Jacksonville Jaguars' Gene Smith Becomes Focal Point of Turnaround

Tim McClellanCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 1:  General manager Gene Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches play May 1, 2009 at a team minicamp near Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Jacksonville Jaguars are now less than a fortnight away from the start of training camp. Once they return, a lot of questions will find answers, as the players prepare for the season on the practice fields at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. 

For now, Gene Smith appears to be making all of the right moves.

Whether he knows it or not, the weight of the franchise rests firmly on Smith's shoulders as he takes on the burden of rebuilding a roster which stumbled to a 5-11 season in 2008.

It is one thing to have the pressure of simply turning things around on the field. It is exponentially more challenging to be tasked with reversing the misfortune on the field while trying to find the right mix to turn around the struggles with ticket sales and the revenue stream.

When he accepted the role of general manager earlier this year, Smith may not have known what a challenge he was facing.

Obviously, he understood the roster needed significant retooling to get things back on track.

But he probably did not know his moves would have the potential to help turn things around for the franchise at the ticket window, and with their cash flow.

With the Jaguars already announcing the blackout of their home preseason games, the franchise is preparing for an uphill battle to get things right, on and off the field.

That climb has been made more difficult by a lagging economy, 11-percent unemployment in Jacksonville, and no realistic prospects on the horizon to get naming rights sold for the stadium.

The Jaguars need some good news, and they may find that once training camp starts and the team can return to the primary focus of playing football.

Once they do take the field, fans will get a good idea of what they can expect from the team this year, and they may be willing to come off their wallets and buy tickets.

Will it be enough to turn things around quickly this year?

That probably will not be the case. But, if things are moving in the right direction, fans might be willing to go along for the ride.

With a season ticket sales deficit of more than 15,000 seats, the Jaguars are likely looking at the potential of having eight or more home games (including the preseason) blacked out this year.

That is a black eye that leaves a sting as talking heads and columnists continue to bang the drum for Los Angeles to snag a franchise. It is not the type of stigma a small-market team like the Jaguars wants to contend with right now.

If the team continues to struggle on the field, fan apathy will only grow. People will find other things to occupy their time on Sundays if they are unable to watch the games on television, and they are unwilling to invest their ever shrinking entertainment dollars on NFL football.

If that happens, the team is in real trouble.

As difficult as it would be to get out of the lease, it is not impossible. Should a new owner come into the picture with deep pockets, the team could be in jeopardy of moving westward over the next few years.

That is why it is imperative the Jaguars must turn things on a dime and get back to winning quickly before the current bleed they are experiencing becomes more of a hemorrhage.

Teams can endure difficult times if they have a loyal and sound fan base supporting them. The Jaguars have a passionate fan base, but that does not necessarily equate to an increase in ticket sales or revenues.

So, while Gene Smith is focused on bringing in quality individuals to rebuild the roster, he has to be cognizant of what the underlying impact of every move is on the overall bottom line for the franchise.

Good guys are wonderful to have in the community. But, if they do not bring more wins to the equation, the team runs the risk of really falling into a deep hole that it simply cannot be retrieved from.

Every roster move matters right now. In fact, the decisions Gene Smith is making between now and the start of the season could be some of the most critical in franchise history as far as Jacksonville is concerned.

The fans are looking for some hope, and they want to embrace the team. If the quality individuals Smith is bringing in to restock his roster prove to be equally adept on the field, and signs of improvement steadily grow as the season progresses, then the future looks bright for the Jaguars.

If the Jaguars stumble, there is a legitimate chance that the team will never fully recover.

That is a tall order for a guy who would simply prefer to study game film and evaluate players.

In two weeks, we will start to come to some conclusions about whether he is up to the task or not.