Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose To Colts (Playoffs?)

The question all week was “Can we beat the Colts.” The answer was easy. “If they play like they have been, they can win.” The problem is, they didn’t play anything like they’re capable of playing.

Indianapolis had been struggling on both offense and defense. Peyton Manning didn’t have all of his regulars and even his new star, Austin Collie was just returning from a concussion. Manning likes to play the Jaguars, particularly when their defense is ranked 29th against the pass. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when he marched the Colts downfield on their first possession, hitting Collie in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

The Jaguars responded with a field goal, but that’s never enough against Indy. You have to score TD’s when you have a chance. So when Manning hit Collie again for a TD, wide open down the middle seam, the Colts lead 14-3.

Indianapolis clearly was concentrating on stopping the run, the Jaguars bread and butter and did just that, holding Maurice Jones Drew for under 100 yards (actually 46. his lowest ever against the Colts) and ran the ball themselves. They’d be averaging just 80 yards a game on the ground, this week they ground out 155 against the Jaguars.

Mike Thomas returned a punt 78-yards for a TD to cut the lead to four, 14-10 and it seemed the momentum was changing. (Some Colts claimed Thomas signaled for a fair catch but the officials said no).

That’s when Jack Del Rio made a move that could be debated for a long time as the game-changing, season-changing call. On 4th and 1 from their own 39-yard line, Del Rio said go for it. I don’t mind the bravado that comes along with that call or the confidence it shows in his team. That’s Jack. He’s been making that call ever since he became a head coach. But I hated the call, a toss-sweep that gives the defense a chance to adjust. That leaves a chance for too many guys to make a play and that’s just what happened. MJD was hit behind the line, mis-handled the toss and fumbled the ball. The Jaguars turn it over on downs and the Colts do just what the Colts always do, they took advantage of the situation. Donald Brown ripped off a 40 yard TD run to give the Colts a 21-10.

But showing their resiliency, the Jaguars started marching right down the field looking to make a game of it. That’s when Garrard sailed one over Jason Hill’s head and into the arms of Antone Bethea for an interception and a field goal for the Colts going the other way, 24-10. That’s the throw that makes the difference in the game. A completion and it’s for 20 yards, a first down and keeps the Colts on their heels. Instead it changes the momentum of the game and keeps Indy in control. Garrard just flat out has to make that throw. He picked the right guy, he made the right read, but he just didn’t get the job done at THE most critical time.

Maybe that’s harsh but Garrard is one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. He’s paid at that level to make that play.

But he didn’t.

Yes they hung in there and kept it close but the outcome seemed inevitable from that point on. The on-side kick returned for a TD sealed it, 34-14.

It’s disappointing for Jaguars fans because they were hoping to get excited about this team. It’s an easy team to like from a personality standpoint but the up and down nature of their performances are enough to drive people crazy. They have two games left, at home against Washington and then on the road to finish the year against the Texans. Wins there and a 10-6 record isn’t bad, but might not make the playoffs.

So all is not lost, but that opportunity to establish themselves as a contender instead of pretenders is gone. As Jack said, “if we’re going to beat these guys, we’ve got to be able to get that one tough yard. We had two chances at that today and didn’t get it done.”


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Raiders

It was a pretty upbeat and loose locker room after the Jaguars beat Oakland 38-31 Sunday. I was trying to interview Don Carey and Derrick Cox kept interrupting. In a fun way. Rashad Jennings has his locker cordoned off and Montel Owens was giving him grief for being messy.

That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a losing locker room.

It doesn’t happen in most locker rooms in professional sports unless the team has a certain bond and a team goal. All along, head coach Jack Del Rio has said his team has “put the work in and knows what we can do,” but when you’re hovering around .500 nobody gets excited about how much work you’re doing and what you “might” be.

But at 8-5, people are starting to take notice.

And it’s not just an 8-5 record but how they got there. They beat the Colts on a record setting kick with no time on the clock. The Texans went down on a literal “Hail Mary.” The Titans succumbed to a strong running game and Oakland followed suit. Save for the second half against the Giants, the Jaguars have done nothing but get better in the second half of the season.

Right now they’re the “team that came out of nowhere.” Indy’s injuries have helped. Tennessee’s implosion has helped. Houston’s ineptness in crucial situations has helped. But the bottom line is when they’ve had their chances; they’ve taken advantage of them.

There were a few games earlier in the year where David Garrard was nearly perfect and helped the Jaguars to victory. But as the season wore on, it became apparent that this was a running football team, and the coaches bought into that. That’s why for three consecutive games, the Jaguars have run for more than 200 yards.

Against Oakland both Jennings and Maurice Jones Drew had more than 100. It’s what winning football teams do in December: run the ball and get first downs. Score touchdowns and don’t settle for field goals. And don’t give up big plays.

Ah yes, that was a problem against Oakland. “There were some real ugly plays there,” Del Rio admitted in his post-game press conference. “But we’ll get it fixed and move on. It’s a lot easier to fix things with a smile on your face.”

That’s probably the best explanation Jack has ever given for the difference between a practice after a win or after a loss.

And that’s why winning breeds winning. These guys now believe they’re going to win, even when they’re down by 10 at halftime. MJD stood up and told his teammates, “We’ve given them everything they’ve gotten. They haven’t earned it. Let’s go out and play our kind of game and we’ll win.” Jones Drew is not a big rah-rah guy and in fact, he’s not much of a talker. So when he said something at halftime, his teammates paid attention and he didn’t have to raise his voice.

No panic. Do your job and we’ll be OK.

MJD certainly has enough gravitas among his teammates to pull that off and it’s good to hear that he’s willing to exert some of that authority when it’s necessary. He and Jennings will be key ingredients this week against Indianapolis.

The only formula for beating the Colts is run the ball; stop the run and pressure Peyton Manning up the middle. Get around his legs and make him make that “happy feet” move. If he has time, he always picks apart the Jaguars pass “D” and it’ll be worse this week based on their recent performances and their league ranking.

Having said that, the Jaguars know how to beat the Colts and don’t go up there with any trepidation.

Just respect.

And trying to earn some.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Urban’s Decision

There have been successful coaches and athletes who have figured out the balance necessary to also have a positive family life. Jack Nicklaus used to fly home on Friday nights in the middle of a golf tournament to see his sons play H.S. Football. Don Shula won World Championships and is the winningest coach of all-time, yet kept his family in tact.

Urban Meyer says he’s incapable of doing that and stepped down as the Head Coach at the University of Florida.

This is no criticism of Urban. Everybody has to do what they think is best for them and after his retirement, un-retirement and leave of absence last year; this move didn’t come as a shock. What was different was the focus only on his home life, his family, and his lack of connection with his daughters in college and in high school and not a word about his health.

No word about the cyst on his brain or the chest pains (caused by esophageal spasms). Nothing about last year except to say it was a “knee jerk” reaction and this was completely different.

I couldn’t agree more with his statement about how you’ll eventually be judged “as what kind of husband and father you were, not how many bowl games you win.” It’s very noble, but I left Gainesville thinking there was more to the story. Perhaps we’ll never know. I certainly don’t have any negative thoughts about Meyer’s announcement.

When you’ve had enough and you know it, get away. It makes it a bit easier when you’ve earned an estimated $18 million over the last six years in Gainesville. So if he wants to concentrate on other things, he has the wherewithal to do just that.

He’s considered one of the rocks of the community in Gainesville, along with Billy Donovan, getting involved in numerous charitable and fund-raising efforts. Hopefully he’ll stay involved. I don’t think he’ll coach for a while, and he even said that today. So don’t read anything but coincidence into him quitting and Denver needing a head coach.

Who replaces him will be a hot topic of discussion for a couple of weeks. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said he knows this process and knows how to go about it so he’ll keep us posted, when he can. There are probably 10 names on the list, 5 on the short list. That’ll happen either right before or right after the first of the year.

Meyer says he’ll coach through the Outback Bowl and be a part of the recruiting process until the new coach is named. I will say that Meyer never embraced the “Gators” idea, but he won, so he was a part of the family. We should wish him luck, help him though any hardships and be pleased he could make such a dramatic decision.

Here’s one question the new coach should consider: If Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer have left the Florida football program in the last 10 years; What’s going on there?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Where From Here? Florida vs. South Carolina

I kept looking over to the South Carolina sideline to make sure Steve Spurrier was still there. The Gamecocks opened the game by handing it to Marcus Lattimore.

A lot.

And again. And again.

In the end, Lattimore carried the ball 40 times for more than 200 yards. With Steve Spurrier as the head coach. That’s the amazing part.

If you had told me that South Carolina was going to win 36-14 I’d have figured that Stephen Garcia was going to throw for four TD’s and 350 yards and the Gators would have turned it over a bunch of times. Instead it was a running back and a freshman to boot. I can only imagine somebody whispering in Spurrier’s ear in the fact that nobody’s rushed for more than 200 yards in nearly 10 years against Florida in Gainesville. That’s when Steve would have called time out and said, “Marcus, get in the game.”

But that didn’t happen because that wasn’t necessary.

The Gamecocks dominated the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense and you could tell by halftime, the Gators weren’t going to do much.

Because they couldn’t.

There’s plenty of talk about when it comes to how Lattimore and the Gamecocks offensive line just dominate Florida up front. It wasn’t close. And the statistics bear that out. When a safety and a linebacker are by far your leading tacklers, the guys up front aren’t getting it done.

I’m sure much of the wailing from Gator fans will be about the quarterback situation. Head Coach Urban Meyer is adamant that John Brantley is their starting quarterback and that Jordan Reed and Trey Burton are just “change up” guys. But Brantley is not getting much help. When Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are not operating at 100% it’s as if Florida has nowhere to go.

Teams are bringing pressure on Brantley right up the middle, especially in passing situations and not allowing him to step up and throw that thing in there. And the receivers are just not open. They might be early, and that’s why they can complete a bunch of dink passes, especially cutting over the middle. But as far as getting some separation downfield, it’s not happening.

If it’s true that Reed and Burton aren’t in on the quarterback meetings, then what are they doing? If you’re going to run a three-player rotation at quarterback, each one has to be able to run the complete offense. If we can pick out which play is being run based on the personnel involved, opposing defenses and their coordinators can do the same.

“We’re jut not very good,” is what Meyer said afterwards. I’m not in full agreement with that. Florida has plenty of talent, but I’m not sure Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Adazio are putting guys in situations for them to constantly succeed.

What will be interesting is to see how the team, and the coaching staff, reacts for the rest of the season since the BCS and the SEC Championship are now out of the picture. Adversity usually displays what you’re all about.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Florida/Georgia Recap

We had Buck Belue on the radio show this week and he brought up a good theory on the Florida/Georgia game: “It’s the ‘here we go again’ game,” is how Buck put it.

He was double right.

Not a “here we go again,” game but actually two “here we go again halves.”

Georgia did everything they could to give the game to Florida in the first half. Interceptions, fumbles, bad decisions and the Gators took advantage of every opportunity. Although they didn’t score on the initial turnover of the game on the first offensive play, the Gators were relentless when it came to pounding the football.

“We had two weeks to work on it,” Mike Pouncey when asked about the up-tempo no-huddle Florida employed the entire game. “It doesn’t give the defense a chance to adjust.”

That was the case for the three-quarterback system as well. Even though they used Jordan Reed occasionally in the backfield, the combo of John Brantley and Trey Burton did most of the damage. They especially caused problems when Brantley and Burton stayed in the game and one would line up at quarterback then they’d shift positions.

“The defense has some difficulty making the calls there,” Brantley explained after the game.

He’s right about that, but Georgia just didn’t play well in the first half. Not on offense, where quarterback Aaron Murray was awful “Maybe a little too amped up, but that’s no excuse,” and not on defense where they looked like they were going through the motions. “I felt good coming into the game and I didn’t feel terrible at halftime. I didn’t like being down 21-3 but I felt like we were capable of coming back,” Mark Richt explained at his post-game press conference.

At halftime, Richt told his team to keep playing and they’d be back in it. Not only were they in it, they were the dominant team. If Georgia thought, “Here we go again,” after getting down in the first half; Florida probably figured the same thing after halftime. Having lost three games, their orders this week were to “finish.” But Georgia had different ideas, outscoring Florida 24-10 in the second half and out playing the Gators at every phase.

While Georgia’s defense faltered in letting Burton run 51 yards for a touchdown, their offense responded with a tying touchdown pass to A.J. Green. (By the way, Green is the best player on the team, was the best player on the field and I still think he could be the best player in the conference.)

Going into the overtime Georgia had every advantage: They got the ball first, and they had the best kicker in the game. Florida was going to have to play catch-up and their kicker was a backup. But when Murray threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted, the advantage shifted to the Gators.

In the college overtime game, you have to score. Georgia came away from that possession with zero points, meaning all Florida had to do was kick a field goal. But with their back up kicker, that could be an adventure. After three downs the kick was true and Florida wins for the 18th time in the last 21 games, 34-31 in overtime (the first OT in the series).

With the win Florida still controls their destiny in the SEC east and the South Carolina game looks to be the deciding contest. Georgia now can only play the spoiler and hope this kind of experience carries through for their young players.

Honestly, they were the better team but they couldn’t figure out how to show it against Florida. That’s three or four games this year where they had the talent but couldn’t figure out how to win the game. I don’t know if that’s coaching or team leadership but they shouldn’t be in that situation that often.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Lance Armstrong and a Bump On The Head

I like to ride my bike. I’ve ridden for years. I have some friends who got me into it nearly 30 years ago, teaching me some of the nuances of the “sport.” It’s not just jumping on the bike and riding. The clothes you wear and why, the rules of the road and how to protect yourself in most situations. Riding my bike has also allowed me to raise some money for charity and travel a bit as well.

Last weekend I was in the Lance Armstrong Foundation “Ride for the Roses” in Austin, Texas, part of his big LIVESTRONG weekend celebration every year. Lance has personally raised millions to fight cancer and his legions of followers have followed suit.

I’ve been a guest of my friend Alex at the ride each time I’ve been there. Alex lost his Dad at 42 years old to cancer and has focused his fundraising on helping the LAF. Alex is a lawyer with a lot of friends so he usually qualifies as one of the top fundraisers every year. The ride is the culmination of the weekend with more than 3,500 participants riding from 90 miles down to just 10, all to raise awareness and money.

Austin, Texas has four seasons, “hot, hotter, very hot and blistering,” one cab driver told me. So despite the fact it was late October, temperatures in the high 80’s are not unusual. That was the prospect of the ride on Sunday as we lined up in darkness just outside of Austin in a little town called Dripping Springs. Armstrong has a “little ranch” there, so he’s familiar with the roads and warned us: “It’s always windy here, and the roads are bumpy, but it’s beautiful.”

He’s right on all three accounts. .

Lance, the actor Patrick Dempsey, NASCAR’s Max Papis, Levi Leipheimer and several other “celebrities” from the cycling world were on hand and they got started right after 8am.

It was cool and overcast, and the cyclist’s enemy, windy. Alex and I cruised through the first 25 miles or so, stopping once to adjust my handlebars but it was going great. I even commented to Alex, “I always forget how much I like being on my bike.” We both laughed and commented that it was going to be a scorcher before long with the sun burning off the clouds.

I’m used to riding in a group. Phil Foreman from Champion Cycling has taught me a lot about that. I’m comfortable in close quarters. But something went wrong that I’m still not sure about.

Riding next to Alex I suddenly felt my bike headed to the left, right for him, going about 17 mph, not too fast, not too slow. I put my hand out on Alex’s shoulder and said something like, “Careful, look out.” I shoved him forward and tried with my right hand to slam on the brakes but realized I was going down. I looked down just in time to see my front wheel clip Alex’s rear wheel and quickly reminded myself how to fall.

I’ve probably fallen a hundred times on my bike. Some worse than others but nothing I probably couldn’t have avoided. I really felt powerless in this situation but figured I’d roll out of it and with a few scrapes; we’d be on our way. The problem was, that’s the last thing I remember.

When I came to I was laying in the middle of the road, on my back gasping for air and I could hear myself moaning. I also had a little dream right before I regained consciousness. Something about a truck, but I can’t really place it. (I know that sounds funny but that’s exactly what happened.)

I saw Alex standing over me, a Med Tech and a woman off to the side. The Med Tech asked me a series of questions, which I answered with no problem but told me to stay down. I was really in a fog and couldn’t remember a thing about what happened. But I felt well enough to get back on the bike so I did, headed for the rest stop and the medical tent. The Med Tech rode with me and monitored my progress.

It was so weird, feeling myself coming out of the fog bit by bit. I did ask Alex “what happened” and he looked at me and said, “That’s the fifth time you’ve asked me that. One more and I’m going to have them SAG you in.”

I rode the last 35 miles, hot, windy and hilly but thought about the different cancer victims who undergo chemotherapy and figured I could get done despite a knock on the head.

I’m aware of the concussion situation and how serious it is. I’ll keep an eye on myself but I can tell you, head injuries are nothing to play around with. I’ve been knocked out twice, both times in high school during the course of games (football and baseball) but now having that experience as an adult, I’ve got a whole new respect for what’s going on there.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Onboard the USS George H.W. Bush

I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep, but I was excited about the trip so 2 ½ hours didn’t seem that bad. An early morning flight to Norfolk was necessary because I had been offered a chance to actually fly out to the George H.W. Bush, the newest aircraft carrier in the United States Navy.

Amazingly, all went according to plan. The commercial flight was early, the cab ride was only 15 minutes and the C-2 (COD in Navy terms) was on schedule.

Even if it turned out to be delayed for an hour, nothing was going to dampen my enthusiasm when it came to flying on to a carrier. I’d done it before in a F/A-18 Hornet, but this was a whole different experience. No windows, bouncing around, and sitting backwards, I nodded off, as the flight from Norfolk was more than an hour. The Bush was well south, looking for good weather and smooth water. The ten minute announcement rousted me and the hands in the air and “here we go” call from the crew signaled we’d be on deck any second.

Landings on a carrier look smooth and comfortable from the outside. Inside, it’s violent and a crushing G-force smashes your body into the seat: for about 2 seconds. It’s exciting, exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.

Inside the ship, we met LCDR John Schofield the ship’s Public Affairs Officer (PAO). He’s a pro and laid out our schedule for the next 24 hours on board covering everything from flight ops to night ops, lunch, dinner and a meeting with the skipper.

After a quick cup of coffee (I really like Navy coffee) we headed to the flight deck. It was “open” and they were in the process of bringing the Air Wing (CAG 8) on board. The main platform for Naval Aviation now is the F/A-18.

On the flight deck, it’s loud.

You hear “Rhino, 90” and “Grizzly, 45” among other things on the loudspeakers above the wind and the jet engines. Rhino and Grizzly are how they differentiate between the two different Hornet platforms. It lets the crew know how much tension to put in the landing wires based on their different weights.

While it looks like a smooth transition on deck, it’s a very violent event. Thirty-Eight thousand pounds going from about 150 mph to zero in 340 feet is loud, scary, dangerous and violent. Yet the crew is as efficient and professional as if they were cooking meals going about their business capturing and launching planes with regularity. With most of the sailors just over 19 years old, it’s impressive to see the pride and professionalism they all have.

Of course they know it’s a matter of life and death; for everybody involved. It’s a coordinated effort, no different than an offense or a defense in football.

If it’s violent to “arrest” a plane on deck, the launch from the catapult is awe-inspiring. The blast shield comes up behind the airplane. The plane is hooked to the “cat,” by the “hold back” and the numerous checks and re-checks begin. When the pilot moves the throttle to full power (before burners) it shakes the whole ship. And it’s deafening. The pilot and crew go through more checks and rechecks for about 40 seconds before the salute and launch. Three hundred feet, zero to 125 miles and hour, all in about 1.7 seconds. We got to see that over and over.

And it never got boring.

We didn’t want to leave but an elevator ride was waiting.

Not just any elevator. The mechanism they use to move airplanes from the flight deck to the hangar deck is simply called the “elevator.” But moving 40-tons up and down all day should have a much more dramatic name. And it’s fast! They zip up and down with planes and sailors constantly. Another harrowing experience!

I’m sure it’s harrowing inside the Skipper’s brain on the bridge, but you’d never know it. The bridge is where the Captain oversees the whole operation, looking for potential trouble spots and is responsible for everything.

That’s right, everything.

But Capt. Chip “Bullet” Miller looks confident and in control, no matter what’s at stake. It’s about what you’d expect from a former F/A-18 pilot and former squadron commander. As impressive as the crew is on the George HW Bush, they take their cues from their equally impressive Skipper. Capt. Miller is the guy you want on the bridge, in good times and bad. He’s everything you expect from a Naval officer and more. He remembered when we flew together out of VFA-105 “The Gunslingers” in 1992 at Cecil Field. He gets high marks from all of his contemporaries as well as those who work for him.

As he spent time with us and conducted a couple of interviews during the flight ops portion of the day, he smoothly handled problems about every 15 seconds while answering questions with the aplomb of a diplomat.

As night fell, we were treated to dinner in the officer’s mess. Excellent fried chicken and great company.

We headed off to witness the night operations on the deck, this time watching from the Flag Bridge. Then down to the ready room of the Golden Warriors, commonly known as “War Party.” We were briefed on what was up for them tonight: two touch and goes and two landings to become carrier qualified. It was off to the combat operations center to see how the ship defends itself. Some ships in the carrier group were accompanying the Bush on this “at sea” period so they were involved in the perimeter defense of the ship.

My personal favorite was in Air Operations. A dark room with four large electronic screens on the front wall all with information about where the planes were, where they were headed and what time it was all happening. Sitting on the benches on the back row “observing” were the Group Admiral, the Commander of the Air Group (CAG) and just about every squadron commander on the ship.

That room is small, so the intimacy of it was fascinating. Every move is scrutinized, analyzed and debriefed. If you don’t want to be evaluated on your actions, don’t get involved in this situation! A group of air traffic controllers were next door, coordinating the air traffic around the ship, all happening seamlessly.

We were treated as “Distinguished Visitors” onboard the USS George H. W. Bush. As a “DV” we were assigned to the “Congressional Suite” along the row with the rooms named “Ambassador to China,” “RNC Chairman,” “Vice-President,” “Director” (CIA) and others. Bunk beds, 13 cable channels on the TV and beautiful towels and robes all embroidered with “GHWB.” (They were the only things LCDR Schofield said we couldn’t take from the room!) The DV rooms are on level “O3” amidships. Until we turned in for the night, we didn’t know they were right under the blast shield for Cats 1 and 2. So as each Hornet or Growler was ready to be launched off the deck, the 40-second full military power run up was right over our heads! Matt and I had a laugh and turned on what we called “the airplane channel,” the closed circuit broadcast of what was happening on the deck. “At least we’ll see it coming,” we laughed.

They quit night ops around 2AM. With the room “68 and dark” as our friend Kevin calls it, I fell into a deep sleep. But not for long. They blow reveille at 6AM for the “DV’s!” We were on the deck before sunrise (honest) but we were far from the first people “topside.” A full crew was already doing maintenance on some of the Hornets parked on deck. Another was working on one of catapults. The radars were going and the ship was still alive. We had breakfast in the officer’s mess with some more excellent Navy coffee.

With 5,500 sailors and officers on board when the full air wing is active, the USS George H.W. Bush serves up to 22,000 meals daily. Four meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner plus “mid rats” (midnight rations) the seven galleys onboard stay busy. A visit to the food stores was impressive just by the sheer number of goods on board. On a ship, and particularly on a carrier, they carry what they need with them. And I mean carry. No automation to get things from one spot to another. They’ll take more than 100 sailors to load and unload the food and drink they need.

By the way, the food was great.

We had a full tour and review of the ships medical facilities. It is a warship, so treating casualties is a prerequisite. But sick call, physical therapy, and preventative medicine are all part of their daily routine. The Senior Medical Officer (the “SMO”) is a Captain in the Navy but also an internist and a hospital administrator. They have 53 beds available for patients, can do full surgeries and have a digital x-ray system among other cutting edge medical systems. They even have their own pharmacy.

A visit with the Skipper concluded our time onboard.

Back in his in port cabin, he told us stories about the pictures arrayed in the room (a one of a kind photo of The President and First Lady Barbara Bush as well as Bush family photos and a picture of George H.W. Bush receiving Babe Ruth’s hand written memoir’s while he was Captain of the Yale baseball team) about the President and First Lady visiting (Mrs. Bush didn’t recognize the setting a young Ensign Bush was in giving a toast at a wedding surrounded by three young women!) and how the President just likes to meet sailors on board, roaming around at 2:30 in the morning just to see the ship operate.

Captain Miller talked about his pride in the ship and crew, how putting his team together was almost like fielding a new club in the big leagues. An expansion team, if you will. It’s obvious Captain Miller believes in the people around him and that’s reflected in the personality of the ship. It’s his personality: upbeat, can-do, friendly, but with an eye constantly on getting the job done.

I also think the crew’s attitude might have something to do with being onboard the only ship in the Navy who’s namesake is still alive. President Bush has been onboard a couple of times and many of the sailors have met him. They don’t want to let him down.


And that shows. (I’d really be remiss if I didn’t mention how well the Captain’s cook/chef, Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Leesa Zilempe, treated us each time we stopped by the in port cabin. We’re a bunch of nobodies but she acted like we were ambassadors from abroad. And the cookies were fantastic!)

The Captain bid us farewell guaranteeing “the first 300 feet” of our journey home.

That, of course, is the length of the cat shot off the bow of the ship. The C-2 (COD) had returned so we put our gear on and climbed inside. The brief was the same, only backwards. Sitting still, and backwards, the crew explained that when they gave us the signal we had to “grab our harness, tuck our chin, put our feet flat on the floor and brace yourself.” I’d done this before in a Hornet so I kind of knew what to expect.

But not backwards.

The signal of hands in the air and the call of “we’re getting ready to go!” were followed by a quick jolt and a forceful push out into your harness. I just remembered the plane captain in the Hornet putting his foot on my shoulder and tightening the harness until it almost hurt, and being appreciative of that the other time I did this so I kept pulling on the harness until it was just about cutting off my circulation.

And it worked. About 1.7 seconds later we were airborne and climbing.

The flight home was uneventful and shorter since the ship had steamed north overnight. The landing smooth and the Force PAO was on hand to make arrangements to get us back to Jacksonville.

There are so many people to thank; I’ll just say again that Captain Miller was fantastic. LCDR Schofield and his deputy Matthew Stroup were experts at putting us in the right situation, guiding us but not being intrusive. We were greeted with “Good Morning Sir,” and “Excuse me Sir,” so often that it was gratifying that it felt normal to be polite.

The men and women serving our country deserve our unending respect. But more than that, they serve as examples of personal accountability, dedication, pride and professionalism that sadly, are often missing in the civilian world. They’re willing to be evaluated at every turn, and their leaders are doing what they can to make them the best they can be.

I only hope I run into President Bush one more time to tell him how proud he should be of “his” ship.

But I’m sure he already knows.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tebow’s Quest

I’m not surprised at all of the interest in Tim Tebow at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. Tebow has made a splash with the media since he was in high school and it continued in college. Winning the Heisman as a sophomore only extended his notoriety across the country. So when he announced he’d make the trip to “LA” the national media, the local media and every draft nick east of the Mississippi headed to Mobile.

“His footwork is bad, his motion is too long, and he can’t take a snap from under center. Plus he doesn’t have the arm strength.”

Next thing you know Tebow will have made a deal with the devil to get into the NFL. He’s by far the most scrutinized player in the history of the Senior Bowl. He’s a polarizing figure, with some adoring him and others looking for any crack in the “façade.” The fact is, he is what he is. He’s deeply spiritual, supremely confident and competitive and has won at whatever he’s tried.

When he fumbled six of the first twelve snaps at Monday’s practice, it was big news. Never mind that those snaps were the first he’d taken in nearly a month and they were from five different centers. And the other quarterbacks had the same difficulty.

I know ESPN runs the sports world these days. And if you have a voice on ESPN, it’s given plenty of run and plenty of weight. But as Tim said himself, it’s not about impressing 32 teams; it’s about impressing one.

When he talked with coaches, general managers and scouts this week, they all came away impressed. The “intangibles” he has when it comes to playing quarterback are off the charts. Leadership, confidence, commitment, all what every team is looking for. When they dissect his actual quarterbacking skills, Tebow comes up short of perfect.

Not many snaps from center in college and consequently not much experience in dropping back. A slightly long delivery where he drops the ball down to his hip while throwing is part of everybody’s focus. Can that be fixed? Byron Leftwich never did change that part of his game and he’s on the bench in Tampa after being a first round pick for the Jaguars.

The anticipation of what’s going to happen downfield is another part of the game that is different than what Tebow experienced in college. Can he change the things that aren’t up to par right now? Who knows? Tebow is a supremely coachable athlete and will do what he can to get it right.

Not that he’s guaranteed to be a success, but he’ll try as hard as anybody.

So do you draft him?

Only if you think he can play in the NFL. You only draft him in the first round if you think he’s a starter. You don’t draft him because he’s a great guy or because you think he can sell tickets. You draft him if you think he can start for your team.

So where does that leave the Jaguars?

Drafting in the tenth spot is a dicey situation anyway, especially this year. The top five or six guys you could call “can’t miss” players, but after that, you’d just as soon have the 20th pick than the tenth in order to save some money. You’d get better value.

I do know Gene Smith is high on Tebow in every regard, so much so that he said, “I wish my daughters were a little older.” But that doesn’t mean he’s a lock to be drafted by the Jaguars. I think if they have a chance to move down in the first round and a defensive lineman who they covet is already gone, taking Tebow might be a possibility.

Without a second round pick (they traded it last year for Derek Cox) it’s a little dicey but somewhere along the line they’re going to have to decide, “Do we pick him or not?”

And that’s when it’ll get interesting.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Wayne and Jack’s Gamble

“Accountability” was the theme Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver brought to the press conference this week. He rarely sits down in front of the media and cameras and answer questions “en masse” but Weaver thought it was important to do so after all of the speculation regarding his Head Coach Jack Del Rio.

Don’t get me wrong, Wayne never hides, but he doesn’t like to get in front of the camera and he likes to stay in the background. That’s one of the reason the fraternity of NFL owners picked him to head up the Jacksonville franchise. He fits their mold. But he’s always good in that situation and this week he was better than ever.

Weaver is a solid guy, self-made and very earnest when it comes to getting things right. I spent a lot of time with him during the run-up to getting a team (we went for a run in Chicago together the morning of the announcement) and he’s always been very straightforward. So when he talked about being “self-critical” and being accountable, I’m sure people sat up and listened. I know I did.

Weaver had taken more than a week to go through his organization to see what could be fixed. “The last seven years have been average,” he said. “And average is not acceptable.”

I tried to extrapolate that out to the conversation he had with Del Rio that morning (“all morning” according to Weaver) and came up with Wayne asking Jack to look around, be introspective and see what he personally could do better to get the team back on the way toward a championship. “I believe Jack is the right man to take us to the elite level,” Wayne said. “Fans will just have to trust my judgment when it comes to this decision.”

So I asked Wayne if he was talking about “accountability” that perhaps he could get Jack out there to talk to us. “Jack has a full schedule today,” was Wayne’s response. I pressed him a bit but it was obvious Del Rio was going to make himself available when he was ready. (Apparently he did talk to the Jaguars news partner, Channel 47 that evening, but with all due respect, their audience doesn’t encompass a big part of the Jacksonville community.)

So Del Rio wasn’t going to be around, the story still was Wayne’s vote of confidence in Jack and Weaver’s denial that money played any part in it. I was very surprised when Weaver said the USC job “never came up,” and pressed that issue saying that it had been reported that the process had gotten so far as Southern Cal sending Jack a contract. “I can assure you, he’s not going to Southern Cal,” was Weavers terse response. (It was funny that the Trojans moved directly to Lane Kiffin right after Wayne said Jack wasn’t available.)

So I went to the “Team Teal” event on Tuesday night at the stadium wondering what was next. Weaver was there, Carl Cannon, the head of the new Touchdown Jacksonville, Jaguars GM Gene Smith, local businessman Ed Burr and Mayor John Peyton. As the evening developed (a lot of fans stayed in the Bud Zone because it was a chilly night) I started to think that the whole thing might be a setup. Wayne was going to stop in the middle of his speech and re-introduce Jack as the man who was going to “take us to the elite level.”

But that didn’t happen.

Del Rio was nowhere to be found and if that wasn’t a big mistake it at best was a missed opportunity.

Del Rio’s popularity might be at an all time low here in town and he had a chance to come out and show his commitment, thank the fans and give a rallying cry for the upcoming season.

But that didn’t happen either.

I still can’t find the reasoning for Jack not showing up. I know the Jaguars communications staff was really pushing for Jack to do some kind of presser or at least make an appearance. But he refused. It’d be nice to give Jack the benefit of the doubt here, but without any information from him, besides some stonewalling and vanilla gloss-over, he shouldn’t get much of a pass here.




Bite your lip and put on a happy face for five minutes.


Make time.

Didn’t think it was important?

Arrogant and misinformed.

Sometimes you’ve just got to trust the people around you to help you make decisions that are important. Jack didn’t do that.

And it cost him.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Del Rio’s Future (For Now!)

It’s always quick when coaching changes take place. Pete Carroll said the offer from the Seattle Seahawks “came out of nowhere.” I’m sure Jim Mora Jr. thought the same thing when he was fired a week after the season concluded.

Carroll didn’t have much success in the NFL the last time around, but times change and perhaps he’ll figure out what he needs to do to run a professional operation this time around. (Remember, Seattle, the team that just fired their head coach, beat the Jaguars like a drum, 41-0 this year).

So as soon as the word got out that Carroll was interested in Seattle, speculation ran rampant regarding his replacement At Southern Cal. Somebody at ESPN put Mike Riley’s name up as a possible replacement and all of the sudden, Riley became the front-runner. No reason, except at Oregon State he beat USC this year and he’d worked in Southern California and for USC in the past. So the list started to grow and college administrators started to get anxious.

Riley signed an extension and said he wasn’t going anywhere. Steve Sarkasian, the former Offensive Coordinator at Southern Cal said they hadn’t called. Jeff Fisher and Chris Peterson said they weren’t ‘interested. So as the speculation moved down the list, Jack Del Rio’s name bubbled somewhere near the top. Part of the reason Jack’s name remains on the list is because he hasn’t taken it off by denying any interest. And he’s supposed to meet with Wayne Weaver on this week (Tuesday.)

Weaver isn’t going to get rid of Del Rio but he won’t keep him from taking the USC job either. I’m sure Wayne thinks his team is starting to take shape and there are several coaches who, along with Gene Smith, can make them a winner pretty soon. This isn’t like the LSU dalliance Jack had a few years ago. He has no leverage. He’s not getting a raise over the $5 million a year he’s making and at around .500, he’s not in demand anywhere. Wayne is probably going to get his money’s worth from Jack and if Del Rio is going to be interested in the Southern Cal job, Weaver will move on without a second thought.

While Southern Cal is one of the schools that doesn’t have to panic and put somebody in place right away to keep the recruiting season going, they don’t want to drag their feet either. Del Rio might be a good fit in Southern California having played there and has ties to the region and the school, but he’s not what stokes the fires of big boosters. His personality is very cool as opposed to Pete Carroll. He’s not a big glad hander. He’s a football coach and the pro game is suited for him.

All of this speculation won’t last long.
The whole process should be over in a day or two.

One thing that has come out of this though: Jack’s not real popular among the Jaguars fan base. Although I’ve been saying it for a while, his personality hasn’t grabbed anybody’s attention or sold any tickets. He’ll be tolerated if he wins, but nobody’s rushing down to the stadium to see Jack coach.

Perhaps the shame of it is that it’s so easy for any coach to be a superstar in this town.
They just have to be a part of this town as well.