a head coach, even one with no previous experience in that position, can inspire a team to reach its potential and get players, coaches and front-office types aligned toward the same goal.

Sadly, the Jaguars haven’t had that coach who met that type of criteria since Tom Coughlin left and eventually won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. Jack Del Rio had a couple nice years, but the winning didn’t last.

Owner Shad Khan, after whiffing on his first four coaching hires, is in the process of trying to identify a coach who can lead the Jaguars out of the NFL darkness, a fitting adjective to attach to his team’s 44-120 (.268) record on his watch.

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A closer look: 5 things to know about Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich (R), seen here giving instructions to quarterback Tom Brady, has the leadership qualities that should be the foremost consideration in picking the Jaguars' next coach.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich (R), seen here giving instructions to quarterback Tom Brady, has the leadership qualities that should be the foremost consideration in picking the Jaguars' next coach.

Unless defensive coordinators Matt Eberflus (Indianapolis Colts) or Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) wind up winning this nine-candidates-and-counting horse race for the Jaguars’ job, their next coach is probably going to be an offensive guy.

Not that it matters because Trevor’s development is going to be entrusted mostly to the offensive coordinator and his quarterbacks coach, both of whom are hired by the head coach. Whoever the successor to Urban Meyer might be, his leadership skills and ability to attract the right people into the organization matters so much more than whether he’s a play-calling maestro.

Yes, young head coaches like Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams), Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers) and Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers) made name for themselves as offensive gurus, but defensive-minded head coaches Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills) and Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans) also have their teams in the Super Bowl hunt.

The critical common denominator for all those guys is the quality of their leadership, not their particular football acumen. What the Jaguars need more than anything is Khan finding the right captain to guide the ship.

Byron Leftwich wins Brad Meester's seal of approval

Above anything else, that leadership quality is what has the longest-tenured Jaguars’ player, center Brad Meester (2000-2013), excited about the potential of former teammate Byron Leftwich as an NFL head coach.

Meester is one of six offensive starters who played all four years (2003-06) when Leftwich was the Jaguars’ starting quarterback. While the No. 7 overall draft pick was not always embraced by fans during his time as a player — especially after the offense performed poorly in a 28-3 playoff loss to the New England Patriots in 2005 — those who got an inside glimpse as to how Leftwich carried himself as a leader were impressed.

“Honestly, just looking at the guys put out there as [Jaguars’ coaching] candidates, I like [Leftwich] the most for a lot of reasons,” Meester said Friday from his Iowa home. “When I played with him, Byron was probably the sharpest, probably one of the smartest guys I ever had in the huddle. He could read a defense. He knew the game. He was so on point with the details of what he was doing. The head coach has a lot of responsibility. He’s the motivator and the one guys rally around, and I think Byron will be great at that.

“Whoever we get [as head coach] has to be a guy people can get behind and gets players to Jacksonville. We can’t get better right away just through the draft. We’ve got to get guys in free agency. I think you’ll find guys that want to be here because of Byron. He’s going to be a tremendous head coach, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”

No doubt, Leftwich’s cachet as a future head coach has gained plenty of momentum since the Buccaneers won last year’s Super Bowl. Leftwich getting public endorsements from quarterback Tom Brady and Bucs’ coach Bruce Arians, who convinced the retired quarterback to get into coaching when he was with the Arizona Cardinals, have also made him a popular choice when his name is connected to NFL vacancies.

Leftwich interviewed with Khan via Zoom on January 7, two days before Tampa Bay’s final regular-season game. With former NFL head coaches Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell not invited back for second interviews, speculation has run rampant that the Jaguars might be waiting on Leftwich or possibly Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to finish their playoff run.

For Jaguars fans, a waiting game

As much as fans and media want closure on these NFL coaching vacancies, the truth is the Jaguars’ search remained a fluid situation heading into the weekend. Proclaiming anyone a frontrunner, and Leftwich is suddenly getting plenty of that, is dangerous speculation.

But here’s what cannot be disputed or debated: the Jaguars desperately need to pick the right head coach and that guy must display unquestioned traits as a leader.

Offensive coach or defensive coach, Leftwich, Hackett, Bowles or whomever, just get a head coach in Jacksonville who isn’t going to flame out like all of Khan’s other hires.

If you get the right leader, it’s a win-win because he’s probably also going to make Trevor Lawrence a better quarterback.

gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Byron Leftwich or not as head coach, Jaguars need foremost to find right leader

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