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Friday, October 11, 2013
Dave Caldwell is right man for Jaguars' job

By Mike Reiss

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In a week when arguably the NFL's best team faces the league's worst, a gap that has made the Denver Broncos a record-tying 28-point favorite over the Jacksonville Jaguars, it's a reminder of the major rebuilding task that Dave Caldwell has signed on to oversee.

It's daunting, but the Jaguars' passionate, grounded general manager hardly looks harried as he arrives in his office on a recent Friday morning, a large Dunkin' Donuts coffee clutched in his right hand. Maybe that's because he's been part of something like this before.

Caldwell was hired as Jaguars general manager in January after spending the previous five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, the first four as director of college scouting, the final year as director of player personnel.

When he first arrived in Atlanta, the Falcons were looking up at the rest of the NFL, the 32nd team in ESPN's Power Rankings and in need of an organizational overhaul after coach Bobby Petrino quit on the team the year before, Hall of Famer Bill Parcells spurned their advances to clean up the mess and franchise quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for dogfighting activities.

Jacksonville's Dave Caldwell
"When I came on an interview here, one of the things I noticed was that this building was made for dysfunction," Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said.
So the 39-year-old Caldwell, who is the NFL's second-youngest GM, knows what it's like to be looking up at the rest of the NFL. He also experienced firsthand what goes into rising from that lowly standing, and much of what he's brought to Jacksonville is rooted from that experience.

It starts with addressing the culture in the building, which he learned from one of his mentors, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

"I came the day after the draft and I remember arriving in Atlanta with a negative perception and how it was such a mess, from everything you read," Caldwell recalled. "But then I get into the building and there was a completely different vibe with everyone there, from the secretaries to the head coach. You could just sense that right away. Thomas is a friend, but it wasn't just about him at that point, it was everybody in the building. You could sense that right away and it just felt right."

Caldwell is determined to create a similar environment in Jacksonville, and while the wins have yet to come on the field -- which is ultimately what will determine if his tenure is a success -- a closer look inside the walls of the team's facility at EverBank Field reveals how parts of Caldwell's vision are already taking shape.

Concrete walls have been demolished. Metal doors which created a dungeon-like feel are now glass and more welcoming. The draft room has been opened up, and offices -- including his own -- have been moved.

"When I came on an interview here, one of the things I noticed was that this building was made for dysfunction. I called it the 'great divide.' You have a hallway that separated the coaching staff with the rest of the building and personnel. It didn't feel like an organization because you had to cross that rubber hallway to get to the coaches, you had metal doors, and everything was so closed in," he said. "Just from a symbolic basis, I felt like it was two sides."

It isn't that way anymore. The improvements aimed at more openness and transparency are still ongoing as part of what Caldwell calls a significant financial commitment from owner Shad Khan, which has included an upgraded training room, dining area for players and the team locker room.

Perhaps the most symbolic change is that Caldwell's office is now next to the upbeat head coach he hired, Gus Bradley. Caldwell said that was Khan's idea, with the hope of promoting better communication between two of the most important people in the organization, and Caldwell was immediately on board because it reflected his own beliefs.

"I learned this from Thomas: The relationship between head coach and general manager is paramount. You have to be on the same page and be co-builders regardless of who has what title," he said, adding that the Jaguars employed the same consultant in their head-coaching search as the Falcons did in 2008.

From his view in Atlanta, Dimitroff sees the obvious parallels between the 2008 Falcons and 2013 Jaguars.

"It was imperative that he and the head coach that he decided on bringing in, along with the owner, that they were very communicative, that they were along the same wavelength and congruent with their team-building philosophies," he said. "And that they had an owner who was very generous and willing to work with them and have the patience to sort of build the team the way they want to build the team.

Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, left, and GM Dave Caldwell, right, now have offices next to each other. "The relationship between head coach and general manager is paramount," Caldwell said.
"Back in 2008, we were coming off a tumultuous season where the entire building -- not only football operations but also the business side -- needed a revamp in many different ways. There needed to be this injection of positivity, trust, passion, levity and direction."

Embarking on their journey together as first-time GM and first-time head coach, Caldwell and Bradley have surrounded themselves with several other first-timers, part of creating a young, vibrant culture. In terms of personnel, Caldwell used the words "athleticism, speed and aggression" when describing the types of players the Jaguars are targeting.

"I want a fast, aggressive football team. Also, a team that is highly, highly competitive, day in and day out, where guys are coming to work knowing that every single day matters, to have that roster where the 53rd guy has as much of a chance of starting as the No. 1 guy on the roster," he said.

As early-season results have shown, there have been some expected growing pains, which have sparked some media-driven talk about a possible winless season. Caldwell, who admittedly isn't the most patient type, isn't wavering on his belief that the best approach is to build the Jaguars through the draft.

That helps explain why he traded left tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens earlier this month for fourth- and fifth-round draft choices. Monroe was entering the final year of his contract. The Jaguars drafted left-tackle-of-the-future Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall this year, and Caldwell -- who spent 10 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts as a scout before his five years in Atlanta -- is thinking big picture. He now has 10 picks in the 2014 draft.

"Everybody says ‘I want to build through the draft, I want to build through the draft,' but only a select number of teams actually commit to it. I firmly believe in doing it. I know we're going to go through some adversity doing that, but in the long-term, you'll see success through it," Caldwell said.

"Obviously, we have to pick the right players, but I felt like this was a market we could do that. The owner is committed to doing it. The head coach is committed to doing it. That's what we're going to do and we're convicted in our beliefs in doing it. I think it can work here."

It mostly worked for the Falcons from their low point in 2008, although there is one major difference between the ‘08 Falcons and 2013 Jaguars. The Falcons drafted their franchise quarterback that first year in selecting Matt Ryan No. 3 overall.

Caldwell didn't draft a quarterback this year, but the 2014 draft is expected to be deep at the position. That's obviously the key piece. And whatever he decides at quarterback, it will almost certainly be the most important decision of his tenure. On Thursday night, Caldwell attended the Louisville-Rutgers game, as Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is one of the nation's top quarterback prospects.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Caldwell will be in Denver, where his Jaguars are the biggest underdogs the NFL has seen in decades.

He's been down this road before, living it with the 2008 Falcons, which only makes him more steadfast in his belief that better days are ahead.