Jack Del Rio enters his seventh season as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the outward appearance is his job is secure and his seat is cool and comfortable. Despite the significant turnover of the front office and coaching staff, the general consensus continues to point to job security for Del Rio for this season and beyond.
Each change brings Del Rio's influence more into focus, along with the fact that Wayne Weaver does not have the stomach to begin the search for a new head coach any time soon.
When Jack Del Rio was hired as part of the house cleaning that took place following the 2002 debacle, he was brought in to provide a spark to the grinding offensive mindset and struggling defense that had become the standard with salary cap woes and an aging roster under Tom Coughlin.
Del Rio did inherit a roster that was in dire need of attention, but the difficult task of fixing the devastating cap problems that plagued the Jaguars following their playoff run in the late 1990s had already taken hold as Tom Coughlin purged the roster of expensive and popular players, gutting the team in order to regain control of the salary cap and begin the rebuilding process.
Had the fan base been more patient, Tom Coughlin probably would have survived the purge and the subsequent collapse of the team.
However, with ticket sales lagging badly, and a team struggling to win games, Wayne Weaver lost patience and decided that it was time to make a change.
Del Rio methodically moved to build his first coaching staff quickly while trying to bring back a team that had hit rock bottom. Over the next few seasons, the roster was rebuilt around key components remaining from the Coughlin era.
Del Rio and Director of Player Personnel, James "Shack" Harris built one of the most intimidating defenses in the entire league. Whatever success they saw on the defense was offset by the struggling effort to rebuild the offense to be more physical and productive.
What worked for the defense never gained traction for the other side of the other ball, and after several seasons of failed first round draft picks, the Jaguars offense was still unable to get the team to the next level.
Significant roster changes were required to move beyond this lackluster production, and it all started with the release of Byron Leftwich.
When the first round draft pick and starting quarterback was released by the Jaguars just prior to the start of the 2007 season, the signal was sent that Del Rio's influence on personnel matters was expanding, while his counterpart, Shack Harris was seeing his dwindling.
The move proved to be a smart one as long-time backup quarterback, David Garrard assumed the starting role. The offense was tailored to his playing style, and despite the personnel problems particularly at the receiver position, Garrard was able to steer the Jaguars to their first playoff win in seven seasons while setting franchise scoring records.
The success that was enjoyed on the field landed Del Rio and his new starting quarterback contract extensions prior to the start of the 2008 season, assuring that neither man was in danger of being lost to the team.
When 2008 came into focus, the Jaguars were widely considered to be one of the top teams in the AFC. There was no reason to doubt this based on what they had been able to accomplish previously.
But injuries and a change of philosophy with the defense put the team on a slide leaving the Jaguars 5-11 and out of the playoff hunt. Following a disappointing season that started out filled with hope, Wayne Weaver was forced to make changes.
Shack Harris was fired and subsequently replaced by Gene Smith, a member of the scouting staff from the very beginning of the franchise. Smith was steadily making his climb up the ladder within the organization, gaining the trust of Wayne Weaver, and the respect of Jack Del Rio.
Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator brought in to much fanfare was not offered a contract renewal after his unit seemed to completely collapse in 2008, blowing leads and struggling to gain any sort of identity. The swagger was gone from the prideful unit that Jack Del Rio had worked so hard to build, and Williams became the scapegoat.
Special Teams also suffered in 2008. The inconsistent play of the unit was significant enough that when the season ended, Joe DeCamillis was also allowed to leave without the prospect of a new contract with the team.
Through all of the turmoil and tumult that surrounded the Jaguars, Jack Del Rio operated as if his job was never at risk.
There were certainly mistakes made on his part.
Two players who had crossed paths with the head coach and found themselves in the proverbial dog house were sent packing.
Marcus Stroud was traded away prior to the start of the season after openly complaining about the way he was being treated by the head coach, and Mike Peterson was allowed to leave in free agency after being chastised and then benched in a very public manner by the head coach after a verbal spar in the locker room following a loss.
With the team on the verge of spinning out of control, there was some speculation that Del Rio's position could be in jeopardy, but it proved to be a false alarm. Wayne Weaver was not in the mood to dump his head coach, and as a result gave him a vote of confidence.
He did send a message however by giving the final say in all personnel matters to Gene Smith, diminishing the role that Jack Del Rio had in making any decisions. He would provide input to the newly promoted General Manager, but when the dust settled, Smith was the man who would pull the trigger on any personnel moves.
As his influence was being reduced, Del Rio was also moving to regain some control over what he considered to be the centerpiece of his coaching tenure in Jacksonville. His defense took a step back last season because of age and injury issues, and tough decisions needed to be made.
Along with Peterson, four other players who had started in 2008 were traded, released, or allowed to leave in free agency: Paul Spicer, Gerald Sensabaugh, Tony McDaniel, and Drayton Florence.
Jack Del Rio has set his focus on rebuilding his once dominant defense following the roster purge and hiring of his new coordinator, Mel Tucker. This will allow his offensive coaching staff to operate with less input from the head coach.
The moves that were made to fix the coaching staff and roster should have given some indication that this was the last stand for Jack Del Rio. No head coach could survive such turnover if the team failed to regain some level of success in 2009. However, it appears that Jack Del Rio may be able to buck that trend.
With so much rebuilding required, the expectations for the Jaguars in 2009 are seriously downgraded from previous seasons. With the national media not focused on the Jaguars being a factor in any title contention talk, Jack Del Rio might actually get somewhat of a reprieve for this season.
This will allow him to focus on truly rebuilding the roster without having to worry about looking over his shoulder, and it is all thanks to the patience of his owner, Wayne Weaver.
The team faces catastrophe with ticket sales lagging badly compared to previous seasons. The prospect of having the entire home season blacked out in the local market is a reality.
Fans are sitting on their hands in much the same manner they did in 2002, taking a wait and see approach. They do not share the faith of the owner and coaching staff that they can turn this thing around quickly.
There is a real danger of suffering back-to-back losing seasons, and if that were to occur, the level of fan apathy would be on par with what Tom Coughlin was dealing with when he was fired. It remains to be seen how long Wayne Weaver's patience will last. There are signs that the same type of fan exodus is happening this year.
Jack Del Rio appears to have some level of job security, but if the team struggles in 2009 both on the field and with ticket sales, that seat could go from cool and comfortable to molten hot in the blink of an eye.
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