The Redemption of ‘Jags’


The coaching fates have been unkind to Jeff Jagodzinski, but he’s at Georgia State with a new outlook and ready to rebuild the Panthers’ offense

More than a decade ago, when Georgia State head football coach Trent Miles and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski were young, tireless upstarts trying to carve out a name and a living on the Green Bay Packers’ staff, Miles would spend the night on the beat-up couch in Jagodzinksi’s office.

Jags

Jeff Jagodzinski

“We were the young guys who got the jobs no one wanted,” Jagodzinski remembered. “Trent had to draw the playbook, and that took a long time, so instead of going home for two hours after work, he’d just crash on the couch.”

From Green Bay, each coach’s career took off. Miles’s trajectory steadily climbed. He worked in the college ranks as an assistant at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington and as head coach at his alma mater, Indiana State, before coming to Georgia State in 2013.

Jagodzinksi, known as “Jags” to almost everyone, quickly ascended in the profession. He spent three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before heading back to Green Bay to become offensive coordinator in 2005. A year later he was named head coach at Boston College. He led the Eagles to 20 wins and back-to-back Atlantic Coast Conference title games, and his name was bandied about for other high-profile coaching positions.

Then came the humbling tumble. In 2009, he was abruptly fired from Boston College for interviewing for the top job for the New York Jets without permission. He landed on his feet three weeks later when he was hired as offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was fired without ever coaching a game.

He spent a year away from football before coaching with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. From there, he joined Ave Maria University of the N.A.I.A. as an unpaid assistant. Then his old friend called to offer him the chance to build the Panthers’ offense.

“We’re very lucky to have a coach like Jeff Jagodzinski here,” Miles said.

Jagodzinski certainly has cachet. He’s tutored the legendary quarterback Brett Favre when he was with the Packers, and groomed Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan while at Boston College.

“The knowledge that the kids and other coaches are getting from him, it’s invaluable,” Miles said. “He loves to teach the game.”

For Jagodzinski, the stops in those coaching outposts have given him a chance to reflect.

“When I look back at my career, I should have enjoyed it more, every place, and that’s what I’m trying to do now,” he said. “This profession is hard enough so you might as well enjoy where you are.”

His family still lives in Tampa — he’s got four daughters in junior high and high school and a son in college — and the separation is difficult, he said. Miles assigned the Florida recruiting beat to Jagodzinski, so he’s able to get home regularly.

“That’s what kind of guy Trent is,” Jagodzinski said.

Even though the team went winless last year, he says he’s thoroughly enjoying being a Panther and is expecting a breakthrough soon.

“This program is going to turn around, and it’s going to happen fast,” he said.

This time, instead of looking for the big job in at a big-time program or the NFL, Coach Jags expects to be here when that happens.

“The way I look at now is that I’ll be here as long as they will let me be,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys trying to crawl over each other to get to places and I’m just not interested in that. I don’t need to do that anymore.

“Look what I’m doing for a living?” he said. “Sure, there are high stress times, but I’m coaching football. What a life to have!”

Photograph by Ben Rollins