Jacksonville Jaguars GM Trent Baalke praises fans passion but tunes out backlash
He's still in charge of player personnel and will lead the franchise's free agency and draft plans with collaboration from head coach Doug Pederson.
Call him what you want, but Baalke was all smiles Tuesday morning at the NFL Combine.
He got another win.
A month after owner Shad Khan said a front-office restructure was needed because they had been too flat of an organization, he changed his mind Tuesday.
Instead, the franchise's new era under Pederson will remain with no one above Baalke in a front-office management position.
For now, Khan pulled the plug on plans to hire an executive vice-president to oversee football operations.
Khan still plans to continue exploring additional personnel to other areas of football operations, which could include an assistant general manager.
Another chance:Jacksonville Jaguars retaining general manager Trent Baalke
But in the grand scheme of things, Baalke got what he wanted.
Despite that, some fans showed up to the season finale Jan. 9 against the Colts wearing clown costumes in protest of Khan's decision to retain Baalke.
Baalke's reputation around the league, particularly among the majority of the league's coaches, remains poor since getting in a power struggle with former San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when he was the team's general manager (2011-16).
Despite former Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee posting on his Twitter account last month — "Why hasn't Baalke been fired yet? And former Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri accused Baalke of trying to sabotage Byron Leftwich's chances of landing the Jaguars' job before he took his name out of consideration."
But none of it swayed Khan's decision to allow Baalke to keep his job. As a source close to the situation said during the team's coaching search in December, Khan retained Baalke because he never had the opportunity to be entirely in charge of the front office since his arrival in Jacksonville.
Baalke, 58, was hired by the Jaguars in February 2020 to serve as director of player personnel to replace Chris Polian, who was fired after seven seasons with the Jaguars.
Baalke was named interim general manager after Dave Caldwell was fired in November 2020 before he was promoted to the job full time January 2021.
Not bothered by criticism
Asked how's he has been able to handle such an intensive firestorm since December, Baalke joked, "Does it bother you?"
"It doesn't bother me either. I'm used to it," he said. "I think this is part of the business. My focus has never been what you put out there or what anybody else puts out there. My job is to look out for the best interest of the organization."
Despite taking the brunt of their criticism, Baalke praised the passion of the Jaguars fans, saying they are tired and just want to win. But he added his family has been raised right, knowing that his job has a high volume of public scrutiny when the franchise has won just four games over the past two seasons.
"They (his family) understand what to listen to and what not to," Baalke said. "If you swim in this pond, you got to be able to take it. If you start doing everything in reacting to everything the fans and reporters want you to do, pretty soon, you'll be sitting with them. You're not always going to make the right decision for the organization."
A collaborative effort on personnel decisions
Baalke and Pederson have been on golf outings to create an effective working relationship in getting to know each other. They both like to hunt. And they have spent hours sharing roster plans and talent evaluations.
"From the day I walked in that door and it goes back to the interview process, how collaborative we've been and the questions we've been able to bounce off of each other," Pederson said. "I want it to be that way, I want it to be transparent, I want it to be open and honest. We're not always going to agree, and that's part of this process. At the same time, we can walk out the door and be united. That's the most important thing."
Most importantly, both will be judged on whether they won enough games. To make that happen, they have to hit on draft picks and make the right decision on what free agents to pursue to improve weak areas on the roster.
Another tough season is ahead, but Pederson sees progress 3 1/2 weeks into his new job, especially with their collaboration efforts.
"Obviously, anybody would say you're in the honeymoon phase but you know what? I'm all about moving forward," Pederson said. "I'm all about, you know, formulating my opinions and Trent probably the same way with me. We've talked a lot about our roster and then really talked a lot about non-football things. Again, that's the way to get to know each other, and it has been going well."