Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jack’s Woes

Coaching is an interesting profession. There are all kinds of people who become coaches and all kinds of different motivations to become a coach. The best are innovative about their game, like to teach, are very competitive, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the people and players around them.

I almost laughed out loud when I heard Urban Meyer say, “I’m a negative person anyway,” when he was criticizing his team’s performance in their opener against Utah. Nearly by definition, coaches have to have an eye for the negative. Even when they win, they’re always looking to improve on the things they did wrong. Both Jack Del Rio and Tom Coughlin as coaches of the Jacksonville Jaguars have said, “It’s easier to correct when you win,” noting that they did plenty of things wrong despite winning.

Often times, coaches complain that the news around them is always negative. Nobody ever talks about the good things that are going on. While not really true, there is a tendency among the media to focus on the things a team can’t do rather than what they’re good at. It’s the nature of modern day sports coverage, and it follows the nature of the coaching profession. If a team wins 44-3, the coaches are going to try to figure out how they gave up that field goal and the media will dissect the score pointing out how it could have been better, or worse.

When Tom Coughlin was fired as the head coach of the Jaguars, one of his obvious failings was the perception of him in public. Coughlin’s friends know him as a smart and witty person, well versed in a variety of subjects. But his public face and his contentious relationship with the media portrayed him as a hard-line sourpuss.

When Jack Del Rio was named as the head coach of the Jaguars, fans and media alike hailed him as a “breath of fresh air,” after Coughlin. But Del Rio has chosen a very similar path to the one Coughlin followed. He immediately set up an adversarial relationship with the media, scolding them for “getting ahead of the story” when they asked about the future and being equally critical of their “dwelling on the past” when they asked about what had happened in previous games.

Del Rio should be complimented for never throwing any of his players under the bus, but at the same time, he’s never said anything significant either. His obvious disdain for the media, especially certain members attending his “press conferences” is beginning to color his public persona, much like the Coughlin scenario. “Handling” the media is very simple: give them something. Steve Spurrier has done it his entire career, creating a theme of the week and directing the news coverage that way. He deflects criticism from his players by taking it on himself. He has his favorites, and makes sure they get the story from him, even if he’s the “anonymous” source.

Bill Parcells is the master of manipulating the media by calling aside a couple of his favorites after the formal question and answer session and giving them some inside information. Del Rio, on the other hand, has isolated himself among numerous sycophants who call themselves media, but are actually on the Jaguars payroll. When asked a question about cuts in the preseason during a general media session, Del Rio’s response was “listen to my radio show.”


Jack admitted after his first season that his learning curve with the media needed to be worked on. And he started his second year answering questions as the “head coach.” No matter how silly the question, Del Rio dealt with it.

No more.

Del Rio has stopped being the public face of the team and has again brought a players mentality to his appearances in front of the media. His lack of cooperation this week was so evident it was amusing. Some scribes even were wishing for Coughlin to return.

There are two things that will insure you get hacked by the media: act like you’re smarter than they are and that you’re time is somehow more valuable than theirs. Del Rio does both. There’s no such thing as disagreeing with Jack. If you don’t see it his way, it’s not that you have a different opinion, you’re just wrong. His favorite thing to say about the league is that it’s a “bottom line business.”

So here’s the bottom line: In their last 15 games, the Jaguars are 7-8. His team got whipped and embarrassed at home last year with a playoff spot on the line against arguably their biggest rival. Their points per game this season is less than last year when they finished 29th in a 32-team league. Those stats don’t get you into the playoffs (as Del Rio predicted for year three). Start winning and all of that will go away. Del Rio will be insufferable in his dealings with the media. Stay mediocre and he’s assured he’ll be judged on one thing: the bottom line.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Meyer(ed) In Gainseville

It was electrifying. From the inaugural “Gator Walk” to the first run out of the tunnel through the alumni players, the hype was huge. The largest crowd to ever see a football game in the state, 90, 707 were in attendance to get the “Urban” experience. But when it finally started, when they actually kicked it off, it was as if a pin was inserted in the balloon of hype and deflated. It took Florida and Urban Meyer’s spread offense 12 minutes into the first quarter to make their initial first down.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” numerous Gator fans said to me as they walked the concourse at Florida Field. “It’ll take a few weeks to get the kinks worked out,” others offered in passing. Meyer wasn’t as gracious after the game. The new Florida Head Coach was very critical of his own team’s play, saying Chris Leak and the rest of the offense have a lot of work to do. Meyer admitted that he’s normally a negative person, so perhaps it’s not as bad as he originally thought but it’s certainly not the panacea Gator fans were looking for.

Leak completed 26-of-34 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, broke Steve Spurrier’s school record for consecutive completions (17) and led the No. 10 Gators to a 32-14 victory over Wyoming. But Meyer wanted more from his junior quarterback.

“In case you’re wondering what the offense should look like, that wasn’t it,” Meyer said, sounding a little like the Ol’ Ball Coach. “We have got a lot of work to do. Chris Leak and the offense have a long way to go.”

I suppose that’s to be expected when a new, complicated offense is installed at any major football program. It had it’s glaring errors, from muffed snaps to blitzes that came free and demolished Leak in the backfield. But you could see that, over time, this king of offense presents all kinds of problems for defenses. Perhaps Wyoming was more aware of what an Urban Meyer offense could do based on the two years he was a conference foe at Utah. But the pressure the offense puts on the defense, particularly at the edges, creates all kinds of problems that aren’t easily solved.

The opening game also showcased freshman quarterback Josh Portis, giving Gator fans a glimpse of the future with a running threat handling the ball on every play. Leak is the Gators QB, but under Meyer, his lack of speed is a liability. That’s why you’ll see Portis in every game.

“Chad Jackson is the best receiver around here in a long time,” one observer of Gator football noted in the third quarter. “He’ll be the best NFL receiver to come out of here since (Carlos) Alvarez.” That certainly looks to be the case. Jackson made three touchdown catches and ran for a fourth to be the main scoring threat for Florida. But his third catch was something special, an over the wrong shoulder one-handed grab that left most in the press box at a loss for words. Which is hard to do. “We just have great chemistry together,” Leak explained when asked how he found Jackson so often.

The Gator defense was quick on the line, quicker than they’ve been in a few years. The defensive backs are the best collecting that’s ever been at Florida according to the coaching staff. Even if they did drop a couple of sure interceptions.

The special teams were any thing but special, resembling the out of whack units they were last season. Coaching can fix that, if they’ll focus on it.

Perhaps Wyoming was the perfect opponent for the opener this year. Good, but not too good. Enough to give Gators fans pause in their rush to the national championship. Enough to give Gator players a reason to go back to work and enough to give the coaches plenty of fodder to get the players back to work. Louisiana Tech won’t be quite as big of a challenge but it’s good that they’re on the schedule. Tennessee is in town in town weeks, and that’s when it really counts.