“A player’s coach,” is either the best thing a coach can be called or the worst. “Disciplinarian” and “Old School” fit into that same category. Obviously, somewhere in between is where you find success as a coach, especially in the NFL.
Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been described as a “Players coach.” By players it’s been a big compliment. Otherwise it’s a derisive term for
Del Rio hates soft.
But when you look at how he handled the 2008 team, that’s what they were. Soft.
His “Hollywood” demeanor allowed the team to skate through the off-season, training camp and the preseason, with Jack figuring he had put together a collection of players who would be ready when the bell rang. But instead of jumping at the chance to prove themselves, the Jaguars danced around, said, “We’ll be all right,” and started sinking.
From the opening game loss to Tennessee through the final disappointment in Baltimore, the Jaguars didn’t do the little things, didn’t get that one big play that could change the game. They were a little soft.
And Jack recognizes that.
And that’s why he’s getting back to what he believes in. “Smart, tough football, with players who like to play the game and care for each other,” is how he put it in his year-end press conference. If Del Rio’s going down, he’s going down doing the things he believes in.
“You can’t assume that because something was one way last year that it’s going to be the same the next season. Good or bad,” Jack elaborated.
And that’s what he bought into after 2007.
It’s a good team. Motivated, tight and just missing a few pieces. So fill those holes and you have a championship caliber team. But it didn’t happen.
“It’s disappointing, embarrassing to have such high expectations and not fulfill your dreams. There’s too much work going into it to not have people around who want to get involved.”
Del Rio and the rest of the Jaguars staff and administration fell in love with a couple of free agents and some guys who might have been an inch taller and a tenth of a second quicker. But they weren’t better football players.
Jimmy Kennedy for Grady Jackson? Drayton Florence for Sammy Knight? Jerry Porter for Ernest Wilford? Every time the Jaguars made a change it flopped.
“We swung and missed on a couple of free agents this year,” Jack admitted. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t get back into the batters box,” he added, saying the team isn’t going to be shy when it comes to free agency.
I specifically asked Jack who was going to set the tone for the off-season and the coming year. “I am,” he quickly responded. “We’re going to have a tough off-season and I’m anxious to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”
It’s the exact answer any fan was looking for. The Head Coach shouldering the blame, taking charge and winning or losing based on what he believes in. And when it comes to Del Rio’s beliefs, he wants tough players who “buy in” to his philosophy.
“If you want to play football the way it’s supposed to be played come to Jacksonville,” Maurice Jones Drew said in the locker room as he cleaned out his things. “If you don’t, then go somewhere else. Plain and simple.”
And it is plain and simple. If the team is going to be reflection of the coach and who he is, Del Rio is going back to what worked for him as a player: practice, hard work and sacrifice.
“No doubt there will be some changes in our off season and the camp for next year. There will be some edges that weren’t there in the past. There’s something to a group of men sweating, working hard together, being sore, hating me, doing it together that breeds the kind of player, the kind of team I’m looking for,” Jack said before he left. “That’s what we’ll have.”
Del Rio was asked about players working out, out of town instead of coming to the stadium to do their off-season conditioning. “Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will work out here in the off-season.”
“What about Fred Taylor and others who have worked out in South Florida?”
“Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will work out here in the off-season. I think it’s important.”
Jack also said he wasn’t firing any assistants, a real departure from the past. “That’s not to say they’re not going to have other opportunities, but I like my staff.”
So look for a little bit different version of the Jaguars starting right now. A little tougher, a little less celebrity oriented and little harder working.
Losing will do that to you.