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.