Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shad Khan, Right Man for the Job

When Shad Khan arrived in Texas Wednesday morning, he was the star attraction. His every move at the NFL owners meeting was documented and then some. There were nearly a dozen photographers catching glimpses of Khan as he moved through the halls of the Four Seasons hotel. The celebrity of being an NFL owner is something new for most of the men who move into that club. I’m not sure Khan was used to having his picture taken as he exited the men’s room.

Wayne Weaver’s arrival signaled the beginning of the final chapter of his ownership of the Jaguars. If he was with mixed emotions about selling the team he had settled that back home. But that doesn’t mean selling the team wasn’t bittersweet. “I’ve used that word a lot this week,” Weaver told me in the hallway outside the banquet room where his fellow owners would soon approve the sale to Shad Khan. “It’s hard to give up the NFL, but it’s time. And I’ve found the right family to continue the Jaguars legacy in Jacksonville.”

As the rest of the owners convened for their regular meeting, the first slot on the agenda was the sale of the Jaguars and approving Khan as the new owner. It didn’t take long.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell introduced Weaver and Khan at a mid-day press conference after Khan’s confirmation. He related that when Khan’s application was presented to the full membership he opened the floor to questions. “And there were none,” the commissioner outlined.

So they voted, 32-0 in favor or the sale.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had nothing but high praise for both Wayne Weaver the Shad Khan. “Anytime would be too soon for me” Jones said when asked about Weaver’s planned departure. “Wayne has been a great partner both as an owner in the room and for the Jaguars. We’ll miss him, for sure.” Having said that, Jones was quick to praise Shad Khan as an owner calling him a “significant owner when you think of his financial strength.”

The interaction between Weaver and Khan shows a mutual respect for each other’s accomplishments and a gratitude to have found each other for this deal: Weaver to exit with his legacy intact, Khan to take over with a commitment to the same values Weaver brought to the table as the Jaguars owner 18 years ago.

“I want the fans in Jacksonville to know I’m here, reporting for duty,” Khan said during his prepared remarks. “Let the fun begin.”

He’s saying the right things and seems to want to make it work in Jacksonville. He’s obviously excited about owning the team and getting started, assuring fans he’s in it for the long haul.

“It should be a virtuous circle,” the new Jaguars owner told me during our interview on the six o’clock news. “We support the fans and the fans support us. Everybody wins.”

Sure sounds great.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Thanks Wayne!

We’ve had some good luck as a city to have people in critical decision-making positions at critical times who turned out to be the right people at the right time. Mayor Jake Godbold served as “best Friend of the city” at a time that luring an NFL franchise was a complete pipe dream: to everybody but Godbold and the citizens of Jacksonville.

When that became a reality in 1993 we were again fortunate to have an owner step forward who was committed to Jacksonville as if he was a native. Asked by the NFL to consider taking over the St. Louis bid, a place he had lived and had ties to, Wayne Weaver declined, and instead cast his lot with the longest shot in the field.

But we were used to that.

And as Tom mentioned earlier, Wayne’s brother Ron reminded us over and over, “what my brother goes after, he usually gets.”

During the expansion process, Jacksonville was always considered an also-ran, once again except in the minds of Wayne Weaver and the people who lived here. It was a painful process to be ready to do whatever it took to get a team, and still be put off several times as the league, and other cities fortified their expansion bids.

In October of 1993, when Charlotte was awarded a franchise and Jacksonville was told to cool their heels while the league considered their options, I spent a lot of time with Wayne in Chicago and he was flat out hot. We stood outside of the NFL’s makeshift office at the Hyatt Regency, just the two of us, waiting for Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to explain to Weaver what was going on.

As the door opened, I asked Wayne, “what are you going to ask him?” Weaver stopped, turned to me with a locked jaw and fire in his eyes and said, “i’m going to ask him why we don’t have a football team. I didn’t come here to fool around.”

And with that he walked off to give Tagliabue a piece of his mind.

I saw a determination in Weaver that I’d never seen outside of a sports competition. Thirty days later, Jacksonville became the 30th franchise in the NFL, against all odds. And we owe that to Wayne Weaver. His determination, his professionalism, and maybe most importantly his charm and vision convinced the NFL membership that he should be part of their club. They invited him in, and we went along for the ride.

He wanted to win in the worst way. He paid players, changed coaches, tried to do whatever it took. And that’s why he says it’s bittersweet selling the team having never brought a championship home.

We’re indebted to Wayne and his wife Delores for how they’ve transformed our town. Knowing Wayne all he’d ever expect is a simple thanks.

So thanks Wayne.

Shahid Kahn has big shoes to fill.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Decision-Making

On a team with Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry as the coordinators, you might think the head coach would operate in relative obscurity. But Jim Lee Howell was well respected as the Head Coach of the New York Giants, getting them into the NFL Championship game three times in his seven years as head coach.

In the 1990’s, when asked about the defensive prowess of his Gators football team, then Head Coach Steve Spurrier always said, “You’ll have to ask coach Stoops,” referring to Defensive Coordinator Bob Stoops. Current Gators Head Coach Will Muschamp did the same last week when asked about the offense, deferring to Charlie Weis as the offensive coordinator.

So when for a few weeks now Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio has referenced Dirk Koetter, the offensive coordinator when asked offensive questions, I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I still don’t have to like it.

No matter what your specialty, the head coach is just that, as Del Rio has reminded us over the years, a coach of all phases of the game and generally the face and the voice of the franchise. Early in the 2011 season, Del Rio said he’d like to see the offense “mix it up a little bit” yet didn’t do anything about it while the game was going on. He admitted the plays go through him via his headset on the sideline, but he didn’t speak up.

After Sunday’s Jaguars loss to the Texans at home Del Rio gave us some insight as to how things work, or don’t work, in the Jaguars hierarchy.

Down by a touchdown, Luke McCown (who had replaced an ineffective Blaine Gabbert at quarterback) completed a third down pass for 25 yards to Marcedes Lewis brining up a 4th and two with just over a minute to play. With one timeout left, it seemed that would be the logical thing to use at that time. Get everybody together, call your best two-yard play and get the first down. But instead the Jaguars ran to the line of scrimmage and threw a quick slant to Mike Thomas that fell incomplete and the game was over.

More than a minute to play and the clock runs out with the Jaguars holding a timeout in their pocket.

“We had a play we liked and the coverage we expected, we just didn’t execute,” said McCown in a quiet Jaguars locker room. And that’s what you expect the quarterback to say. But when asked about it, Del Rio said, “I asked Dirk if we wanted a time out there and he said no, so we didn’t call it.”

So at the most crucial point of the game, the head coach relinquishes the decision making to one of his assistants? That’s why I was trying to give Jack an out when I asked him if he had made the decision to change quarterbacks in concert with Koetter. “No. I did,” Del Rio quickly answered. Which makes no sense at the most basic “Who’s in charge” level.

The head coach let’s the assistant decide if they’re calling a time out yet unilaterally changes quarterbacks? The head coach has to be the final arbiter of any kind of decision like that and even if he’s not he can’t sluff it off on one of his assistants. You’re on the sidelines; you have to have a feel for what’s going on in the game. There’s not a person in the stadium that wasn’t thinking, “Nice play. OK, call a time out here and get organized to get the first down.”

Maybe they were trying to catch Houston off-guard, maybe there are a thousand reasons not to call time out.

I just wanted to hear one.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

What Kind of Fan Are You?

There are many cliche’s involving sports and life.

“Sports doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”

“Sports imitates life.”

But perhaps the truth is how sports gives us a chance to gain perspective on what might be going on around you.

As the tragedy at Penn State continues to unfold, it’s much more a story about responsibility, accountability and how an organization works (or doesn’t) as it is about sports. The time-honored ideas of loyalty and leadership, so valued in a sports oriented situation, play a big part in what happened and how it was handled in State College.

Here in the state of Florida, we’ve been lucky to witness the domination of college football by Miami, FSU and Florida in the last 20 years. If one of those teams didn’t win or play for a National Championship, they had some say on who did. It’s heady stuff, knowing your team is going to be good year after year.

There’s a whole generation of fans who don’t know anything but winning when it comes to their teams. That shapes your thinking, shapes your actions and especially shapes your expectations. But somewhere along the way, that changes, leaving fans with a couple of choices going forward.

Do I now hate my own team? Do I chastise them for letting me down? Do I affix blame from the ownership on down and demand they all be fired?

How fans react in those situations is a pretty good indicator as to how they’ll react when it really counts.

Fans of the “U” used to have a swagger that bordered on the absurd. Now they’ve been forced to retreat from that stance, as Miami is a mid-level team in their own conference.

FSU’s fall from grace forced Seminole fans to make their own decisions about their icon, Bobby Bowden. How they reacted to that will give them a future lesson on a changing of the guard in their own lives.

We often joke that the most important three words in the University of Florida football media guide are “Since Nineteen Ninety.” A great many Gator fans don’t even know what you mean when you allude to the one-time rallying cry of “Wait ’till next year!” Nonetheless, while the 2011 season seems like only a bump in the road, it is giving a lot of Gators a taste of how it felt to their opponents in the last twenty years with the Orange and Blue were on the other side of the line.

While the Jaguars, Bucs and Dolphins have had their moments of excitement, it’s been a test of patience for their fans all over the state recently.

Some people can probably learn a lot about themselves by reflecting on what kind of fan they are. Loyal, fickle, fair-weather whatever.

What’s that say about you?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coaching Shelf-Life

A friend of mine was sitting in a sports bar during a recent Jaguars road game with some “real” Jaguars fans. Not just casual observers but guys who have been supporters of the franchise since the beginning. When the opposition took the lead, my friend was at first appalled and then amazed when these fans were rooting for the enemy to win and win big.


“Because we’ll sacrifice this season to get rid of Jack Del Rio,” was the quick response.

And that’s how it goes in the NFL.

Coaches have a shelf life in the league. Long tenured coaches are a rarity anymore. Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, all legendary coaches who’s stays in Miami, Pittsburgh and Dallas spanned decades are now the products of a bygone era. They won, sure, but they also lost. And that was acceptable by their owners who had confidence that they were “rebuilding” and would make the team competitive in the near future. Again. And they were right. Partially because of the unlimited money that owners could put into their clubs and partially because those guys were actually great coaches. Nobody called for their jobs. Players and fans respected what they could do and owners were sometimes the object of scorn for being “cheap” or “lazy.”

That all changed with the salary cap. It leveled the playing field for just about everybody when it comes to acquiring players (maybe not when it comes to making money) so owners have a shorter attention span and less patience when it comes to winning. They want results and based on how teams are built now, about 5 years is the time frame for a coach to prove whether he can produce a champion or not.

Right about that time in Del Rio’s tenure, the Jaguars looked to be an ascending team. A road playoff win at Pittsburgh and an emerging quarterback looked to be the building blocks for a championship run. Del Rio and David Garrard were rewarded for what seemed to be their potential with new contracts. Which never panned out. Garrard never got any better and the Jaguars free-agent moves backfired. Having gone from good to very good, the team never got to great and started to back up.

“A coach rarely survives a quarterback change (Leftwich) or a retooling of the roster once let alone twice,” Del Rio admitted before the 2011 season. But in fact, Jack had done just that. “We’re going to be a good team,” he declared more than once in the preseason and into the regular season, saying it with such confidence that it was hard not to believe that he really believed it. Little things, most self inflicted, kept the Jaguars from being somewhere near .500 early in the season and as the team’s won-loss record became more lopsided, the calls for Del Rio’s job got louder.

In the end, it’s Wayne Weaver’s call regarding Del Rio’s future. While Weaver can be emotional, he’s very measured before making any kind of major personnel move. He’s actually concerned about the people working for him. Contrary to some opinions, Weaver is not cheap. And he wants to win. He also wants to put people in the stands and generate some excitement for his team.

Del Rio isn’t doing any of that. It’s a results oriented league. And if he’s not winning, “potential” doesn’t keep any head coach on the sidelines in the NFL.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars “D” a Throwback

There’s lots of chatter about the Jaguars win over the Colts in Indianapolis Sunday afternoon, most of it somehow discounting it as a victory, because Indy is winless this year. Tell that to the Chiefs last week who got spanked by a previously winless Miami Dolphin team. A win in the NFL counts no matter which one of the other 31 teams you beat.

While it’s easy to look past this one and criticize the Jaguars shortcomings even in victory, I’m going the other way. This is one that would have been easy to let slip away.

Tied at 3 at halftime and after a three and out on their first possession of the third quarter, the momentum was starting to build for the home team. But despite their paltry production in the passing game, the Jaguars were still in the game. Their defense was stout, giving up a field goal early but controlling the Colts, stopping the run and not giving up the big play.

When your offense is struggling to score points, it’s not an easy thing to drag yourself back out their on defense and put the clamps on your opponent. But this defensive group seems to have a work ethic and a willingness to carry the team as far as they can.

Against the Ravens the defense came to life and gave the team an identity. It’s carried on now for three weeks. They’re willing to be the face of the team. Now when you hear anybody talking about the Jaguars the first thing you hear is, “Well, their defense is great.”

After that it’s about how their rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert is struggling. And that’s exactly right. The Jaguars aren’t going to outscore anybody. They can’t get into a shootout because they can’t score enough points. But an “ugly win” is worth as much as any other kind.

A decision about Gabbert’s effectiveness long term is still a long time away. Right now he’s erratic and even regressing occasionally. But Maurice Jones Drew and the running game should be able to keep the ball enough to keep the Jaguars in most games.

The next four games fall in the Jaguars favor starting with a road game against an equally struggling Cleveland Browns. The next three are at home against Houston, a Monday nighter against the erratic Chargers followed by the up and down Tampa Bay Bucs coming to town.

It’s hard to project that they’ll get back into the playoff race, but at least it now appears their defense will show up every week, ready to go to work.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Put Gabbert In

After 6 weeks of camp and exhibition games, practices and meetings it was pretty clear that Luke McCown had played his way into the mix as the best quarterback on the Jaguars roster. McCown had produced when he was on the field in games, he was sharp in practices and the guys on the team liked his football acumen. “Ball out” is his nickname for how he makes quick decisions and is willing to throw into tight spots.

That left the Jaguars management and coaching staff with a dilemma: What to do with Luke McCown?

It didn’t make sense to sit him on the bench and with the heir apparent in the wings and just waiting to play. He was worth a draft pick if they wanted to trade him but the dilemma was complicated by the poor play of the incumbent starter, David Garrard.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio told us going into the third exhibition game that “now would be a good time” for the quarterback and the offense to start showing some production. Del Rio had met with Garrard earlier to encourage him to pick up the tempo and “get it going” since David had struggled from the beginning of camp.

But that never happened.

So faced with that decision, and knowing that Blaine Gabbert was going to be your starter at some point either sooner or later, Garrard became the expendable player. They knew the upside on Garrard. He had reached the pinnacle of his ability and what that produced was average results in the NFL.

It’s hard to say why he plateaued out so quickly after signing a new contract following the 2007 season but for a guy who was talked about in the next breath after Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, he never elevated his game again. Maybe he was satisfied after he “got his money” or maybe he started to believe he was better just because everybody said he was next in line. But whatever it was, the Jaguars couldn’t count on him getting any better;

With a $9 million price tag the Jaguars couldn’t sit him on the bench, so they cut him. It wasn’t about money, or they’d have never let Garrard take the field in the pre-season. They had the perfect excuse when he strained his back in practice and missed the opener. If he had gotten hurt playing in an exhibition, they’d been on the hook for $9 million and out a quarterback.

So McCown earns the starting spot and plays well enough to beat the Tennessee Titans in game one of the regular season. “He’s not ready,” is the response given when asked about Gabbert’s debut in the NFL.

One thing’s for sure again in 2011 on offense for the Jaguars: they’re not going to the playoffs through the quarterback position. The QB wasn’t going to get them into the post-season but he could keep them from getting there. They’re a run-first; stop the run team that wants Maurice Jones Drew to handle the ball about 25 times a game among their 35 or so rushes.

In a battle for the starting QB job in Tampa Bay, Luke McCown lost out to Byron Leftwich. That made him expendable in Tampa and the Jaguars acquired him for a 7th round pick. The rap on McCown was that he was skittish and inconsistent. He didn’t show any of that in his time in Jacksonville: until Sunday against the Jets. When things starting going downhill, they snowballed and got worse. McCown reverted to the player they thought he was in Tampa when they got rid of him.

Which brings us to the dawning to a new era in Jaguars history: The Gabbert era.

If you’re going to run the offense the Jaguars run, handing it off and throwing safe bubble screens and slants, then let the rookie do it. The Jaguars believed Gabbert was the best player in the draft last year. They just happened to get him with the 10th pick. It was evident when he went in the game last Sunday against the Jets, albeit a bit late, that he can play. He has quick feet, a quick release, makes fast decisions and can fire it. He didn’t like getting hit in the backfield but who does?

So put Gabbert in the game.

If he gets overwhelmed, sit him down for a couple of weeks. But put him in the game and see what he can do. It’ll create an ancillary excitement about a season that’s already been written off as average at best.

He’s a first round pick. Let him play like one.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


I’m sure you know what Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor, David Garrard, Kyle Brady, Mike Peterson and even Byron Leftwich have in common. All were either unceremoniously cut or dumped from the Jaguars when they seemed to have some productive years left in their NFL careers. Stars at one point while playing in Jacksonville, they all were considered expendable and sent on their way.

Boselli was exposed to the expansion draft, they didn’t think Taylor could be a back up so they cut him; Garrard was shoved out by a first round pick. Brady fell out of favor with the coaching staff and ended up on a Super Bowl team in New England. Mike P questioned Jack Del Rio and was allowed to move on. He is still starting for the Falcons. Leftwich wasn’t cutting it according to the coaching staff and wouldn’t react well to a demotion.

Whether their assessment of a player’s skills was correct or not, when a team is done with you, they’re done. No niceties in this business. It’s pretty cut and dried when they call you in and tell you you’re services are no longer needed. Sometimes it’s a classic “Coach wants to see you and bring your playbook.” Sometimes they grab you after a meeting or after practice and tell you you’re gone. It’s not a long process and it can be a combustible situation.

There are stories about the player taking a swing at a coach. Or verbally dressing him down. I came across the Jaguars player personnel guy in his office once with a player signing his “separation” papers at his desk. With security standing guard outside the hall just in case and to provide an escort out of the building.

When you look at that short list of players, you could make an argument that most were done and spent the last few years of their careers just hanging on. How they cut Garrard was pretty harsh, and not right, just 5 days before the season. Same thing with Leftwich just before the opener. But it underscores the harsh nature of professional sports. You’re in it until somebody else says you’re not. And when you’re out, you’re gone.

It’s no wonder the players are so focused and intent on keeping their jobs. They know they’re one play away from it being over.

Have you ever been fired? I have, and it’s no fun no matter how they handle it. Recently in radio I was fired via text! That’s not harsh, that’s just cowardly. In pro sports they’ll look you in the eye at least and tell you you’re done. But when they’re done with you, they’re done.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

It’s The Quarterback

It’s about the quarterback.

Always will be.

It’s the most important position in sports.

The only other one in the discussion is starting pitcher and they only get the ball every four or five days. The QB touches the ball on every offensive play, is the leader and the manager and has to be among the best players, and athletes on his own team to be effective.

My friend Matt Robinson, a starter at Georgia and in the NFL with New York and Denver and the USFL here in Jacksonville marveled at the power of the quarterback when he stepped into his first NFL huddle.

“I’d always just played the game and played my position. But in the NFL, I stepped into the huddle and guys who were 10, 15 years older than me were just waiting for instructions. It didn’t matter who I was. I was the quarterback!”

Watch Tom Brady on the sidelines or go back a few years and watch Troy Aikman interact with his teammates. Both are part cheerleader, part psychologist, part teammate, part coach, all leader and confident in their skill.

“If you’ve every played quarterback at any level, you’re a brother of mine,” Aikman recently said on ESPN’s “Year of the Quarterback.” “There’s something about that position that calls for all kinds of skills. If you’ve played it, you know. If not, you might not get it.”

Where else in football is there room for somebody with “touch.” How can somebody who is expected to stand in the pocket and take the most violent hit also be expected to console a teammate when he’s at his lowest? You might not think Joe Kapp and Peyton Manning have anything in common but as quarterbacks, they had to have many of the same skills.

I laugh every time I hear somebody suggest Tim Tebow should switch to H-back in the NFL. Tim’s a quarterback. He was that in high school and before. Out of position as a freshman, Tebow transferred to Nease as a quarterback, nothing else.

Hard to say if there’s a quarterback competition in Jacksonville or what the Jaguars timetable is for Blaine Gabbert to become the starter. But I can tell you this: When he walks into a room, there’s no question he’s a quarterback. You can tell when an athlete walks into the room, and Gabbert is certainly that. But he has a quarterback’s presence, an air of confidence.

I asked him about it when the Jaguars first drafted him in April. “I really like playing football,” he said, “But I LOVE being a quarterback. Absolutely.”

That’s obvious.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

It’s Football Season? Already?

For years, my friend Keith has said, “When July 4th comes around, summer is over.” I always laughed at that, because when we were kids, the 4th of July marked the beginning of summer! But alas, now he’s right, as seasons have expanded, once the holiday is finished, it seems all eyes turn to football.

In the south anyway.

High School football, college football, pro football: they all grab fans attention in the heat of the summer. Magazines, meetings television networks, they all focus on football. Of course the old joke is there are two seasons in Florida (and Texas): Football season, and spring football season.

This year has been a little quieter across the board. The NFL lockout has kept the league and pro football in the news, but not in the way fans want to hear about it. Coverage of the legal proceedings has created excitement about the smallest thing, giving hope even when there was none. Of course, ESPN has always painted the best face on the movement because they have skin in the game. They need the NFL to play so you always have to watch their coverage with that in mind. If the league is playing games, ESPN is making money.

Florida fans haven’t be quite as vociferous as in the past. A new coach and not a single player on the pre-season All SEC first team has Gator fans wondering how their team will fare in 2011. A trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game has been penciled in as part of the season for Florida fans for quite a while. This year there’s a lot of grumbling. Not quite the “Wait ’till next year!” cry of a quarter century ago, but certainly not the swagger they’ve carried through three National Championships in the last 15 years.

Georgia is supposed to be good, but then again, they were better than Florida last year but couldn’t beat the Gators in the annual dust up here when it counted. All predictions have Florida State returning to the national stage as a player when it comes to who’s going to win the title but with a new quarterback, who knows?

And that’s what makes it fun.

Even if it’s summer!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Our “Hometown”

This summer will mark my 30th year of working and living in Jacksonville. Having also worked in Charleston, S.C., going to school in Washington, D.C. and growing up in Baltimore, I’ve had a taste of all different city sizes and lifestyles.

Baltimore is a city that’s really a big town. In fact, Jacksonville is similar to what Baltimore was 35 years ago. Kind of a second city on the East Coast. While Baltimore was never quite DC or New York, Jacksonville isn’t Miami, Tampa or Orlando.

And neither town wants to be.

Washington is a big city with all of the pluses and minuses that go along with that. Great restaurants, lots of culture and the traffic and headaches that go with it. Charleston is about a deep south as you can get (OK, maybe Savannah) and is, as described, “charming.” It’s a big tourist destination now, but it remains a bastion of US Southern culture.

I often joke that I bought and owned three tuxedos when I lived in Charleston and wore them constantly. Here in Jacksonville, it’s a rare occasion that “black tie” is required.

And that’s just fine.

Sometimes that bothers people from out of town. Especially among my peers in the reporting community, when I travel they always deride Jacksonville in one-way or another. But we’re pretty comfortable with who we are. Maybe that’s what bothers people. They’re always moaning and complaining about something and can’t quite understand why we like it here.

There’s a sign at the Navy base in Norfolk that says “there are other duty stations besides Jax.” Just a small inside joke about our Navy population in North Florida and how they want to stay here instead of being stationed elsewhere.

“What brought you here,” is a question I ask people when we meet (since it seems nobody is a native). “The Navy,” is a popular answer from dentists and doctors to constructions workers and engineers. A lot of them were exposed to North Florida and South Georgia by being stationed at Cecil, NAS Jax, Mayport or Kings Bay.

Do you know what Rob Meier, Paul Spicer, Mark Brunell, Matt Robinson, Tony Boselli and Lonnie Marts have in common? None are from here; all played in Jacksonville and all decided this would be their “home-town” when they stopped playing football. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. These guys and dozens of others have played around the league but picked Jacksonville as their post-career spot. When asked they all say, “The people. The lifestyle. I just like it here. Nobody much bothers you and people just live their lives.”

Pretty good testimonial.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Wanna Play!

Nobody lives in North Florida or South Georgia because they have to. Nobody has to stay here because they owe money to the company store. So why is it that our civic leaders, elected and otherwise, can’t figure out that’s the frame of reference they should be using for every decision?

Is it right that we’re the largest land-mass city in the continental US and have nine miles of bike paths? And only one dedicated trail for cycling, running, etc.?

Recreation and sports are the life-blood of the people who live here. Jobs are tough to come by, and the ones that are here aren’t, on average, the highest paying in comparison to other cities. So people are here because they want to be and their off-the-job activities are important to them. Yet it seems it’s the last thing on the agenda when it comes to spending money on the quality of life here.

You name it, there’s not enough of them here.

Tennis courts, baseball/softball fields, soccer pitches, lacrosse fields, etc. Many times it’s left up to the private developers to set aside land for recreation somewhere within the confines of the community.


Because it’s a selling point.

Our part of the country is attractive because of the lifestyle. Everybody does something. Run, bike, swim, sail, play golf, tennis, paddle board, whatever, everybody’s got something they do. So it ought to be a priority, along with public education and transportation to keep parks open, to keep building fields where kids and adults can play and to create programs to entice people to get involved.

I know there are private, not-for-profit organizations like the Mal Washington Foundation and the First Tee that identify and help kids stay out of trouble and learn life skills through sports. But if you just wanted to go throw the football with friends would you know where to go? Do you know where the nearest basketball court is where you can find a pickup game? Would you rollerblade on your street? Where would you go to ride your bike? Take a walk?

Where we live is our greatest asset. Let’s figure out how to use it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Lots of Golf Here

There aren’t too many better places to play golf in the world than here in North Florida and South Georgia. We can play year-‘round and some of the most desirable golf courses in the country are in our backyard. No matter where you look, north to Sea Island or Amelia, any one of the courses here in town, the places in Ponte Vedra or St. Augustine and even south to Palm Coast and Daytona, you can’t go wrong. Each one better than the next.

The interest in golf here is so high, it’s one of the reasons the PGA Tour has their headquarters here. Then Commissioner Deane Beman saw the support the Greater Jacksonville Open had among the fans and volunteers and along with the Fletcher brothers offer to sell the Tour the land for $1, a whole destination, community and world famous tournament sprung up under our noses.

There’s plenty of history surrounding the game, and not just what has happened at the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass.

The Jacksonville Open was part of the barnstorming tour of professionals going around the country. Hyde Park on the Westside was it’s home and the top names in golf were playing here for prize money. The 6th hole at Hyde Park is known as “Hogan’s Alley.” It’s a par three where the future Hall of Famer made an eleven. When asked how he made an eleven on the par three, Hogan reportedly looked at the lone reporter there, took a long drag on his cigarette and said, “I missed a five footer for ten.” (It’s a line that parodied in the film “Tin Cup” by Kevin Costner.)

The Ryder Cup was scheduled to be played here at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club in 1939, but the matches were cancelled because of WWII.

The whole concept of the Greater Jacksonville Open, the GJO, got it’s genesis when local golf pioneers Dick Stratton, John Tucker and others were sitting on stools at Silver’s Drug Store in Jacksonville Beach. Those guys knew Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus personally and figured if they could get the big three to come, the tournament would have a chance.

There’s a plaque in the fairway at Selva Marina’s 18th hole commemorating Jack Nicklaus’ double-eagle on his way to victory. Arnold Palmer owned Hidden Hills and the tournament there and the associated reverie raised a lot of eyebrows in town. And there’s the story of a famous player who played in the afternoon in Thursday’s first round when the GJO was at Deerwood and emerged from the bushes on Friday morning wearing the same clothes for his second round. Apparently the party at Deerwood after hours was pretty good!

Could you imagine a location called the “Swingers Tent” going over in our current politically correct environment? But that was the name of THE place on A1A when fans, players and officials alike left the golf course and headed north from Sawgrass Country Club. That tent had it’s own set of stories. As the home of The Players, the Stadium Course has it’s own share of stories as well, although most are now confined to the course. To clear out underbrush on that island left of 14, a bunch of goats were brought in, (thus the name “Goat Island”). One night when the water was low, the goats made their way to the clubhouse and climbed on the roof, eating away at shingles and causing all kinds of havoc. Beman was not happy.

Most players didn’t care for the course or the tournament early on. From Lee Trevino’s “We shouldn’t have to putt on dirt,” to Nicklaus’ “I don’t think you should have to hit 4-iron into the hood of a car,” Pete Dye’s design was not met with universal acclaim. But Jerry Pate jumped in the water, Fuzzy Zoeller wiped Greg Norman’s brow, Davis Love hooked a 1-iron out of the woods and onto 16 and the legend started to grow.

Although the tournament belongs much more to the PGA Tour now than to us, it’s still part of our history. A rich history of golf that’s exciting, dramatic, and quirky all at the same time.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Its a Big Deal

What’s a big deal anymore?

Jacksonville has grown from a town of 200,00 in 1980 to a sprawling city of nearly 1.4 million in the last 30 years. Yet, it’s hard to pin down just what is a big deal to the people who live here.

Is it because we’re so diverse?

Westsiders almost never go to the beach. If you live on the Northside, you rarely venture south of the St. Johns. Beach people never come over “the ditch.” And if you’re south of town, everything you “need” is right there. So why is it so hard for everybody to make a “big deal” about something?

Even the recent city election failed to capture anybody’s attention as less than 29% of voters turned out. Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver called that apathy by the community “shameful.”

I often get asked, “What in the world did you cover before the Jaguars came here?” Well, believe it or not, there were plenty of things to capture our attention and many of them were considered a “big deal.” College football in Gainesville, Tallahassee and Athens (and even in Miami) was and still the thing that captures everybody’s attention.

Every weekend in the fall was some kind of celebration, some bigger than others. When the Florida/Georgia game rolls around, the city has a spark not seen any other week. The Gator Bowl is fun, but as far as the locals go, they think it’s an excursion for the two teams’ fans.

Super Bowl XXXIX was a big deal, but there were a lot of people who decided, “I’m not going downtown into that mess” and just stayed home. That was a shame. It was well run, well organized and starting on Thursday the weather made the experience nearly perfect. Fans from New England and Philadelphia thought so, as nearly 90% of our visitors didn’t arrive until Thursday night.

The Players is a fun week but honestly as the GJO it was a bigger deal to the locals. I don’t know if it’s because of the corporate aspect of the tournament or it’s isolation in Ponte Vedra (it was played at Selva Marina, Deerwood and Hidden Hills as the GJO) but it’s a little removed from even golfers on the Northside and Westside, that’s for sure.

We used to have gymnastics competitions, national bowling meetings, and kart races that seemed to be a big deal.

When The Jackson’s opened here, that was a big deal. The Rolling Stones in 1989. Very big. U2, Garth Brooks? All seemed to envelope just about everybody in the city in some way.


The Jaguars are a big deal. No matter whether they sell out or not, they’re a big deal. We’re one of only 31 cities (two in New York) with an NFL franchise so when you’re in that kind of elite company, you’re a big deal.

Now our population is exploding, the geography of the city is split by the river and roads (I-95 and I-10) and everybody has their own thing to do. Maybe it’s just growing pains but I liked it when everybody thought something was a big deal.

So what now makes it a big deal?
If it’s a big deal to you.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The “New” Media

In Daytona for Speedweeks there was a lot of talk about the quality of racing, the two by two and what was going to happen when the Daytona 500 rolled around. Regardless of what you thought of all of those ideas, it got me thinking that we were at least talking about the actual “sport.” The competition, the racing, the guys on the track.

Everywhere else we’re talking about something else.

In football it’s been about their labor agreement. Billionaires and millionaires squabbling.

In the NBA, the owners are threatening a lockout, mainly because they don’t like how much the players are making.

Golf’s main news is their most recognizable golfer is spitting on the green.

And in baseball, the best player in the game is asking for somewhere near a third of a billion dollars to play for the next ten years. And isn’t happy with the quarter or a billion he’s being offered.

Is this where we’ve gotten to in sports?

The 24-hour news cycle has brought us a whole different idea about what’s happening when we’re supposed to be “at play.” We know every detail of how much everybody’s making. We know the minute-by-minute analysis of every negotiation, every dollar that’s accepted or rejected and the story changes five times on any given day. Because sports “journalists” are now competing with blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, the information is blurred. Cutting through the “dis” information is as much of the job as finding the information in the first place.

I like the instant information and the access the social media gives to fans (and media) alike when it comes to hearing what players, coaches and even organizations have to say. But it’s just that. What they have to say. There’s an agenda and sometimes the truth is even in question. That used to be what the media was all about: filtering through all of the blather and finding something close to the truth. Hopefully, some of that will survive.

Your Mom probably told you once, “Don’t believe everything you hear,” or something like that. She’s right.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Weaver Keeps Del Rio

It was awkward at first.

Wayne Weaver walked into the room filled with reporters to give his year-end assessment as well as his plan going forward for the Jaguars. (BTW, he showed up a couple of minutes early. We were planning on showing the entire press conference live but he walked in during a commercial break.) Weaver had papers in his hands, statistics, rosters, rankings, all kinds of stuff to support his decision to keep Jack Del Rio as the head coach of the Jaguars.

And that was the awkward part.

Wayne wanted to back his decision up with facts, pointing out that David Garrard was the 11th ranked quarterback in the league and that he had the second best passer rating in the 4th quarter. That’s all well and good but the owner of the team should feel like he has to back up his decision on who the coach should be. But once he got past the hard numbers, Wayne looked more comfortable talking about his decision-making from a qualitative instead of a quantitative point of view. “It’s only rational to see that we are an ascending football team over the last two years,” Weaver said. “You can’t look at the whole body of work. We’ve made progress since we dismantled the roster after 2008.”

Wayne’s a passionate yet measured businessman, capable of great passion as well as dispassionate decision-making. “I think we’re stronger by keeping this group of coaches together. It would be a step back to change at this point.”

Weaver discounted the first six years of Del Rio’s tenure, attributing the overall problems to bad drafting and poor personnel decisions. “I should have recognized the problems in our personnel department and made some changes earlier,” he noted adding that both Del Rio and Gene Smith had a hand in some of those decisions.

As far as his expectations, the Jaguars owner wants off-season action and in-season results. Weaver has challenged the coaching staff to find out what the elite teams are doing and add that to the Jaguars repertoire. He wants Del Rio to step back on game day and be more of a traditional head coach. Not be so involved with the defense.

“I believe with every fiber in my body that we’re an ascending team,” he said when asked how he’s measuring progress. “We’ll be in the playoffs next year. If not, there won’t be a lot of people around here. Including me.”

While that was a bit of poetic license and bravado, clearly Wayne expects the post-season to be part of the 2011 season. It’s a laudable goal, but there’s a different schedule to face next year, one that’s tougher than it’s been in a while by virtue of the Jaguars second place finish in the division. Add the NFC South and the AFC North as the regular teams in the division rotation and they’ll find out pretty early what their playoff chances are in 2011.

Either way they’re on notice. It’s a production business. Win or we’ll find somebody.