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SPORTSTALK

It's hard to fault the Jacksonville Jaguars for finally parting ways with Rashean Mathis, and it's equally hard to fault most of the sports media for looking at Rashean's tenure in Jacksonville through teal-colored glasses. But let's be real about his legacy.

For the last few years, Mathis was the guy on the field who could be targeted with the deep ball and beaten, time and time again. There was good reason for talk throughout the media of possibly moving him to safety — a position shift familiar to cover corners who can no longer cover. The fact is that Mathis wouldn't have started for at least the last two years — possibly more — on a team where he had real competition for his role, which by the end, given the emergence of Derek Cox, was as a No. 2 cornerback.

What's next? Obviously, he will explore the free agent market, get a camp invite, maybe a roster spot. But will any team with real aspirations be able to use him? He's not really a nickel back type; at his age and with his mileage, a shifty slot receiver would school him on many routes, and burn him deep.

I know — Mathis is a classy guy, a fan of Burrito Gallery, and one of the best football players from Duval County. I wish him well. But I have to give general manager David Caldwell credit for making a personnel move that was divested of the sentimental hogwash that seemed to drive moves in previous eras. In the case of Mathis, we see an illustration of the principle "addition by subtraction." Keeping him on the roster would be fuzzy math, unless he somehow could tap into the Ray Lewis "fountain of youth."   More

SPORTSTALK

First, let me say I'm not a fan of the new logo. I think the cat’s head is slimmed down too much, the ears are too pointy, and the tongue — why it's still teal is beyond me.

That said, I understand the need for it — just as I understood the need to take the team to black uniforms. Aggressive rebranding is necessary for this franchise to take the great leap forward. It's time. In fact, it was long past time.

Change came quite slowly and cautiously in the Wayne Weaver era. The original Jaguars owner was a throwback in a way that fit Jacksonville of a bygone era — a time when Baymeadows Road was two lanes and Mandarin was still out in the sticks.

By the time the team got to the 21st century and the interminable Jack Del Rio epoch, it seemed like Weaver was standing still while so many other teams in the league were moving forward. The chances that were taken — Matt Jones as a project wide receiver in the first round, Jerry Porter as a big free-agent signing — seemed like half-measures, partly because the coaching staff didn't seem able to maximize the talent on hand. The David Garrard phase seems a lifetime ago, partly because there are so few signature memories attached to it.

We're long past that now. Garrard will likely never play another down of pro ball, and his replacement, Blaine Gabbert, inspires little confidence outside his own locker room. It doesn’t seem to matter too much. This team — 2-14 last year, with the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft — has something intangible going for it. And there are tangible factors, too.

Let’s start with the head coach. When Mike Mularkey was hired, the fan base and NFL observers were both underwhelmed. He hadn’t had rousing success during his previous head coaching stop in Buffalo, and his mild-mannered personality seemed anticlimactic after the tempestuous Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio, who definitely could show fire when he wanted. It was inconceivable that he'd get only one year to …   More

SPORTSTALK

Whenever personnel changes are made within the Jaguars organization, there tends to be a need to frame them as an improvement over the previous situation, just because a change was finally made. When Tom Coughlin was removed from his position a decade ago, for example, enthusiasm rang throughout the local media as Jack Del Rio appeared, pledging to end the era of “three yards and a cloud of dust” (ironic, given the offenses Del Rio brought to the viewing public).

A similar burst of enthusiasm occurred when James “Shack” Harris resigned from his front office position as vice president of player personnel two days before Christmas 2008. Harris was the closest thing the front office had to a general manager. A troika — Harris, Del Rio and Gene Smith — collaborated to make decisions on players, an approach that illustrated the old cliché “too many cooks in the kitchen,” as ultimate accountability proved elusive, like a deep run in the playoffs. The troika approach was a reaction to the absolute power Coughlin wielded here and was designed to ensure that just one man wouldn’t hold that kind of control again. It was too much work for a single person, the geniuses said at the time.

Harris was pilloried all over the media for questionable draft picks. Some of the criticism was merited. It wasn’t difficult to build a case then that some of the hate Harris elicited might have been based on his race, but by the time he’d finished six years here, some felt the team was ready for something new – an alternative to the process that brought in questionable picks, like Byron Leftwich, and players with questionable character, including Glimmer Twins Matt Jones and Reggie Williams.

That something new was “Clean” Gene Smith, a “Jaguars original,” referring to his days as a college scout for the franchise in 1994. Smith worked his way up through the ranks, building a reputation as a keen observer of talent. Former owner Wayne Weaver rewarded …   More

SPORTSTALK

I may be the only person in America who is in favor of military sequestration. I realize that it impacts people, including many local families who depend on the military for direct or indirect employment. That said, much of the economy – and economic choices – surrounding the US military in recent decades are inefficient, illustrating what Noam Chomsky described as “socialized costs, privatized profits.” No matter what war we look at in our nation’s history, the common thread is that a subset of patriotic Americans is getting PAID. Which is fine – someone has to!

It is beyond this column’s scope to weigh the pros and cons of having a global military presence, of funding and otherwise abetting movements throughout what was once called the Third World, and so forth. But given the long-standing tradition of having military flyovers at Jacksonville Jaguars games, it is instructive to look at the use of military displays as propaganda, specifically designed to shape the short-term thought processes and long-term philosophical inclinations of those watching. What effect is the displays intended to create? And what is the real loss when those displays no longer happen?

A few days back, it was reported that the military sequestration process, among other effects, would end flyovers at all sporting events going forward. As Vito Stellino from the Florida Times-Union reported, the Air Force conducts “about 1000 flyovers at sporting events per year as part of their training routines.” A few of those flyovers, as you would expect, are at Jags’ games

There are some who believe that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ organization was instrumental in making those displays happen. That confusion wasn’t cleared up necessarily by team President Mark Lamping, who said, “We’ve only heard rumors and haven’t received any confirmation, but the flyovers have been an important part of the Jaguars games …   More

SPORTSTALK

A few years ago, when Wayne Weaver owned the Jaguars and the only thing that changed from year to year were the names of the players on the police blotter, there wasn't much to say about the Jaguars ownership from the business side.

Recall all of the media hype about blackouts, moving to Los Angeles and other topics that seem more dated with each passing week. Now the Jaguars have an owner with the gumption to put his investment in the center of the global stage. And really, it's about time someone figured it out.

Given the league investment in its franchises in the Northeast Corridor, one cannot give Shad Khan enough credit for realizing that the best way to trump that bias is to establish his small-market Southern franchise as a global entity. To that end, with the purchase of Fulham soccer team in the English Premier League, he's established himself as a sovereign figure in sports, one with the capital, moxie and vision to be among the most important sports team owners of his generation.

Check out Khan's words. They should sound familiar to Jags fans — in tone and spirit, they're reminiscent of what he said when he bought the Jaguars. It's just been a couple of years, but the cleansing power of Khan's frankness and clarity make the former regime seem like a dim memory.

"Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me," Khan said in a statement. "My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each has a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of. We will manage the club's financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham's future."

London readers of Folio Weekly — and I assume there are some — can take those words to the bank. They're more solid than the pound sterling. And what's clear, especially in retrospect, is that Khan saw and sees American football as …   More

SPORTSTALK

For years now, at least since Tim Tebow made every Florida Gators game must-see TV, even for people who weren't self-identified Gator Nation members, there has been a hierarchy of college football teams in the state.

The Gators stood atop the landscape. The Seminoles: second best. And below them, a series of programs with fortunes that shifted from year to year — Miami, University of South Florida, University of Central Florida and all the rest.

The Gators were all anyone really wanted to talk about, with names like Tebow, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez. The 'Noles? Not so much.

Even during the just-concluded E.J. Manuel era, which was more successful than not, there was a distinct feeling of frustrated climax. As I noticed last year when I was in Tallahassee for the Florida game — sitting in the student section, no less — there was no real expectation of victory for the home team.

Even though last year's Gators squad wasn't especially compelling, and even though Manuel was arguably the best ACC quarterback (especially if you ask the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him in the first round this year), it somehow wasn't surprising that Manuel struggled against the Seminoles' in-state rivals.

Last year's Florida game was a struggle for Manuel for the second consecutive year. He was intercepted three times in last year's game, in addition to coughing up the ball in the fourth quarter. If you had only seen Manuel in those games against Florida, there's no way you'd call him a first-round pick who could immediately start in the NFL — or at least the approximation thereof that's showcased in Buffalo these days. In part, that perception stemmed from a gulf between the two programs. Indications are that gulf is about to be bridged — courtesy of a redshirt freshman quarterback, one "Famous" Jameis Winston.

Winston's legend began before he took his first snap for the 'Noles in Pittsburgh — a tough place to win …   More

SPORTSTALK

Most sports fans in Northeast Florida first 
 became acquainted with Aaron Hernandez when he was a tight end on that incredible University of Florida offense a few years ago. Hernandez, Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow made Gators games must-see TV.

Yes, he tested positive for marijuana, but folks who know the history of "Gainesville Green" know the temptation and the ubiquity of the so-called sticky-icky in the 352. Yes, there were mutterings about so-called character concerns before he was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round. But these were minor cavils. Hernandez looked like a steal of a draft pick at the time. Fast-forward a couple of years, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick looked even more prescient. Fast-forward to today, and the revisionist history of the "long view" takes hold.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King battled with some Twitter followers about the wisdom of the Hernandez draft pick recently, in the wake of Hernandez being scrubbed from the Patriots roster and NFL history. Could he still be called a good pick? Yes, King argued, given his statistical contribution to the team before the guy was arrested on murder charges.

And — in my opinion, at least — King's right. As interested observers of the Jaguars' process, we've seen almost two decades of drafts here, and two years of starter-level "elite" production is more than can be hoped for from your standard fourth-round pick. No one could have rationally foreseen the accusations of murder and evidence destruction in which Hernandez became ensnared. In part, it's because what the NFL calls "character concerns" so often have nothing to do with anything beyond a bad result on a urinalysis for cannabis (the only reliable substance testing, given how long it stays in the system).

Rather than look at real-deal character issues, the league and its media adjuncts (ESPN and other broadcast partners) reduce the whole matter to how clean a player's urine is. For further …   More

SPORTSTALK

When checking Facebook chat, I was surprised to see a green light by the name of the greatest wide receiver of his era. I was more surprised that he responded when I asked "how are you being treated in prison?" with a simple "I'm out."

Since it was reported that Jimmy Smith would be in jail until 2018, I wondered how he got released. A one word answer followed: "God." Instead of being locked up, he added, he's under "house arrest like Charley Sheen [sic]."

Smith didn't chat for much longer. When asked about Aaron Hernandez, the former Gator tight end who is involved in a murder investigation in Masschusetts, Smith said, "it's crazy."

Hopes are that a longer conversation will follow at some point, but if this is true, and Smith is out of jail, it is great news. This column argued that six years in prison would constitute a death sentence for Smith some weeks back.

"Smith likely will emerge from prison more broken than he went in — and likely will have no trouble scoring dope inside. But prison, when it comes to drug cases, is less about rehabilitation and more about fueling the creaky, amoral machinery of the drug war. Six years might as well be a death sentence. The greatest Jaguars player of all time, arguably. Clearly, that greatness comes with a price to be paid for a long time."

Hopefully, justice showed Smith some mercy. About time someone did.   More

SPORTSTALK

Every industry has its performance review season. Most of us who spend our waking lives in cubicles had performance reviews at year's end. Those whose jobs are in college basketball, however, face ongoing performance reviews, and one of the best locally just had his performance deemed lacking.

Cliff Warren was fired as Jacksonville University's head basketball coach — in a way, a predictable move. A 12-18 season; before that, two seasons averaging 20 losses between them, prompting the athletic director to act.

But was firing Warren the right move? Even after three losing seasons, it's important to be mindful of what else the former Georgia Tech assistant coach did in almost a decade at the helm of the Dolphins program. He got JU to the NIT twice (and beat the No. 1 seed one year), led the team to a victory over Billy Donovan's Florida Gators, and built up the program after Hugh Durham's departure.

His record over nine years — 126-150 — isn't great, but if the one-win season in 2005 is factored out, that's eight years of .500 ball. How much more can JU really expect in D-1 basketball in the 21st century?

JU's athletic director, Brad Edwards, came from Newberry in 2012 to take this job (missing the good years Warren had). He hasn't leveled with the media about why he dumped the coach. "It's not just won-loss record," he told the Times-Union. "The institution wants to move in a new direction. That's all I want to say, and can say. These decisions are never easy."

True. Live long enough, and you will fire someone (and be fired). Still, in this case, it's hard for me to imagine a new direction that will be appreciably better than the one taken throughout the Warren era.

We don't usually think of JU's NCAA Atlantic Sun conference as a powerhouse. However, it's a Division I conference, and has some schools with significant student bodies. Kennesaw State has about 25,000 students, and quite a few others have more than 10,000 students. JU, with about …   More

SPORTSTALK

Northeast Florida is such a hotbed for football, it would be possible to assemble an entire NFL roster with players from this area. Watch virtually any game and, chances are, you’ll see a player from the First Coast or at least from the University of Florida or Florida State. We generally expect alumni from these schools to succeed in the NFL and, with one exception, we are rather casual about it.

The exception, of course, is Tim Tebow. The former Nease High School quarterback is one of the most compelling figures (in terms of marketability and the resonance of his story) in the NFL. Tebow’s endorsements are the envy of all but a few players in the league, with his homonymic spots for TiVo taking center stage during the just-concluded 2012 shopping season.

He’s one of the best pitchmen of his generation, so it’s ironic that the young man’s career so far has suffered from his inability to throw. Throughout his career, he was told that he wasn’t going to make it as a quarterback. He was told so in Gainesville; he proved critics wrong. He was told so in Denver; all he did was win. Then he was traded to the New York Jets, a move he chose over signing on to Jacksonville last off-season, because he thought he would have more on-field playing time. Tebow’s time with the Jets has been a revelation, contextualizing his earlier seasons and leading many observers to wonder: Where will he go next?

The noise that started circulating over the last couple of weeks of the NFL season was that Tebow would come here. Seemingly every news crawler and commentator in the world of “sportstalk” was dedicated to repeating wtteo “Source: Tebow to play for Jaguars next year.” Never mind the fact that, even if it were true, it couldn’t be stated. As Gene Smith said after the Patriots game, “I can’t comment on players that are under contract with other teams.” Smith has been seen by many as the primary mitigating factor against the acquisition of Tebow, …   More

 
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