Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Del Rio: Smarter, Tougher Jaguar

“A player’s coach,” is either the best thing a coach can be called or the worst. “Disciplinarian” and “Old School” fit into that same category. Obviously, somewhere in between is where you find success as a coach, especially in the NFL.

Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been described as a “Players coach.” By players it’s been a big compliment. Otherwise it’s a derisive term for


Del Rio hates soft.

But when you look at how he handled the 2008 team, that’s what they were. Soft.

His “Hollywood” demeanor allowed the team to skate through the off-season, training camp and the preseason, with Jack figuring he had put together a collection of players who would be ready when the bell rang. But instead of jumping at the chance to prove themselves, the Jaguars danced around, said, “We’ll be all right,” and started sinking.

From the opening game loss to Tennessee through the final disappointment in Baltimore, the Jaguars didn’t do the little things, didn’t get that one big play that could change the game. They were a little soft.

And Jack recognizes that.

And that’s why he’s getting back to what he believes in. “Smart, tough football, with players who like to play the game and care for each other,” is how he put it in his year-end press conference. If Del Rio’s going down, he’s going down doing the things he believes in.

“You can’t assume that because something was one way last year that it’s going to be the same the next season. Good or bad,” Jack elaborated.

And that’s what he bought into after 2007.

It’s a good team. Motivated, tight and just missing a few pieces. So fill those holes and you have a championship caliber team. But it didn’t happen.

“It’s disappointing, embarrassing to have such high expectations and not fulfill your dreams. There’s too much work going into it to not have people around who want to get involved.”

Del Rio and the rest of the Jaguars staff and administration fell in love with a couple of free agents and some guys who might have been an inch taller and a tenth of a second quicker. But they weren’t better football players.

Jimmy Kennedy for Grady Jackson? Drayton Florence for Sammy Knight? Jerry Porter for Ernest Wilford? Every time the Jaguars made a change it flopped.

“We swung and missed on a couple of free agents this year,” Jack admitted. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t get back into the batters box,” he added, saying the team isn’t going to be shy when it comes to free agency.

I specifically asked Jack who was going to set the tone for the off-season and the coming year. “I am,” he quickly responded. “We’re going to have a tough off-season and I’m anxious to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

It’s the exact answer any fan was looking for. The Head Coach shouldering the blame, taking charge and winning or losing based on what he believes in. And when it comes to Del Rio’s beliefs, he wants tough players who “buy in” to his philosophy.

“If you want to play football the way it’s supposed to be played come to Jacksonville,” Maurice Jones Drew said in the locker room as he cleaned out his things. “If you don’t, then go somewhere else. Plain and simple.”

And it is plain and simple. If the team is going to be reflection of the coach and who he is, Del Rio is going back to what worked for him as a player: practice, hard work and sacrifice.

“No doubt there will be some changes in our off season and the camp for next year. There will be some edges that weren’t there in the past. There’s something to a group of men sweating, working hard together, being sore, hating me, doing it together that breeds the kind of player, the kind of team I’m looking for,” Jack said before he left. “That’s what we’ll have.”

Del Rio was asked about players working out, out of town instead of coming to the stadium to do their off-season conditioning. “Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will work out here in the off-season.”

“What about Fred Taylor and others who have worked out in South Florida?”

“Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will work out here in the off-season. I think it’s important.”

Jack also said he wasn’t firing any assistants, a real departure from the past. “That’s not to say they’re not going to have other opportunities, but I like my staff.”

So look for a little bit different version of the Jaguars starting right now. A little tougher, a little less celebrity oriented and little harder working.

Losing will do that to you.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shack Resigns: Remaining Jaguars Brain Trust Should Look in The Mirror First

Somebody had to pay for the Jaguars dismal season in 2008 and apparently when he looked around, owner Wayne Weaver decided James “Shack” Harris would be sacrificed.

You knew somebody would be asked to fall on their sword and you knew it wouldn’t be head coach Jack Del Rio after he signed a big-money extension last year. Gene Smith has been around since the inception of the franchise so he’s an insider and Weaver couldn’t fire himself so Harris got the boot.

They said all the right things and they called it a “resignation” but clearly Shack is the scapegoat for a bunch of flawed decision-making that runs through all four men at the top of the brain trust with the Jaguars: Weaver, Harris, Del Rio and Smith.

It was a strange management model from the beginning, six years ago. Weaver admitted when he bought the team that he wasn’t a “football guy” and pretty much let Tom Coughlin run the show when it came to picking players and coaching them on the field. But when he replaced Coughlin with Del Rio, Weaver was convinced that the job had grown too big for one person to be the General Manager and the Head Coach all at the same time and told me as much during his search for Coughlin’s replacement.

But Del Rio must have impressed Weaver in some way to allow him to have massive input into choosing the players because when Weaver hired Del Rio, and then Harris (after being turned down by Phil Savage who ended up with the Browns) publicly, he was pretty cagey when it came to defining their roles on draft day and in free-agency.

“I’ll break the tie,” Weaver joked at the announcement of Harris’ signing when asked what would happen if Shack and Jack disagreed on a player.

He also promoted Gene Smith at the time, (and promoted him again today, giving him Shack’s job) giving him a bigger role in the scouting and since he owned the team and was a smart guy and wasn’t a football neophyte any longer, Weaver became part of the process. So starting in 2003 those four began to rebuild the team.

Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Marcedes Lewis, Reggie Nelson and Derrick Harvey were their first round picks since then, none having established themselves among the elite at their positions in the league. In fact, you could say a couple of offensive linemen and Maurice Jones Drew are the best draft picks since this brain trust took over the decision-making.

And as we know, anytime you get more than two people making decisions, one emerges or at least has a little more influence than the others. Was that Harris early on? Maybe so, but since Del Rio fired Leftwich, he clearly ascended to the top of that food chain since Byron was Shack’s project.

“Tell me Harris is a slow talker and not a slow thinker,” one pretty well connected season ticket holder asked me in the last couple of years. I’ve always liked Shack and have picked his brain over the years regarding who was on the Hall of Fame Ballot. Listening to him talk about the pros and cons of each player gave me some insight into what he was looking for each year in the draft and free agency. It helped show me what he valued in a player. He’s big on production and isn’t tied to the stats as closely as other talent “evaluators.”

I don’t know if he had some other agendas when it came to picking certain players. Everybody figured that he liked Byron because he was a black quarterback, and reminded Harris of himself during his playing days. I don’t know if that’s true but it wouldn’t be the first time that happened and it wouldn’t be the first time somebody accused a decision-maker of having a different agenda only to be way out in left field.

The three guys left making the decisions need to take a long, hard look at themselves and how they come to the conclusions that they have.

The Jaguars don’t have a Pro Bowl player on their roster and really haven’t had a player who is lock, solid perennial guy who gets consideration for the Pro Bowl since Tony Boselli and maybe Jimmy Smith.

In their 14 years of existence is there a potential Hall of Famer somewhere on the Jaguars all-time roster?

Not right now.

They’ve passed on players like Ben Roethlisberger and Brady Quinn in the draft. They’ve won one playoff game in six years. They’ve had more assistant coaching changes under Del Rio than any franchise in the league, and that trend is likely to continue starting next Monday. And they proved to be pretty fragile when they added $23 million in free agents to an 11 win team, only to see things go south in a hurry.

Weaver has seen the Dolphins turn it around from a one-win team to a playoff contender. Del Rio and Smith don’t have any honeymoon time if they expect to last into the next decade.

As Jack says, “I’m going to re-evaluate everything we’re doing from top to bottom, including myself.”

Which is a good place to start.