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Jack Del Rio: Consistent Message Needed

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Jack Del Rio: Consistent Message Needed
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The main problem plaguing Jack Del Rio over the past few years is the lack of consistency in the way he applies his coaching techniques. 

Long considered to be a player's coach because of his background as a former Pro B,owl player, it seems almost painfully awkward when Jack Del Rio tries to apply a more hard-line approach to dealing with his players.

The dust up between Del Rio and John Henderson is understandable.  Henderson has a long history of pulling the injury card to get out of practice time, making it an annual event during training camps.  It has become a game of speculation each year during training camp to try to guess when Henderson would suffer some phantom injury that would allow him to miss out on practice time.

Things ramped up a bit last year, as Henderson was actually given permission to miss practices for undisclosed personal reasons.

The problem seems to have been exacerbated by the obvious decline in production that Henderson has seen on the field over the past two years.

For any coach to be frustrated over having one player using every possible angle to avoid practice time is certainly justifiable. 

The problem with all of this stems from the willingness Jack Del Rio has shown in the past to give players a pass for such behavior.  Henderson is not the first player to use this type of approach to avoid practice time under Del Rio, and he probably will not be the last. 

But, it is the first time where the head coach has decided to exert his authority by standing in front of cameras and singling out one of his veteran players in the media, lambasting the severity of Henderson's injury, and expressing exasperation.

For a head coach to call out a player in such a public manner is highly unusual.  It certainly happens from time to time, but the danger that exists in making such an acrimonious verbal assault on a veteran player is the potential it creates to fracture the locker room.  At the same time that the head coach is trying to instill the sense of team among his players, he risks creating a rift between the coach and players. 

It happened last season.

When Del Rio and Mike Peterson had a disagreement over how the veteran linebacker should handle his role as a leader on the team, Del Rio used that as an opportunity to demote Peterson to a backup role.  This came on the heels of the coaching staff not selecting Peterson as a captain. 

That incident was rectified later when Del Rio begrudgingly allowed the players to elect an additional captain, and Peterson was given the designation as a result. 

While the coach did not make such a public display in slapping down Peterson, it did leak out in the media.  The mismanagement of the Peterson situation is attributed to at least a portion of the problems that developed in the locker room with team chemistry last year. 

The unpopular decision to demote a popular player in the locker room put Jack at odds with his team. 

It did not completely blow up the locker room because there were still veteran players who supported the decision, partly due to the fact that they were annoyed by Peterson's constant reference to the contract extension that he did not get prior to the start of the 2008 season. 

But, it did add fuel to the fire that was already brewing as a result of issues with contracts and player acquisitions.

By shredding Henderson in such a public display, Del Rio might be trying to send a message to his players.  The intention may be good, but the manner in which he approached the situation was probably not the wisest maneuver on his part.

In the past, when Del Rio has had incidents similar to this with veteran players, the end result is that the person in question is normally sent packing eventually.  When it happened with Mike Peterson, it was clear that his time in Jacksonville was coming to a close and that no contract extension was looming on the horizon.  A similar type of dispute between Del Rio and Deon Grant landed the defensive back in Seattle the following year. 

It is difficult for a coach to change his style regardless of whether he is considered a player's coach or more of an authoritarian figure. 

It is less difficult to go from a task master to a kinder, gentler version.  Tom Coughlin proved this to be the case when he went from the one voice concept to a more tolerant tone.  He had established the respect of his players by that point, so softening was just the natural progression.

To go from a player's coach to something more controlling is far more difficult to accomplish.  As the coach establishes himself as one of the guys, he minimizes his ability to truly crack down on his players. 

Del Rio began to take on a more authoritarian role late last year when he suddenly shifted directions, banning music from being played in the locker room, and shuffled lockers around in an effort to deal with a team in free-fall. 

With each move he made to become heavier-handed, the locker room took a step further away from what he wanted to accomplish.  In the end, there were times when the team seemed to quit on the field as if to send a message to their head coach that his new style was not working for them.

When the reconfigured team took the field in 2009 for the first time during mini-camp early in May, Del Rio seemed to be transitioning back to the player's coach mindset.  He allowed players to miss practice time, including the much publicized use of the "veteran card" in the second practice as a Jaguar for Torry Holt. 

Now, with Henderson catching the ire of the head coach, justifiable or not, the approach taken was probably not the best path to follow.  It remains to be seen how this will impact the locker room, or even the player he targeted. 

But, it does once again set a dangerous precedent for the head coach by sending mixed signals to his players. 

The lack of consistency can undo all that they have worked to build up this offseason, and it can do this in very short order.

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