By Don Banks | December 18, 2017 11 am PT
If there are still skeptics out there who believe the impact of NFL coaching is overrated in determining a team’s success, they might want to ignore what the 2017 Rams and Jaguars just wrought.
Last year at this time, the Rams were one week removed from firing the hopelessly-past-his-shelf-life Jeff Fisher and were playing out the string, headed for a 4-12 finish and the franchise’s 12th consecutive non-playoff showing. They lost 24-3 at Seattle in Week 15, on Thursday night football, scoring 10 or fewer points for the eighth time in 14 games.
Enter rookie head coach Sean McVay and veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and L.A.’s instant turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. This year’s Rams are 180 degrees different on offense, with one of the most high-powered and consistent attacks in football, scoring 40 points or more in four different games and out-scoring their opponents on average by nearly 12 points per week.
Back in Seattle on Sunday, Los Angeles (10-4) destroyed the Seahawks this time, cruising to a 40-0 lead before winning 42-7, to all but wrap up the NFC West for the first time since 2003. It was the worst loss in the eight-season tenure of Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll, and all but announced a changing of the guard in the division, with the Seahawks now mired as the NFC’s No. 8 seed and in danger of not making the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
With roughly the same talent Fisher and his coaching staff had to work with, McVay and Phillips have performed near miracles, turning second-year quarterback, Jared Goff, into a passer deserving of going No. 1 overall in the draft after all, and taking a strong Rams defense and making it even more of a formidable force.
Meanwhile in Jacksonville, a year ago this week the perpetually struggling Jaguars finally cut ties with well-liked but over-matched head coach Gus Bradley, ending his almost four-year tenure with a sickly 14-48 won-loss record. The Jaguars were 2-12 at the time, and named offensive line coach Doug Marrone their interim coach, finishing out the year at 3-13.
Flash ahead to Week 15 of this season, and Marrone is now the full-time Jaguars coach, with a record of 11-5 since he took over last December. Jacksonville added another proven winner on the coaching front to the mix last offseason when they hired ex-Jags and ex-Giants head coach Tom Coughlin to oversee their football operation, and between them Marrone and Coughlin have totally changed the franchise’s flagging fortunes.
With Sunday’s 45-7 trouncing of two-time defending AFC South champion Houston (4-10), the Jaguars have flipped the script and are the division’s new champions, returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Jacksonville is 10-4, has won seven of its past eight games, and still has a shot to earn one of the AFC’s top two seeds and a first-round bye — a lofty accomplishment not achieved by Jacksonville since 1999.
The youthful base of talent on the Jaguars roster is the envy of many teams, and Jacksonville last year became the first club in modern draft history to make a top-five pick for five consecutive seasons. Turning that nucleus into the guts of a playoff team is how the NFL’s draft system is designed to work, but it hadn’t until Marrone and Coughlin took charge.
Now the Jaguars have perhaps the NFL’s best and most dominant defense, and they’re even getting their money’s worth of late from franchise quarterback Blake Bortles, who has found his stride in the second half of his pivotal fourth season in Jacksonville. Seven of the 11 wins Marrone has recorded in Jacksonville have come by margins of at least 20 points, with blowouts suddenly the norm.
Losing was a way of life for the Rams and Jaguars for a decade or more, but no longer. They changed coaches after a dismal 2016, and then everything changed. The turnarounds underway in Los Angeles and Jacksonville began with making the right call on the coaching front.