Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coughlins Demise

Despite his obvious affection for Tom Coughlin, Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver knew it was time for a change. “There’s a point in this business where you have to say we need innovative new ideas, new fresh approaches and you have to move in different directions, and that’s really what it’s all about,” Weaver said during his announcement that Coughlin had been asked to “step down” as the Jaguars Head Coach.

The momentum for a change had been building for several weeks. Weaver could see that the team wasn’t going to make any great strides under Coughlin next year, and the fans weren’t enthused about another year of the Coughlin regime. So, he followed logic, and “his heart” and decided to do something else. It was a difficult decision for Weaver to make, considering his personal regard for Coughlin and the lack of any acrimony or animosity between the two men. “I’m made changes at the executive level before,” Weaver added, “but none as tough as this one.”

There was a feeling of inevitability at the press conference. No shock, no outcry of Why? Just an acceptance that Weaver was doing what just about everybody thought he had to do: make a change at the top. Coughlin’s removal clears the way for Weaver to take a hard look at what’s been going on in his organization. “What we have to do is re-energize our fan base and that starts with Wayne Weaver, our administrative staff and our ticketing operation. We have to do things differently than we’ve done before,” Weaver said in response to a question regarding the coach’s responsibility to sell tickets. And he’s right. The entire Jaguars operation has been so dominated by Coughlin that it will be somewhat of a culture shock to the employees who have done their job in the shadow of Coughlin’s gaze. How they react is up to Weaver. He has to set the tone and show the way.

Coughlin never was considered an embrace-able coach by any of the fans. Weaver’s attempt to push Coughlin into the community last year didn’t work. Coughlin’s reticence and his combative style didn’t connect. Weaver spent a lot of time talking to civic groups, preaching the Jaguars gospel, but it was the coach that people wanted to like. And he wouldn’t let them.

Coughlin is a funny, smart and engaging person, but his unwillingness to show that side of his personality was ultimately his downfall. He could have owned Jacksonville for as long as he liked. But like a character in a Greek tragedy, his accomplishments were overshadowed by his one flaw. And no matter who told him about it, what advice he was given, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t change. That might work in a variety of American businesses, but when you’re competing for the disposable entertainment dollar, it won’t fly.

I’ve been saying it for a while, but AP writer Eddie Pells concurred is his wrap-up of Coughlin’s tenure in Jacksonville. “A funny, articulate, compassionate man, Coughlin very rarely let his softer side show. He never connected personally with his players or Jacksonville’s fans, a reality that hurt him in the locker room and the community.”

Because of that, Coughlin’s legacy will be mixed when the Jaguars history is written. The autocratic architect of a franchise’s meteoric beginning, his unwillingness to compromise contributed to the team’s fall from grace and his own professional demise.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Weaver’s Call

I don’t know if Tom Coughlin will be back as the Jaguars Head Coach next season. I do believe that only Wayne Weaver has the answer to that question, and he might not know what the answer is yet. I also believe the decision to keep or not keep Coughlin will not be based on football. Weaver believes in Coughlin as a football coach. He believes “Tom Coughlin is the right man to return us to the Promised Land,” as he told me before the season. But Weaver is in business and in the business of making money. The Jaguars have between 23 and 26-thousand season ticket renewals due in March and according to one person inside the ticket office it would take a “bolt of lightning” to have a significant number of those people renew their tickets. Is that “bolt of lightning” firing the Head Coach? Perhaps. But that doesn’t solve all of the Jaguars problems with a snap of a finger.

This Jaguars team is similar, by Coughlin’s own admission, to the teams of 1995 and 1996. It’s young, with a few stars and has to play without mistakes and at its potential to win games. “Nobody knows this team as well as I do,” Coughlin said at his press conference on Wednesday. “And nobody knows what it takes to help this team win as well as I do. But I do know this; last year we were under .500, in Cleveland, out gained all over the field and won a game 12-10. Last Sunday, we were out gained again, and save for one play, we had the game won.”

There’s no question Coughlin knows football, and is most effective while coaching an under-talented team. He can make players over-achieve. When he had his most talented teams, particularly in 1999, he lamented his own inability to get the players “to play above the x’s and o’s.” He can do that with young players and guys scrapping to stay in the league. He hasn’t been able to do that with established stars and veterans.

So with the Jaguars rebuilding, and admitting that’s the stage they’re in, it would make sense that Coughlin would still be the right guy to coach this team. Except that they’ve heard his act this year and last and most have become numb to it. He hasn’t changed, and he doesn’t want to change. And it’s not that he has to change, but he has lost his effectiveness in getting players to “play above the x’s and o’s.” As I’ve written before, players don’t necessarily play for the coach but as one player told me after Sunday’s shocker against the Browns, “sometimes it feels like we’re playing against three teams out there. The opponent, the refs, and our own coaching staff. It ain’t easy.”

There is an avalanche of public sentiment going against Coughlin. On this website a wide majority of respondents to our front-page poll favor firing Coughlin as a solution to the Jaguars’ woes. Coughlin is aware of the way things are going, and knows he brought much of it on himself. He knows he hasn’t done a very good job of being embraceable by the fans. He has always thought that he should be judged by wins and losses and the rest will take care of itself. Perhaps that was the case twenty or thirty years ago, but there’s too much competition for the entertainment dollar these days. Fans want to win, and they want to feel good about it. Particularly in a town that has one major professional sports team.

If Weaver makes a move, it will be based on putting fans in the seats, not what the Jaguars record was this year or last. So changing from Coughlin to somebody else must mean putting a coach in that job that will lure fans back to the stadium, and potentially win games.

As my friend Vic always says when we leave the game together, “Winning is good, losing is bad. It’s that simple.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Porpoise Extinction

Guest Commentary by Kris Mulholland

This will go down as the saddest day in Gainesville’s history. Believe me, I know. I grew up in Gainesville. Gainesville has seen its share of miserable days. Emmitt Smith skipping his senior season. Steve Spurrier resigning. Sister Hazel releasing a second album. Dwayne Schintzius deciding to grow a mullet. Dwayne Schintzius deciding to play basketball. The whole Dwayne Schintzius era. All memories that most of Gainesville and Gator fans would just as soon forget or pretend never happened.

This is worse. Worse than Steve Spurrier resigning. Worse than Billy Donovan resigning (no….Billy Donovan has not left Gainesville for the NBA….yet!). Worse than Ed Zaunbrecher calling plays for the Florida football team.

The Purple Porpoise is closing.

The purple neon sign that shines so brightly onto University Avenue will be no more. On this day, Thursday, December 6th 2002, the walls of the Purple Porpoise will fall. It will be replaced, by something to be named the Ugly Gator. The Ugly freakin’ Gator? The only ugly anything I’ve seen on this campus now works for ABC Sports and was once the head coach of a certain SEC West school located in Auburn, Alabama. There is nothing “ugly” about the Purple Porpoise. Oh sure, the toilets are older than both you and I combined. Alright, let’s be honest, the toilet paper is probably older than you and I combined. The floor is old. The bar is old. The roof is old. It smells during the day and even worse at last call. The Purple Porpoise is not ugly. The Purple Porpoise is a legend.

It is the Wrigley Field at the University of Florida. The Soldier Field for the Gators. The Fenway Park for the students. The Sistine Chapel for Florida alumni. The Purple Porpoise is where students kneel to the beer gods, some willing and some by the law of gravity, and ask for one last passing grade.

Ask your older brother or sister. Ask your Aunt or your Uncle. They know. They all know the Porpoise. The Legend has grown over the years but will be no more as of 2am Friday morning.

Gator Ugly. Please. This obvious spoof on that great Hollywood classic movie Coyote Ugly will be replacing a legend. It will be the Babe Dahlgren to Lou Gehrig. The Ryan Minor to Cal Ripken, Jr. The (insert current/any future Florida football coach here) to (insert the head coach of your beloved 5-7 Washington Redskins here). The Damon Huard to Dan Marino. The Shemp to Curly. The Sammy Hagar to David Lee Roth. Alright, that’s a little overboard. But you get the picture. This is what Coyote…errr….Gator Ugly will become. The replacement. Grrrrr!!!

You might say that there have been athletes and coaches that have replaced legends and gone on to have successful careers. Look at Steve Young. Jimmy Johnson did alright for himself after taking over for Tom Landry. Gene Stallings won a national championship at Alabama after replacing Paul “Bear” Bryant. Well, he didn’t exactly replace Bryant. The Crimson Tide of course had to go through Ray Perkins, Bill Curry and a lot of Tide boxes with toilet paper rolling on top before they found Stallings. But we’re talking about the Porpoise here. The wait staff is right out of a swimsuit calendar. The wings are bigger than a Julius Peppers forearm (and with less steroids). One minute you’re in “football” heaven. The next you’re across the street at the Porpoise–in heaven.

There a couple of things that recent (1982 to now) Florida graduates consider a “must-do” while they’re in Gainesville. One is grab a Burrito at Burrito Bros. The 2nd is to grab a beer at the Porpoise. There is nothing better than walking out of the Porpoise with a beer in one hand, a ticket to the game in the other hand and looking up to see Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. What a beautiful sight. It just won’t be the same walking out of the stadium after a 63-0 pounding of Northern Illinois and seeing Gator Ugly.

The Purple Porpoise is the diamond in the rough. The gem among gems. The pick of the litter. Ask anybody. Former UF students. Current UF students. Future UF students. Many, many F’s have resulted from too many late Thursday nights (and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, etc.) at the Porpoise.

Flashback two years ago. Florida 48, Central Florida 14. Halftime.

You glimpse over to the east side of the stands, i.e. the student section. That’s all you see. Stands. It’s halftime against a team that had no chance in the first place. They came to get in and out as quickly as possible and leave with their six-figure paycheck in hand. Where is everybody you ask yourself. Silly question. The Porpoise. It was a rite of passage for UF students. Sure, you got an A on your Chemistry 101 final. But you didn’t truly graduate until you left Florida Field at halftime for an adult beverage of choice across the street at the Porpoise. Some students came back to the game. Some didn’t. Some couldn’t.

For one last glorious night, the bright purple neon light will illuminate University Avenue. Go out and enjoy it for one last time. Be careful. Be responsible. Be forgiving, for the Big, Bad Gator Ugly is moving in. Maybe Gator Ugly might not be such a bad spot after all. Remember, Babe Dahlgren was a career .261 hitter.

R.I.P.~ Purple Porpoise ~ April 2nd, 1982 – December 6th, 2002

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Florida vs. FSU

It was just a two second shot on the television, nothing you’d notice if you looked away from the screen. With the victory in hand and his performance the difference, FSU quarterback Chris Rix, standing on his own sideline, turned and embraced teammate Alonzo Jackson. He whispered something in his ear, smiled and the two teammates shared a laugh.

Jackson, the ‘Noles emotional leader on defense, is the player who, after the Notre Dame game, was very vocal in the locker room about replacing Rix at quarterback with Adrian McPherson. So vocal in fact, that when the media was waiting at the locker room door, Jackson’s voice could be clearly heard, blaming Rix for the loss.

“Some people should worry about themselves and not everybody else,” was Rix’s only replay.

Funny how winning can make everything right in sports. Rix played nearly the perfect game. He threw the ball away when he needed to. He avoided the rush when it was in his face. He ran the ball at the right times. And he fired the ball in the end zone when his team needed it the most. Except for a short time in the third quarter that included a silly shovel pass across the line of scrimmage, Rix looked like a poised, polished and complete quarterback. Something similar to the player he was projected to be coming out of high school.

A raging immaturity and a “I can do it alone” attitude contributed to his downfall. Head Coach Bobby Bowden knew that Rix had lost the confidence and the ear of his teammates after the Notre Dame game and had no choice but to replace him. “He handled his demotion very well,” said Bowden when he opened the competition for the quarterback job after McPherson’s sub-par performance against N.C. State. Of course, Bowden was never faced with making a decision at quarterback. He dismissed McPherson from the team on Monday after it was apparent McPherson had committed a felony. Rix promised he’d be more ready than every, and he was.

Florida State appeared bigger, faster, and tougher than Florida at every position on the field. The surrounding “distractions” during the week had a galvanizing effect on the team, allowing them to circle the wagons and play perhaps their best game of the year (in a win). The Seminoles can now sit back and look at a season where they had a lot of coulda’s and shoulda’s but still with the satisfaction of an ACC Championship, a win over Florida, and a berth in a BCS bowl. Are those things enough to keep Bobby Bowden as the Seminoles Head Coach? Or enough to convince him he’s accomplished enough?