Jaguars' Firing of Gene Smith Is the First Step in the Right Direction

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistDecember 31, 2012

Fans will react with glee over the news that the Jags have a new GM on the way.
Fans will react with glee over the news that the Jags have a new GM on the way.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To the surprise of no one, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced the firing of general manager Gene Smith.

The official term the team used in their press release was "parting ways." That's a kind way of saying they booted him to the curb for nearly destroying the franchise.

Owner Shad Khan said that he met with Smith and informed him of his decision, adding:

Now it is time for the Jacksonville Jaguars to begin a new chapter.  We’re not looking back.  I’ve made it clear from Day One that we pledge nothing less than to deliver the first Super Bowl championship to Jacksonville.  Our fans have been remarkably loyal over the years, and they were truly outstanding this past season.  We simply must do better for our fans.

Doing better by the fans is the primary reason Smith had to go. Jacksonville fanatics have been doggedly supporting the franchise for years, faithfully filling a stadium too big for the market. They simply deserve better.

Over four years, Smith made a series of ill-fated draft and personnel decisions that ultimately resulted in a 2-14 record, tied for the worst in the NFL. Since Smith became the top dog in Jacksonville, the Jags went 22-41 and were outscored by 413 points.

While the missteps were numerous, the most famous mistake of the Smith era was the selection of Blaine Gabbert 10th overall in the 2011 draft. The Jaguars traded up for Gabbert, vaulting over a number of more productive players and passing by three quarterbacks who will be starting playoff games in 2012.

Gabbert is now recognized as one of the worst quarterbacks in football, and most experts agree his odds of being a viable starter are long at best.

Overdrafting questionable talent was a hallmark of Smith's stint running the Jaguars. Smith was roundly criticized for taking defensive tackle Tyson Alualu with the No. 10 pick in the 2010 draft as well. Alualu was seen as a solid player, but not a difference-maker by experts who felt Smith reached.

Smith's most ridiculous draft decision was the indefensible selection of Bryan Anger with the No. 70 pick in the 2012 draft.

Smith was foolishly convinced that a punter could merit a high pick, showing he had no feel for football tactics or relative values. Worse yet, he passed over Rookie of the Year candidate Russell Wilson because he felt that he was set at quarterback with Chad Henne and Gabbert.

Any general manager who could possibly feel set with Henne and Gabbert is clearly not a strong evaluator of talent.

The draft wasn't Smith's only failing. His free-agent signings were a mess as well. Jacksonville shelled out big money to Laurent Robinson in the offseason. Even before concussion issues shortened his year, he was struggling to make an impact.

There was simply no argument to be made for keeping Smith in his position. In a league where teams are rebuilding on the fly and returning to the playoffs quickly after hiring new coaches and general managers, the steady erosion of talent on the Jaguars roster was too damning to ignore.

While a few names have been floated to replace Smith, there is no clear timetable for Khan to hire his replacement. Also unknown is what effect the firing will have on Mike Mularkey's future.

Smith hired the coach to tutor Gabbert, but it became apparent that the quarterback was failing to progress as he should. Mularkey's fate will likely be decided by the new GM. That man will also have to sort out a serious quarterback mess that could even involve Tim Tebow before it's over.

It's all part of a positive process of rebuilding that has to start with getting the right decision-maker in place. Though a decision should happen quickly, in some ways it doesn't matter who Khan taps for the job.

He can't possibly do worse than Smith.


Quotes courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars PR department via direct press release.