I get a kick – kinda like when you hit the funny bone in your elbow – when I hear people talk about Jacksonville not being a good NFL city. Some suggest its population is too small. Others talk about its love affair with college football.

I think Jacksonville is an outstanding NFL city, and there are numbers to back up my opinion. For example, according to the TV ratings of the recent NFL draft only four cities had a higher local market rating than Jacksonville. NFL TV numbers for Jacksonville are among the highest in NFL markets. I can tell you that the late Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner when Jacksonville first started flirting with the league, told me 25 years ago Jacksonville shouldn’t give up the fight for a franchise. He talked about the growth potential for Northeast Florida and the fact that more eyeballs from our city watched the NFL on TV than in some current franchise cities. I remember him mentioning Baltimore, then home of the Colts, as an example.

I also can tell you being in sports talk radio for 20 years that no topic, including the Florida Gators, lights ups the phones as much as the Jaguars do. I can tell you that no topic fires up the people I run into as much as the Jaguars.

I know the Jaguars struggle to sell tickets and, no doubt, the population of our region is a factor. But there are many other factors which I have railed about for years. They include the fact a number of NFL franchises struggle to sell tickets, something you seldom read about or hear from the media. The reasons are as obvious as the big nose of my face: An economic recession, high NFL prices and the technology that makes watching the games on TV so awesome. Most of the struggling franchises are in Sun Belt states where there are more outdoor activity options and their populations have become melting pots thanks an influx of people moving out of the North, people who, by the way, have long established loyalties to their former hometown teams.

The Jaguars have another problem that would be easy to fix. The franchise desperately needs a public voice as well as a public face. Perhaps other franchise cities have a similar problem. Don’t know. Don’t care.

I have railed about this before, too, but owner Wayne Weaver and General Manager Gene Smith need to be HEARD FROM MORE OFTEN. I know the Jaguars – administrators, coaches and players – do their share of public appearances. I know their charitable contributions are outstanding. Weaver and his wife, Dolores, have given millions to First Coast organizations.

But I’m talking about being heard and seen on a regular basis. I’m talking about them responding to issues in the local media. I want to hear them on 1010XL sports radio. I want to see them on the local 6 o’clock news. I want to read their comments in the Times-Union. If not daily, several times a week.

Almost everything they do publicly they do in a controlled environment. Too often they’re speaking to people who’ve already drunk the Teal and Black Kool-Aid.

I give Coach Jack Del Rio an attaboy. He’s more available than any of the Big Three. But the truth is Del Rio’s unpopularity has become a bit of a turnoff for many would-be ticket buyers. From what I can tell, Weaver’s popularity is high. Smith has received a lot of pats on the back although he becomes more of a puzzle to Jaguars fans with each draft.

I’ll admit this seems to be “pick on Gene” week for me.

Smith has been with the Jaguars since the beginning, first as a college scout, then as director of college scouting (2000) and finally as general manager (Jan. 12, 2009). Despite his high profile position in the most public of businesses, Smith remains the most private of people. An itty bitty example is that from what I can tell he is the only person with a bio in the Jaguars media guide who doesn’t list the names of his wife and children. It does say he is married with two daughters.

No long ago I was in a discussion with a man who said he was Smith’s neighbor.

“Whaddya think of Gene Smith?” I asked him.

“Don’t know him at all,” he replied. “I’ve seen him (in the neighborhood) but he’s never spoken to me.”

I don’t know one local media person who has any kind of pipeline to him much less a personal relationship. He is known as a “bad interview” by always giving “pat answers”.

To Smith’s credit, I’ve never known him to be rude or mean spirited to the media or fans. Simply unavailable.

Listen, I’m not asking Smith to become a buddy of the media. I not asking him to change his personality by becoming a class clown or throw out one-liners like a standup comedian. I’m not asking him to become Mr. Controversial.

I just think his job – particularly with the struggles of the Jaguars – requires him to be more accessible; to be heard more often; to be seen more often.

Out of sight out of mind seems to apply here.

  1. Wyman Stewart says:

    Yes, a Jaguars equivalent of Steve Spurrier. A guy who is a people person, friendly, has an honest opinion, enjoys life, and knows when not to take the game too seriously. Yet, at the same time, knows the game, respects the game, and realizes he is working for the Jaguars. Someone who is at home, whether he is with the owner, management, players, sports media, fans, or kids.

    Such a person in any organization adds value to an organization, yet is difficult to find. This person gives a team personality, making it a 3 dimension franchise. Sometimes this person can be an owner, but often isn’t. Whatever this person’s position with the organization, people tend to recognize this person as soon as the person arrives on the scene. The Jaguars have definitely lacked such a person during the franchise’s history. Tom Coughlin is as close as the Jaguars have come to that, but the way he approached his job did not allow him to become that person. He ended up lacking in several areas.

    How the Jaguars find this person, I’m not sure. Indeed, this person would solidify Jacksonville as a franchise with a strong personality, destined to stay in Jacksonville, and engender loyalty, even from outsiders who move here. I must agree with you David Lamm. Had such a person been here already, the lean years would be taken in stride better, while the future would have been something to look forward to, knowing success would be just over the horizon. Good post!

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