Somebody had to pay for the Jaguars dismal season in 2008 and apparently when he looked around, owner Wayne Weaver decided James “Shack” Harris would be sacrificed.
You knew somebody would be asked to fall on their sword and you knew it wouldn’t be head coach Jack Del Rio after he signed a big-money extension last year. Gene Smith has been around since the inception of the franchise so he’s an insider and Weaver couldn’t fire himself so Harris got the boot.
They said all the right things and they called it a “resignation” but clearly Shack is the scapegoat for a bunch of flawed decision-making that runs through all four men at the top of the brain trust with the Jaguars: Weaver, Harris, Del Rio and Smith.
It was a strange management model from the beginning, six years ago. Weaver admitted when he bought the team that he wasn’t a “football guy” and pretty much let Tom Coughlin run the show when it came to picking players and coaching them on the field. But when he replaced Coughlin with Del Rio, Weaver was convinced that the job had grown too big for one person to be the General Manager and the Head Coach all at the same time and told me as much during his search for Coughlin’s replacement.
But Del Rio must have impressed Weaver in some way to allow him to have massive input into choosing the players because when Weaver hired Del Rio, and then Harris (after being turned down by Phil Savage who ended up with the Browns) publicly, he was pretty cagey when it came to defining their roles on draft day and in free-agency.
“I’ll break the tie,” Weaver joked at the announcement of Harris’ signing when asked what would happen if Shack and Jack disagreed on a player.
He also promoted Gene Smith at the time, (and promoted him again today, giving him Shack’s job) giving him a bigger role in the scouting and since he owned the team and was a smart guy and wasn’t a football neophyte any longer, Weaver became part of the process. So starting in 2003 those four began to rebuild the team.
Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Marcedes Lewis, Reggie Nelson and Derrick Harvey were their first round picks since then, none having established themselves among the elite at their positions in the league. In fact, you could say a couple of offensive linemen and Maurice Jones Drew are the best draft picks since this brain trust took over the decision-making.
And as we know, anytime you get more than two people making decisions, one emerges or at least has a little more influence than the others. Was that Harris early on? Maybe so, but since Del Rio fired Leftwich, he clearly ascended to the top of that food chain since Byron was Shack’s project.
“Tell me Harris is a slow talker and not a slow thinker,” one pretty well connected season ticket holder asked me in the last couple of years. I’ve always liked Shack and have picked his brain over the years regarding who was on the Hall of Fame Ballot. Listening to him talk about the pros and cons of each player gave me some insight into what he was looking for each year in the draft and free agency. It helped show me what he valued in a player. He’s big on production and isn’t tied to the stats as closely as other talent “evaluators.”
I don’t know if he had some other agendas when it came to picking certain players. Everybody figured that he liked Byron because he was a black quarterback, and reminded Harris of himself during his playing days. I don’t know if that’s true but it wouldn’t be the first time that happened and it wouldn’t be the first time somebody accused a decision-maker of having a different agenda only to be way out in left field.
The three guys left making the decisions need to take a long, hard look at themselves and how they come to the conclusions that they have.
The Jaguars don’t have a Pro Bowl player on their roster and really haven’t had a player who is lock, solid perennial guy who gets consideration for the Pro Bowl since Tony Boselli and maybe Jimmy Smith.
In their 14 years of existence is there a potential Hall of Famer somewhere on the Jaguars all-time roster?
Not right now.
They’ve passed on players like Ben Roethlisberger and Brady Quinn in the draft. They’ve won one playoff game in six years. They’ve had more assistant coaching changes under Del Rio than any franchise in the league, and that trend is likely to continue starting next Monday. And they proved to be pretty fragile when they added $23 million in free agents to an 11 win team, only to see things go south in a hurry.
Weaver has seen the Dolphins turn it around from a one-win team to a playoff contender. Del Rio and Smith don’t have any honeymoon time if they expect to last into the next decade.
As Jack says, “I’m going to re-evaluate everything we’re doing from top to bottom, including myself.”
Which is a good place to start.