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Jaguars could get burned if they don’t soon lock up Byron Leftwich as coach

JACKSONVILLE – As the NFL coaching dominos started falling early Thursday, with two of the Jaguars’ top candidates taking jobs elsewhere, it left one unavoidable question: how much longer is owner Shad Khan going to wait to pull the trigger on a coaching hire?

Unless there’s a bona fide mystery candidate who hasn’t been unveiled, like possibly a coach working in Sunday’s conference championship games, you have to wonder if Khan will pivot back to Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who appears to be the most logical remaining candidate as the Jaguars’ next head coach.

Once Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett took the Denver Broncos job and Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus went to the Chicago Bears, that meant Leftwich was the only coach who interviewed twice with the Jaguars or scheduled to do so that was still not taken.

There’s no question since Hackett was supposed to interview a second time Thursday with the Jaguars that the Broncos felt compelled to pull the trigger on the Packers offensive coordinator, who interviewed in Denver for eight hours on Monday and then left without a deal in place.

Now that Eberflus is off the market, it’ll be interesting to see if that prompts the Jaguars to move quickly on Leftwich or somebody else.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

A person familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing search, told the USA TODAY Network that the Jaguars talked with former Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio on Monday, but there’s uncertainty about whether it was about the vacancy created by Urban Meyer’s firing or possibly as a defensive coordinator under the next head coach.

The bigger point is the NFL carousel has finally begun to churn and the Jaguars have now gone 42 days without a permanent head coach. It’s understandable that Jaguars fans are moving a little past antsy and into what-are-we-doing mode.

Some Khan critics will interpret this waiting period — with almost two full days past since the second Leftwich interview – as an NFL version of Nero-fiddling-while-Rome-is-burning. However, the truth is nobody likely knows for sure what’s transpiring behind the scenes until the Jaguars owner says something (or possibly an agent of a candidate leaks information to the media).

For now, there’s a strong belief that the Jaguars are moving back toward Leftwich, including a report from Arizona Cardinals reporter Mike Jurecki that the team is on the verge of hiring Adrian Wilson – the Cardinals vice president of pro personnel who began as a regional scout with the team in 2015 – as a general manager to replace the Jaguars’ Trent Baalke.

Wilson has been rumored for weeks as an executive Leftwich would like to be aligned with as a head coach. Pro Football Talk reported Thursday that the former Jaguars quarterback gave the team an ultimatum as a condition of becoming head coach: that he wanted Wilson to be the GM and not Baalke.

There’s no question the Jaguars have an optics problem if Baalke, who has been part of the coaching interview process, sticks around. Once Meyer was fired on Dec. 16, it seemed only logical for Khan to start fresh after the season and go on a GM search, possibly before hiring a coach. That’s what the Minnesota Vikings and Bears did.

But he has stood by Baalke, the fired San Francisco 49ers GM who was not hired by any team for three years until former Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell hired him as director of player personnel in February, 2020. Baalke was promoted to GM when Caldwell got fired nine months later.

So as news revolving around the NFL coaching cycle seems to be changing now by the hour, there’s been no confirmation by the Jaguars that a hire of either Leftwich or Wilson or both would be imminent as of 12 noon Thursday.

But with some coaching dominoes falling, and seven coaching vacancies still not filled, there’s no telling whether the Jaguars will have a head coach in place by late Thursday, Friday or possibly even by next week.

That seems preposterous considering the head start the Jaguars had on other NFL teams. But remember, Khan rushed last year when he hired Meyer, and that turned out to be a disaster. It could well be he was determined to be more deliberative this time around, to the point of interviewing multiple candidates twice and not worrying about how slow or fast other franchises are making their hires.

But it’s been four weeks since Khan began conducting interviews for a new head coach, starting with former Philadelphia Eagles and Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson at his Naples home on December 30. While the NFL year ended a week later than usual this season, few people expected the Jaguars to still be without a head coach on January 27.

It’s getting a bit late in the game now, and with the New Orleans Saints now requesting to interview Leftwich, who knows what his destination might be if it’s not with the Jaguars?

The bottom line is Khan can’t afford to mess up this hiring process, not when he’s whiffed on his first four head coaching selections and has an entire fan base seething over Teflon Trent still sitting in the GM chair.

If the Jaguars don’t hire Byron Leftwich as their next head coach, then Khan better have an awfully impressive option that, at the moment, nobody sees coming.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Byron Leftwich: Jaguars could get burned if they don’t lock down coach

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