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.
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.