Bill O'Brien, Byron Leftwich, Doug Pederson: Which coaches are frontrunners for Jaguars job?

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich celebrates with center Ryan Jensen (66) after scoring against the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's playoff game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich celebrates with center Ryan Jensen (66) after scoring against the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's playoff game.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have conducted a thorough search for their next head coach, interviewing eight candidates over the past three weeks.

The Jaguars have interviewed former NFL head coaches Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell, Jaguars interim head coach Darrell Bevell, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

Florida Times-Union staff writers John Reid and Garry Smits and sports columnist Gene Frenette conducted a roundtable discussion on speculating the frontrunners and should the Jaguars provide more candidates into the mix.

Jaguars coaching search:: 5 things to know about former Eagles coach Doug Pederson

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Former Jags QB: 5 things to know about Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich

The Jaguars have a wide range of candidates they have interviewed. Who do you think are the frontrunners at this point?

John Reid: Jaguars owner Shad Khan cannot fumble the ball on this hire after making his biggest mistake in his 10-year tenure owning the franchise when he hired Urban Meyer. The frontrunners appear to be Tampa Bay Bucanneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Alabama offensive coordinator, former Texans coach Bill O'Brien, and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. Leftwich had an impressive interview. O'Brien is not popular among the Jaguars fan base because of how things ended for him with the Texans. As both the head coach and general manager, O'Brien made one of the worst trades in NFL history, sending Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. If the Jaguars hire O'Brien, he won't be handling personnel decisions. Behind the inner circles of the franchise, it is Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke who is pushing O'Brien as a viable candidate for the job. Pederson brings experience and success after having won a Super Bowl when he coached the Eagles. But the problem for the Jaguars is that Pederson has plenty of options. He is getting strong consideration from the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants for their head coaching vacancies.

Gene Frenette: A reminder that anyone putting together what they believe is a frontrunner list is likely guessing at this point. Not all coaching searches are equal in terms of rumors or media reports being credible. Some are, but others can be suspect information put out by agents. Since we don’t even know whether owner Shad Khan will be interviewing more than the nine known candidates, or how the presence of GM Trent Baalke (if he retains his job) impacts the final decision, picking a favorite is almost the equivalent of throwing darts blindfolded. No matter who gets picked, I’m not sure there’s a home-run hire, a term that gets tossed around too loosely. Personally, having NFL head coaching experience should matter to Khan after the Urban Meyer debacle. If so, then you have to think former Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson, former Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien and former Detroit Lions/Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell are in the lead pack somewhere. But if Pederson gets other offers and goes elsewhere, it becomes a tough horse race to call. A lot will come down to who Khan feels most comfortable with after getting to know the candidate, plus how fixated he is on hiring an offensive-minded coach. Among offensive coordinators Nathaniel Hackett, Byron Leftwich and Kellen Moore, if experience comes into play, it’ll be Hackett. But I wouldn’t rule out Leftwich even if it means the Jaguars have to wait on their former quarterback to finish his playoff run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson watches during warm-ups before a 2018 game.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson watches during warm-ups before a 2018 game.

Garry Smits: Of the pool of candidates who have been NFL head coaches in the past, Doug Pederson and Bill O'Brien are names that are being bandied about the most. Both have strong track records of producing winning teams and getting them to the playoffs and Pederson, obviously, has a Super Bowl ring. Among the candidates who have been only coordinators and not head coaches, there's only one obvious choice: former Jags quarterback Byron Leftwich. I think he'd relate more to a younger team and would be especially helpful to Trevor Lawrence.

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores directs his team during the second half against the New England Patriots on Jan. 9.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores directs his team during the second half against the New England Patriots on Jan. 9.

Do you think there's a potential candidate the Jaguars should add to the mix?

Reid: The Jaguars should consider former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and current Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Flores got a lousy deal with the Dolphins after having two winning seasons in three years with a young roster. This season the Dolphins lost seven consecutive games and then went on a seven-game winning streak to become the first team in NFL history to have both. For Flores to take a team that started 1-4 and finished 9-8, shows that his players didn't quit on him and when under desperation, he knows the right buttons to push. Bieniemy, meanwhile, is long overdue to land a head coaching job. He interviewed last year with the Jaguars for the vacant head coaching job before Meyer was hired. Bieniemy is experienced and has learned from one of the best, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

Frenette: Absolutely. I think it’s in the Jaguars’ best interest for Khan to talk to fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores. Yes, there’s a lot of chatter about him being hard to work with and not having a symbiotic relationship with Dolphins’ GM Chris Grier. But the Jaguars’ biggest problem is learning how to win and the fact Miami rebounded from a 1-7 start to almost make the playoffs tells me Flores kept his team engaged through a brutal stretch and got them on a winning track. Remember, he lost his first seven games with Miami his first year in mostly blowout fashion, but the Dolphins rebounded to win five of their last nine games. Flores might not be a lot of fun to be around. However, what can’t be denied is the guy knows how to battle through tough times and get his team on a winning track. He also did it without a true franchise quarterback, though Tua Tagovailoa is not as mediocre as people think. I’d also talk to New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who’s eventually going to be an NFL head coach again. How can you not speak with a guy who has tutored Tom Brady and done a fabulous job this season with Mac Jones?

Smits: I understand why NFL teams, and especially this one, might want to only consider offensive coaches. But Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is someone I'd like to see get a shot. He's got head coaching experience and has been with seven NFL teams. I think he'd have a good influence on a young team and he's smart enough to hire the best offensive coordinator and quarterback coach and leave him alone. For that matter, why isn't Joe Cullen getting a look? The Jags defensive coordinator was arguably the best coach on the staff this season and it speaks volumes that the defensive players united in wanting the new coach to retain Cullen.

Bill O'Brien looks on during a game while serving as head coach of the Houston Texans.
Bill O'Brien looks on during a game while serving as head coach of the Houston Texans.

Do you think Bill O'Brien could be a good fit and help develop Trevor Lawrence?

Reid: O'Brien has the necessary experience, obviously from spending six and a half seasons as the Texans' head coach. But would have he be a good fit in Jacksonville? After his mistakes in Houston, O'Brien doesn't deserve a second shot this soon. Some more deserving coaches wouldn't be as big of a distraction as O'Brien. Most of the attention that would come with an O'Brien hire would be his poor personnel decisions made during his tenure in Houston, and speculation about his input on roster decisions in Jacksonville would overshadow just about everything. After the Meyer mistake, the Jaguars do not need another head coach that attracts all the attention. However, O'Brien is an excellent offensive coach who could help develop Lawrence, but Leftwich or Pederson would be a better fit.

Frenette: Surprisingly, I think O’Brien is a much better fit for Trevor than possibly any other candidate. Let’s be honest: the animosity toward O’Brien is mostly because of the media report that Baalke is pushing him for the job. The fans’ venom directed at the Jaguars’ GM is as intense as anything seen in the 27-year history of the franchise, so the perception of O’Brien is heavily impacted by the Baalke rancor. Some of it also has to do with how his tenure with the Houston Texans ended once he won a power struggle and got heavily involved with personnel. But that’s a separate issue from whether he can mesh with Lawrence and properly develop him. Don’t forget that O’Brien won two of his four AFC South division titles using the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brock Osweiler at various points as his starting quarterback. He also did a great job at Penn State developing Christian Hackenberg, who became a second-round NFL draft pick and never played a down of football in the regular season. Oh, he was also instrumental this past season in turning Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who had never started before, into a Heisman Trophy winner. So you have to give O’Brien, who also worked with Tom Brady for a couple years as offensive coordinator/quarterback coach, a lot of credit for knowing how to manage quarterbacks. If O’Brien gets the Jaguars’ job, that will be a huge part of the equation.

Smits: I don't think he would be a great fit. I get the fans' resistance to O'Brien and I share some of their concerns: he's not a warm and fuzzy guy and on a team frazzled by the drama of the 2021 season, I'm not sure that type of personality will work. But if he's kept away from personnel decisions (at which he was an abject failure in Houston), he's a good enough coach to take what's given him and win with it. One thing that can't be denied is his track record: his Texans teams won four AFC South titles, won nine or more games in five of his six full seasons and won two playoff games. Around here, that's cause for throwing parades.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars Roundtable: Who are the frontrunners for head coaching job?

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