Take any football team. Look at it very closely, and the most important thing to winning football games is the coaching staff. Talent obviously plays a huge part in the overall success, but it isn’t everything.
The men in charge of harnessing that talent, developing game plans to maximize the potential, and putting it out on the field to win on Sunday afternoons have more to do with winning than the players.
Not everyone is cut out for the NFL coaching life. The league chews up and spits out coaches with such stunning regularity that it makes free agency look like fantasy football.
Some coaches are barely able to make it through a season, and some even don’t make it the entire season. The path from position coach to coordinator to head coach is the new five-year plan.
The support staffs are just as important. One good season as a coordinator can get you on an owner’s radar, as there are some who are always looking for the next new head coach.
Take Dom Capers for example: He parlayed two successful coordinator positions into two head coaching positions, but the head coaching positions didn’t work too well for him.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been fortunate to have only two head coaches in their short history. Cleveland has been through five since 1999 (including an interim), Carolina has had three since joining the NFL with Jacksonville in 1995, Houston is on its second coach since 2002, and to put all of this into better perspective; Pittsburgh is on its third coach—in the last 30 years.
Jacksonville has a very solid coaching staff that is younger in some positions and more experienced in others. Here are four members of the coaching staff that stand out.
Jack Del Rio – Head Coach
Jack Del Rio, a former All-Pro NFL player with 11 years of NFL playing experience, Del Rio has also served on the coaching staffs of Mike Ditka, Brian Billick, George Seifert, and John Fox. That is not a bad group of coaches to learn from, considering they have a combined four Super Bowl rings and Fox nearly missed out on a fifth.
Coach Del Rio also only has NFL coaching experience, having never coached a single play of college football. His rise from strength and conditioning coach with the Saints to the head coaching job with Jacksonville took five years.
This season, he will take more of a hands-on approach with the defense, helping out newcomer Mel Tucker, who came over from Cleveland.
Mike Tice – Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends Coach
Behind every good head coach, stands a good assistant; and the Jaguars have a pretty good one. Mike Tice has been a fixture in the NFL since coming into the league as a player in 1981. He is a 14-year veteran who was a teammate of Jack Del Rio on the 1995 Vikings, his last season before joining the Vikings staff in 1996.
Coach Tice would take over the Vikings on an interim basis at the end of the 2001 season, before becoming head coach for the 2002 season.
New ownership and only one playoff appearance in four seasons sealed Coach Tice’s fate with the Vikings, and he was hired by the Jaguars to start the 2006 season. Like Jack Del Rio, he only has coached at the NFL level.
Dirk Koetter – Offensive Coordinator
Coach Dirk Koetter arrived in Jacksonville without much fanfare in 2007, after being dumped as the head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils. Coach Koetter immediately added elements of a vertical passing attack from his 20-plus years of coaching experience to compliment the Jaguars’ power rushing attack.
The match would pay dividends early on for the Jaguars, as they went 12-4 in his first season directing the offense with another win coming in the playoffs.
The Jaguars have posted two of the biggest blowout wins in franchise history and posted the team's second highest yardage under the direction of Coach Koetter. It will be interesting to see what 2009 will bring with a healthy offense to work with.
Mel Tucker – Defensive Coordinator
One of the newest additions to the Jaguars’ coaching staff, Mel Tucker takes over the same position he left behind in Cleveland, replacing the departed Gregg Williams.
Tucker and the defensive staff will say goodbye to longtime Jaguars Mike Peterson and Paul Spicer, but begin to work with a group of raw but talented players to complement standouts John Henderson and Rashean Mathis.
Coach Tucker‘s defense had 34 takeaways in 2008, which was double the Jaguars’ output. The defense also had more passes defended and gave up fewer points than Jacksonville in Tucker’s first year as coordinator.
Having better players to work with in Jacksonville, and a better season in 2009 could land Tucker on a short list of coaching candidates, potentially being Del Rio’s second assistant to get a head coaching position.