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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
In Monroeville, Ohio (population roughly 1,400), nestled about halfway between Cleveland and Toledo, a swath of teal runs through a region tinted orange.
The reason for the patch of Jaguars fans in Browns country is Gene Smith, the 45-year-old first-year Jacksonville general manager and senior vice president of personnel.
A small but determined defensive end and tight end during his career at Monroeville High, Smith left town stamped with the work ethic of his father, Delbert, a construction worker, and with a friendship with his coach, Steve Ringholz, that would last a lifetime.
|Courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars|
|New Jaguars general manager Gene Smith prefers a steady approach to building a team, rather than making splashy acquisitions.|
"He was a self-made player. He didn't have great athletic ability but he worked very hard and he not only demanded a lot out of himself, but he demanded a lot out of his teammates," Ringholz said. "He had a lot of instincts for the game of football. He had a lot of instincts for dealing with people."
When he wasn't playing football, he was often working for his father, learning early the importance of a good shift, while developing an interest in the way things are built.
"When you're working for your dad, you're a laborer," Smith said with a laugh. "Concrete and structural work interested me most. But when I say concrete, I was the guy who was wheeling the concrete. I didn't have all the high-level chores now, I was tending mud if we were laying block.
"But the structural part is a lot of what I did, studding up walls and anything structural and with concrete. My dad always taught me that the key to a good home is putting in a good foundation, and that's why I think with a good football team, a good foundation starts up front with your offensive and defensive lines."
It's too neat a metaphor, too hokey, but it works: The guy now in charge of putting the Jaguars together, who will work to build consensus but ultimately has the final say on personnel matters and roster decisions, is simply looking for the studs and concrete with which to rebuild a team.
It won't come with high-priced free agents, an approach the Jaguars have used before with poor results. It will come with a patient plan, heavily reliant on the draft. The Jaguars intend to start with strong lines and build from the back end of the roster, at least at the beginning.
The franchise's early decisions under Smith included admitting mistakes and parting with receiver Jerry Porter and cornerback Drayton Florence, and making the more difficult choice to let running back Fred Taylor go.
Although the team signed Sean Considine to play strong safety as a less expensive alternative to free agent Gerald Sensabaugh, the other contracts Smith has put together so far have been for backups and strong special-teamers like Montell Owens, Brian Iwuh and James Wyche.
"A lot of people look at it as guys who can make your 53. I'm looking at guys who can get into our game-day 45," Smith said. "... Without question those type of players are players you can get your hands on earlier than a guy that you play every down, per se."
Bigger building blocks will come in the draft, where the Jaguars have the No. 8 pick, but the idea of solidifying the back end of the roster at the start of his regime is one that's worked for one of the teams the Jaguars are trying to catch -- many of the early moves of Tennessee's Mike Reinfeldt's were similar.
Smith was named to the post Jan. 12, and the move received big applause from the scouting community, which was pleased to see one of its own ascend. At his first big scouting event after taking on the new responsibilities, a dozen or so scouts quickly approached him in the Reliant Stadium parking lot at an East-West Shrine Game practice to offer congratulations.
Smith has been with the Jaguars since before they had a roster, hired by Tom Coughlin in 1994. One scout from another team classified him a quiet, hardworking, well-organized and well-respected football man.
As he works with Jack Del Rio, the coaching staff and a scouting staff he was long a part, Smith still has a touchstone in Monroeville. His parents have passed away, but Ringholz is still coaching. The 58-year-old member of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame said he talks to Smith just about every day.
When Del Rio and his staff coached in the Senior Bowl, Ringholz took in some practices in Mobile, Ala., with Smith.
"We talk almost daily, sometimes more than once a day," Ringholz said. "He'll talk a lot about what's going on, ask my opinion about things and he's always wanting to know what's going on back here. A lot of stuff that we talk about he wants it to stay just between him and me.
"He's had some very tough decisions to make, not just tough business decisions but tough personal decisions. Fred Taylor was somebody that he watched come up, he studied while [Taylor] was in college. It was a tough one for Gene, there is no doubt about that."
As the franchise looks to add
new players who might be great finds as Taylor was, Smith and Del Rio will be concerned with how they will factor into chemistry and develop into leaders.
Smith is hopeful that fresh blood will arrive and then follow a course similar to his own, working up through the organization.
"I certainly believe that players make the system," he said.
As a decision-maker, he said he intends to be more Ichiro than A-Rod.
"Certainly we'd like to get them all right, but I am probably someone with more of a base hit philosophy," he said. "If you get base hits, you get people on base, you're going to score and probably win more consistently than if you're standing up there trying to hit home runs. If you're trying to hit home runs, you're going to be striking out a lot."
He likes the baseball terminology, but said he's no baseball guy.
As a football guy, he's now got some pieces and a lot of power. He will be measured in his decisions, but undaunted by the new power.
"I try to be a good listener, then I also watch a lot of film myself," he said. "I say the value is in the evaluator. So I study a lot of film on players. I'm not one that's just listening and delegating, I'm also a doer. I think in the end, you try to build a consensus. But decisions have to be made and I am confident in my abilities, with the staff around me, to make those decisions."